Skin-care brands are expanding into the hair and scalp space, and bringing their signature ingredients with them

Hair care has been a concern for many during pandemic lockdowns.triocean/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

In the beauty market, hair and skin care are usually considered two separate worlds, but when the scalp gets involved, all bets are off. Within the past couple of years, many of the ingredients and formulations consumers once near-exclusively associated with skin care have leapt market categories, resulting in a growing trend known as the “skincarification” of scalp (and, by literal extension, hair) care. What does that mean? Well, let’s put it this way: Partake in the trend, and you will still be buying exfoliants, serums and toner; peptides, acids and vitamin Cs. You just won’t necessarily be putting them on your face.

Hair care has been a concern for many during pandemic lockdowns. During its height, we saw folks experimenting with at-home dyes, recreating salon luxury with masques and oils, and in some cases, struggling with hair loss induced by illness and stress. Our fixation on hair shook up the beauty industry: 2020 was the first year the hair-care market grew while skin care and cosmetics declined, according to consultancy firm Kline.

Rather than feel defeated during hard times, it seems skin-care players have responded by rising to the challenge, and up past our hairlines. For example, since 2020, skin-care company Drunk Elephant has launched its Happi Scalp Scrub, which exfoliates the scalp using alpha and beta hydroxy acids – both key ingredients in its cult favourite facial product, the T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum. High-end, physician-created skin-care lines Dr. Barbara Sturm and Augustinus Bader both released nourishing scalp serums to moisturize and soothe flakiness and irritation; and drugstore heavy-hitter the Inkey List debuted a line of scalp products, including both salicylic and glycolic acid exfoliating scalp treatments.

Of course, hair-care-first brands such as Briogeo, Aveda and Oribe had a head start on formulating and releasing products targeting everything from product buildup, dandruff and oiliness to thinning hair – and they’re innovating, too. Aveda’s latest additions to its Invati Advanced collection include an instant thickening foam to nourish the scalp and plump thin hair, and a brow serum to match.

According to Tiffany McRae, a stylist and educator for hair brand Amika, people curious about starting a scalp-care routine can begin with one product that exfoliates and clarifies and one that moisturizes. “You should start out using them about once every two weeks,” she says, and from there, assess how your scalp is feeling. Maybe you need a little more moisture in the winter, or your scalp feels best when you clarify once a week. Amika’s detoxifying Pink Charcoal line features a cleansing oil intended to be massaged into the scalp in small sections and allowed to sit for five minutes before shampooing to clear scaly dryness and impurities. These days, “People are really intrigued” by such additions to their usual rinse-and-repeat routines, McRae says. “They want to know how they can help take better care of their scalps.”

Yet, “I think we have to be really humble to the fact that there are in total over a hundred reasons to have hair and scalp issues,” says Dr. Jeff Donovan, a Whistler, B.C.-based dermatologist specializing in hair loss. “If a person has symptoms that just seem strange, like excessive hair shedding or itching and burning in the scalp, they need to get professional advice,” he says. Still, “The basic principle is accurate that a healthy scalp does often translate into an increased probability that we will have healthy hair,” he adds, noting that scalp care products can resolve surface issues, leading to improved hair manageability and luster.

For years, treatment options for pesky, if common, scalp issues were limited to drably functional drugstore shampoos. Now, a growing array of science-forward and stylish skin-carified products offer consumers the option to apply the ingredients they already trust for face and body care to the top of their crowns, as well – all in the ultimate pursuit of having healthy skin, toe to head.