Scalp Scrub: Enzymatic, Chemical or Mechanical?

While scrubs or exfoliation have been known for decades for the face and body, the usefulness of carrying out this practice on the scalp has only been understood quite recently.

  • both in normal situations to carry out a deep "cleaning",
  • both in situations of anomalies involving a stagnation of sebum and/or corneocytes that clog the follicular ostium (the hair exit hole on the skin)

What is a scalp scrub for?

What is the scalp scrub for?

We asked the trichologist doctor Francesca Esposito

Scalp scrub is essential because thanks to the exfoliation that is carried out it allows you to oxygenate the hair bulbs and prevent dandruff . At the same time, the massage performed during the scrub reactivates the subcutaneous microcirculation, necessary for the correct oxygenation of the tissues and to favor the birth of healthy and beautiful hair.
In addition , the scalp scrub is recommended in case of problematic scalps with itching, flaking and dandruff.

Scalp scrub / exfoliation: what is it?

Let's see together what is meant by scrub or exfoliation of the scalp

The term scrub or exfoliation , according to the dictionary, means: "detachment of thin and superficial layers of material or organic tissue".

At the skin level and therefore also of the scalp , the scrub or exfoliation carried out with cosmetic products promotes the detachment of the more superficial stratum corneum, consequently accelerating epidermal renewal , that physiological process which, following a harmonious rhythm, is able to always ensure that the barrier function is maintained.

It is known that all epidermal cells originate from the division and proliferation of keratinocytes of the germinal (or basal) layer, arranged in a single cell line above the basement membrane.

On their way to the skin surface, the cells mature and transform from both a morphological and functional point of view, passing from cells of the basal layer to those of the spinous, granular and then corneous layers.

The progressive differentiation from basal layer cell to corneocyte is usually completed in 15 days. Before reaching the stratum corneum, the keratinocytes flatten and lose their nucleus, becoming corneocytes which are renewed with physiological desquamation within 15 days.

So the skin exfoliates and regenerates autonomously but, in many cases it is useful to encourage exfoliation through appropriate cosmetic products .

The reasons can be different and consequently the formulations that can be created are different, both in terms of cosmetic form and in relation to the type and intensity of the exfoliating effect.

The artificially induced detachment of corneocytes causes a “response” from the skin. Received as an aggression, it involves the acceleration of the rate of cell renewal with the attraction of "new" cells to the surface.

This effect is also useful in the presence of hyperkeratinisation and stagnation of oxidized sebum , typical situations of seborrheic skin, or when we find ourselves in the presence of dandruff.

Why is it important to scrub the scalp?

In exfoliating the scalp , effectively removing the superficial stratum corneum, the absorption of the treatments to be applied is facilitated and we also remember that exfoliating the scalp allows us to reactivate the skin microcirculation .

This will benefit not only the scalp but also the hair that we remember feeds right through the microcirculation in the area of ​​the dermal papilla.

Why should a scalp scrub be done?

  • to keep the skin clean and healthy.
  • to rebalance the skin, restoring proper oxygenation of tissues and capillary bulbs.
  • to normalize the production of sebum without attacking or affecting the natural hydrolipidic film.
  • to restore brightness, strength, elasticity, body and beauty to the hair.
  • to stimulate cell renewal, also being helpful in the case of weakened hair prone to falling out.

Scalp Scrub: Enzymatic, Chemical or Mechanical?

    The different types of scrub / exfoliating cosmetics

    Cosmetics with exfoliating activity can be formulated to act according to a type mechanism

    • chemist,

    • enzymatic

    • or mechanical

    and in the latter case they take the commercial denomination of scrub , from the English “ scrub out ” or rather to remove by rubbing.

    Sometimes, within the same formulation , mixtures of exfoliating ingredients can be used which work in synergy according to these different mechanisms.

    Chemical and enzymatic exfoliants

    The most common chemical exfoliating agents are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), organic acids bearing an -OH group in the first replaceable position of the hydrocarbon chain.

    Glycolic acid (OH-CH-COOH) is the smallest molecule of the AHAs, followed by lactic (C3H6O3), malic (C4H6O5) and tartaric (C4H6O6) dicarboxylic acids and citric acid (C6H8O7) tricarboxylic acid.

    Known as "fruit acids", they are obtained from various plant sources such as fruit (apple, berries, grapes, citrus fruits, tamarind), as well as sugar cane and beetroot. The action of the alpha hydroxy acids takes place at the level of the desmosomes, small "buttons" which keep the corneocytes together.

    Together with or as an alternative to AHAs, polyhydroxyacids (PHAs) such as lactobionic acid and gluconolactone are increasingly used, due to their more modulated exfoliating activity and the possibility of exploiting their other properties such as their antioxidant action. They are therefore better tolerated even by delicate and sensitive skin.

    Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, is less common in rinse-off exfoliating products, while it is more frequently used in leave-on treatments, for example for hyperkeratotic skin, because it is effective and powerful keratolytic, but more slowly than the AHA.

    Enzymatic exfoliants

    Enzymatic exfoliating agents exploit the action of enzymes such as papain (papaya) or bromelain (pineapple).

    For example,

    Dermopurifying Shampoo Scrub e

    that you find in our shop

    It is a triple action treatment : gently exfoliating, sebum-balancing and purifying which deeply cleanses the scalp and hair and fights the fungi that cause dandruff, itching and dryness. Thanks to its innovative scrub formula activates scalp circulation and cellular oxygenation.

    The exfoliation of the scalp performed by this Shampoo Scrub is both chemistry and mechanics thanks to the synergistic action of i microgranules of almond and hazelnut shells and natural AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) .

    shampooo scrub scalp oily scalp

    The AHA extract mix consists of concentrated apple extract, red grape hydrolyzate, wheat bran hydrolyzate, lemon extract, citric acid, tartaric acid and lactic acid.

    Mechanical exfoliants-scrubs

    In scrubs, the ability of one or more components to perform an abrasive effect is exploited when they are massaged on the skin.

    The choice of scrub ingredients is vast and ranges from a wide range of natural derivatives, both vegetable and mineral, to synthetic ones.

    The intensity of the exfoliating action is modulated not only by the concentration of scrub agent, but also by other parameters, primarily the size of the granules.

    It is common practice to mix scrub agents of different granulometry, as well as of different origins (natural/synthetic), working strategically on the percentages of one and the other.

    A "green" alternative to polyethylene is represented by poly-lactic acid (PLA), a lactic acid polymer obtained from renewable sources such as corn and tapioca. This bio-polymer is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyether, available in microspheres with different granulometry.

    For a particularly delicate exfoliating action, glucomannan can be used, a high molecular weight polysaccharide made up of glucose and mannose units. It is used in small microspheres which, in contact with water, form a gel on the surface capable of absorbing excess sebum, skin impurities, while the inner, harder part acts as a "soft scrub agent".


    With the term gommage, the formulator means a product, generally for the face, with a light exfoliating effect, so called because it recalls the action of a rubber on the skin.

    The scrub formulas exploit the ability of some insoluble polymers, such as cellulose or starch (corn, tapioca) to partially hydrate. Once the product is applied to the skin, the water, weakly bound by the polymeric structure, evaporates leaving a still soft layer which, by light rubbing, forms "rubber pads".

    Let's see below the agents commonly used in scrubs, distinguishing them according to the derivation:

    Mineral scrubs


    Lava powder

    Calcium Phosphate

    Quartz/diamond powder

    Vegetable scrubs

    From shell: almond, argan, coconut, shea, walnut

    From seed/stone: apricot, cherry, olive, grape, peach

    From peel: lemon, orange.

    How often should I exfoliate the scalp?

    As we have seen, although our scalp exfoliates itself regularly, guaranteeing cell turnover, there are several benefits that follow from cosmetic exfoliation.

    The frequency of use as well as the method of application are always indicated by the manufacturer on the product packaging and as with all cosmetics, even in the case of exfoliating products it is advisable to follow the formulator's instructions, precisely to make the most of the performance of the product itself.

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