all hair types How to Tell What Your Scalp Needs, According to a Dermatologist

It’s time to give your scalp the proper respect and care it deserves.

August 26, 2022
Scalp Type Needs


While many of us have robust hair care routines with toning shampoos and heat protectant accompanied by multi-step skin care routines — the scalp is often the odd one out. As scalp scrubs, serums and washes become more normal, the scalp is finally starting to get the respect it deserves and it only makes sense because addressing its needs accordingly can really make a difference in the health of your hair. 


Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp so if you’re neglecting that area, it can lead to many unwanted issues. We reached out to Dr. Michelle Henry, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant, to get some advice on how to properly address your scalp’s needs. Read on as we share how to determine your scalp type, along with expert tips on how to care for each type.

How to Determine Your Scalp Type

It’s a fair comparison to think of your scalp type in the same way you think of your skin type, after all, your scalp is skin. That knowledge is power and with it, you can adjust your routine accordingly to address your specific concerns. 


“Your scalp is an extension of your facial skin,” Henry explains. “You have more oil glands there because every terminal hair follicle has an oil gland on it. If you’re someone who tends to have oily skin, you typically have an oily scalp. Your skin type there is more often than not, consistent.” 


While determining if you have an oily scalp is pretty straightforward, determining dryness isn’t so easy. “Oiliness is genetic and dehydration is situational. If your scalp is really dry, you want to determine if it is truly dryness, dandruff, or if it’s something called seborrheic dermatitis, which is a little bit more robust — like really bad dandruff,” she says. The products and treatments you apply to your scalp and overwashing are two easily overlooked factors that play a role in overall dryness and flaking. 


While you could just have a dry or dehydrated scalp because you have dry skin, it’s not as common. “Because we have so many oil glands that will at least lock in moisture [on the scalp], it doesn't show dryness as early as other places may,” she further explains. “But your environment and the humidity in your environment can contribute to the state of your scalp.” 


When you notice you’re experiencing dryness, definitely look at your overall practices and products before labeling your scalp as dry. For those that don’t consider themselves to have an oily scalp or a dry scalp, then chances are you have a normal or balanced scalp. “If you’re not seeing flaking, excess oils or any conditions, you can assume your scalp is normal,” she continues. 


What Does an Oily Scalp Need?

Since an oily scalp is hereditary and often a direct reflection of your skin type, it really comes down to managing oils with the right products. “Try clarifying shampoo or shampoo with salicylic acid or glycolic acid, since those acids will help to break up dirt, oil and debris more effectively,” Henry advises. 


A clarifying shampoo like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Clay Shampoo is a great way to address oily roots without drying out your ends. Pair it accordingly with the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Clay Conditioner. Curly and wavy hair types can opt for the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls No Build-Up Curls Micellar Shampoo to remove excess buildup, dirt and oil. 


While the first step to managing an oily scalp is to control oils, your scalp and hair can really benefit from an occasional hydrating treatment. Once a week, switch out your conditioner for a hair mask like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Signature Masque, Color Care Hair Mask. Focus it on the length and ends of your hair to provide intense hydration without adding to your oily scalp. When it comes to styling your hair, Henry recommends switching to light products and using less oils on the scalp. 


Editor’s tip: Overwashing can have a negative effect on any scalp type, even oily ones, so try to avoid that by extending the time between washes with dry shampoo. Those with dark hair  can opt for the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Tinted Dry Shampoo for Brown Hair while blondes and redheads can opt for the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Tinted Dry Shampoo for Blonde Hair.  


What Does a Dry Scalp Need?

Big shock: A dry scalp needs hydration. “Think about the products you use,” Henry explains. “Maybe switch to a sulfate-free shampoo or use a moisturizing shampoo or conditioner depending on your scalp type.” 


Once you’ve determined that you have a dry scalp because you have dry skin and not because you’re using the wrong products or overwashing your hair, it’s time to switch up your hair care routine. A dry scalp craves moisture and the best way to satisfy that is with the right products. 


When you have dry skin, hyaluronic acid is a miracle worker because it helps the skin to retain moisture. The same logic applies to your scalp so reach for a hydrating hair care system with hyaluronic acid. The L’Oréal Paris Elvive Hyaluron + Plump Hydrating Shampoo, Paraben-Free and the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Hyaluron + Plump Hydrating Conditioner, Paraben-Free are formulated with the star ingredient to deliver long-lasting moisture while plumping dry strands to add volume, body and shine.


What Does a Flaking Scalp Need?

A flaking scalp is a symptom of a dry scalp and that’s usually situational. Henry recommends staying away from harsh, drying hair treatments and overwashing as those can lead to more dryness and flaking. 


“The nature of the scale is going to tell you a little bit about the cause of the potential dryness,” Henry explains. “Dandruff is a fine white kind of scale. If it’s product buildup, it’s going to be found in the area that you use the product the most and the scale is usually a little thicker. If it’s seborrheic dermatitis, then it’s usually a big, yellow greasy scale.” Once you know the nature of the scale, you can begin to address the dryness accordingly. 


If your dryness resembles dandruff or product buildup, opt for a scalp scrub like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Sulfate-Free Scalp Care + Detox Scrub. Once a week, use this scrub as the first step in your wash day routine to remove unwanted buildup and flakiness. 


Follow the instructions on the bottle and follow up with the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Scalp Care + Detox Shampoo and the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Scalp Care + Detox Conditioner. This dandruff-fighting duo helps to purify and refresh the scalp of buildup and flakes without stripping hair. 


On wash days when you’re not treating dandruff, cleanse your strands with the Elvive Hyaluron + Plump Hydrating Shampoo, Paraben-Free and the Elvive Hyaluron + Plump Hydrating Conditioner, Paraben-Free to add some moisture back to your scalp. If you think you’re suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, consult your dermatologist for guidance and product recommendations.


What Does a Normal Scalp Need?

A normal scalp needs less maintenance than an oily or dry scalp and typically can be maintained with a simple cleansing system that’s non-stripping. If you have a normal scalp and start to experience dryness or flaking, it’s likely a new product or treatment that you’ve added to your routine, so scale it back. 


Henry recommends assessing your scalp often to make sure you’re not neglecting it. “Most people need some moisture so try a hydrating conditioner whenever you cleanse,” she says.


One thing an oily scalp, a dry scalp, a flakey scalp and a normal scalp all have in common is the need for hydration. Opt for a shampoo based on your hair type and pair it with a hydrating conditioner. You can also include a hydrating system like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Push Shampoo and L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Seal Conditioner.


Next: Beauty Myth Busters: 4 Hair Loss Myths You Need to Stop Believing, Stat


Written by: Reece Andavolgyi, Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn, Art Director: Hannah Packer

Associate Creative Producer: Becca Solovay, Digital Tech: Katy Andrascik, Photo Assistant: Sam Kang, Makeup Artist: Jonet Williamson, Hair Stylist: Akihisa Yamaguchi, Wardrobe Stylist: Melina Kemph, Wardrobe Assistant: Kayla Martinez, Model: Juli Deng