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How To Determine (And Care For) Your Scalp Type

Just like there are different skin types, there are different scalp types, too. Here at Kiehl’s, we explain how to determine (and care for) your scalp type.

One of the most important things to consider when shopping for skincare products is your skin type—specifically, what skin concerns you have and what can help address them. The same goes for haircare, which is why people tend to seek out products that coordinate with their hair type. Less frequently considered, however, is scalp type. The problem is, if you’re not properly caring for your scalp, you might not be getting the most out of your haircare routine.

Ahead, we’ll explain how your scalp type can differ from your skin (and hair) types. You’ll also learn how to determine your scalp type and offer up some tips on the best ways to care for your scalp and strands. Keep reading for your ultimate Kiehl’s guide to scalp types.

What Are The Different Scalp Types?

Like the skin on your face, your scalp has glands that secrete an oily substance called sebum. How much of this substance your scalp produces is primarily determined by your genetics and directly correlates to your scalp type. Those who produce a lot of sebum generally have an oily scalp, while those who don’t produce enough have a dry scalp. If you fall somewhere in between dry and oily—in other words, you don’t notice excessive greasiness, but your scalp doesn’t feel dry, either—you probably have a balanced scalp, which may sometimes be referred to as a “normal” scalp type. Last up is a sensitive scalp, which unlike the other three, isn’t necessarily determined by how much oil your scalp produces. Sensitivity can be caused by a disruption in your skin’s natural moisture barrier, but it can also arise from exposure to harsh ingredients, chemical treatments, and the like. As such, for some, scalp sensitivity can be transient—it’s dependent upon what caused the sensitivity to occur in the first place.

Is Your Scalp Type The Same As Your Skin Type?

Your skin type, like your scalp type, is determined by how much sebum your skin produces. And it seems logical that if you have an oily scalp type, you probably have oily facial skin, and vice versa. However, this isn’t necessarily the case—oil production can vary dramatically between different areas of the body. You can have, for example, dry facial skin and an oily scalp, or a dry, sensitive scalp but facial skin that falls on the oilier side. In other words, just because you have a certain skin type doesn’t mean you should assume your scalp shares the same characteristics, needs, and concerns. Similarly, an oily scalp doesn’t necessarily mean your hair is greasy—in fact, you can have an oily scalp and dry hair simultaneously.

How To Determine Your Scalp Type

Determining your facial skin type usually involves washing your face, waiting an hour or two, and observing how your skin looks and feels. Tightness means you likely have dry skin; excessive shine indicates oily skin, et cetera. Determining your scalp type can be done in a similar fashion.

First, wash your hair with a gentle shampoo suitable for all hair types, like Amino Acid Shampoo. It’s made with coconut oil and amino acid and provides a thorough clean, leaving your hair soft and shiny. Then, condition your mid-lengths to ends (but not your roots) with Amino Acid Conditioner, which like the shampoo, is suitable for all hair types. Let your hair air-dry, and try not to apply any leave-in products. The next day, observe your scalp and roots. If they’re noticeably greasy-looking, chances are good your scalp is on the oilier side. If your scalp feels tight or itchy, you likely have a dry scalp. It’s not an exact test, to be sure. If you’re having trouble determining your scalp type, consider consulting your hairstylist next time you go in for a trim—they should be able to help you narrow down your type.

Why Is Caring For Your Scalp Important?

There are a few reasons why it’s important to take care of your scalp in addition to your hair. First and foremost, numerous studies have shown that your scalp’s condition directly affects how your hair looks and feels.I In other words, an unhealthy or undernourished scalp could cause your hair to look dull, flat, limp, or frizzy. It can even affect hair growth.

There are also certain conditions that can be exacerbated by scalp concerns. Dandruff, for example, is often thought to be triggered by dryness, but flaking can also occur when the scalp is overly greasy (in that case, it’s known as seborrheic dermatitis). These similar-looking but ultimately different types of flaking require different targeted treatments. Hence, knowing your scalp type and concerns is crucial in order to care for your scalp and strands properly.

The Best Kiehl’s Products For Your Scalp

Once you’ve figured out what your scalp type is, you can go ahead and seek out products designed for your specific scalp and hair needs. Here, we’ll introduce you to some of our favorite scalp care products and clue you in on how to use them in your regular haircare routine.

1. Amino Acid Scalp Scrub Detox Treatment

You exfoliate your body and your face—your scalp deserves the same treatment. Give your roots a deep, thorough clean with Amino Acid Scalp Scrub Detox Treatment. The exfoliating scrub, which contains sea salt and salicylic acid, helps remove excess oil and product buildup without drying out your skin. It’s suitable for all scalp types but particularly beneficial for those prone to excess oiliness. We recommend using it around once a week in place of your normal shampoo. Simply apply a dollop of the sulfate-free scrub directly onto your scalp and gently work it into a lather. Once you’re finished, rinse your hair thoroughly with lukewarm water, then complete the rest of your routine.

2. Amino Acid Moisture-Restoring Dry Scalp Treatment

If your scalp is feeling drier than you’d like, help replenish it with Amino Acid Moisture-Restoring Dry Scalp Treatment. Made with a unique triple amino acid complex, this nourishing scalp mask helps restore your scalp’s moisture levels while providing relief from discomfort. It also helps protect your hair and scalp from damaging stressors like heat and hard water. The deeply moisturizing treatment won’t weigh your hair down, and it’s suitable for all hair and scalp types. For a regular weekly treatment, massage a generous amount of the mask onto your scalp and leave the treatment on for three to five minutes before rinsing it out. If your scalp is in need of more intensive moisture, you can leave it on for up to 15 minutes.

3. Magic Elixir

The thought of putting oil directly onto your scalp may seem intimidating (especially if you already have an oily scalp), but it need not be—so long as you’re using the right oils. Enter: Magic Elixir. This ultra-lightweight pre-shampoo treatment with avocado oil and rosemary leaf oil instantly helps condition the scalp and strands. It also helps add softness and shine for manageable, healthy-looking hair. You can use this pre-shampoo rinse as needed: Simply dispense several drops of the oil directly onto your dry scalp and massage it onto your head. Wait up to ten minutes, then hop in the shower, wet your hair, and shampoo and condition as usual.


I. Trüeb, Ralph M et al. “Scalp Condition Impacts Hair Growth and Retention via Oxidative Stress.” International journal of trichology vol. 10,6 (2018): 262-270.

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