article images

When Did Shampoo Get So Complicated?

Why hair serums and scalp scrubs are now lining our shower shelves

By Sherine Youssef

Remember those 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner bottles from the ’90s? I loved those. As someone who never really gave much thought to my hair because it wasn’t as thick and lush as I desired, they spoke to me on a soul level. I could get the job done in one step? Sold. But getting the right ratio of surfactants (cleansers) to emollients (conditioners) is tricky, and many of these combination creations fell out of favour because they were so drying.

Today, not only have we gone back to separate shampoo and conditioners, we’ve over-corrected: with the hair serums, scalp masks, treatments and tonics that have flooded the haircare aisle, one could quite easily do a multi-step haircare routine, if one were so inclined. Me? I am not so inclined and Im happy to report, theres no real need to.

I asked Dr Ryan De Cruz, a specialist dermatologist with a special interest in scalp and hair disorders, at Southern Dermatology, if treating my scalp with skincare-like products will give me the supermodel hair of my dreams? Because if he said yes, I’d be all over those serums. But alas, No, we dont have enough evidence to support that,” he tells me. “The condition of the scalp is important for overall hair health, but in terms of the true degree that scalp health translates to better hair quality, there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done.”


Will treating my hair with skincare-type products give me the locks of my dreams?


Here’s what we know for sure: “When a scalp is in an inflammatory state, maybe due to eczema, psoriasis, seborrhoeic dermatitis or alopecia areata, it can harm and reduce the size of the hair follicles, and the growth factors that stimulate the hair follicles,” explains Dr De Cruz. So we want to ensure the scalp is healthy. But whether haircare products, and the zillions of scalp skin products now available, are going to genuinely improve the health or state of your scalp? All TBD, as is the necessity of having skincare ingredients in haircare.

Dr De Cruz notes that ingredients such as salicylic acid are perfectly reasonable for someone dealing with, say, seborrhoeic dermatitis or psoriasis, and is already in a lot of medicated shampoos. Is it necessary to have niacinamide or vitamin B3 in your regular shampoo and conditioner? “No, we’ve got no evidence to say they’re essential for good scalp health and stronger and better hair — the evidence there is lacking.” 

Nevertheless, the skincare-as-haircare wave is only getting bigger, and we’re all apparently riding it. Local haircare brand, STRAAND, which describes itself as providing “skincare for your scalp,” has a serum, exfoliating brush and a scrub in its lineup, but co-founder Meagan Pate says it’s the shampoo that has been the most popular.

The evidence is lacking


“A cleansing, clarifying shampoo makes sense to people; they can instantly see and feel the difference,” she explains. I wonder if the brand is having to do a lot of consumer education on the importance of scalp health, but Pate says most “have a basic understanding — even if they don’t refer to it as that — and know if their scalp is oily, dry or flaky. And as their depth of understanding grows, they discover the microbiome, connect scalp health with sebum and bacteria, and that’s where the key ingredients, such as prebiotics, become more relevant.”

While I’m not on board with a 10-step haircare routine, I – like half of Planet Beauty – have long been obsessed with the Christophe Robin sea salt scrub. It’s one of the OG scalp products, and one I never share or give away. I use it once a week or so, or when I’ve loaded my hair with styling products and it needs a deeper clean, and Dr De Cruz says using the scrub in place of a clarifying shampoo is totally fine. But that’s where he draws the line. As long as my scalp is generally healthy, he doesn’t think I need to add any more steps, and while he does advise that I pay attention to my scalp, he cautions against becoming consumed by it.

“When you have a healthy scalp, you can give yourself the best chance of having optimum hair growth and, from a purely cosmetic point of view, hair is going to look better and generally be less greasy, flaky and itchy. A happy scalp will translate eventually to happy hair — it’s just not the whole story.”

Products we love:

•   STRAAND The Crown Fix Scalp Serum, $28: Another brand bestseller, this was formulated to protect and nourish the scalp skin barrier and microbiome.

•   Christophe Robin Hydrating Cream Scrub with Aloe Vera, $57A creamier, more hydrating take on the brand’s iconic OG scrub. Another one I won’t be sharing.

•   Klorane Repairing Cica-Serum with Organic Cupuacu & Hyaluronic Acid, $25.99Key skincare buzzwords are present (serum! cica! hyaluronic acid!) in this leave-in treatment.


Cleansing shampoo

Christophe Robin

Salt scrub


Scalp serum

Christophe Robin

Hydrating scrub


Repairing serum

BY Sherine Youssef

Sherine is a beauty editor and co-founder of Gloss etc

view more Beauty

No Comments