It’s easy to see why your scalp isn’t top of mind when it comes to your beauty regimen. After all: Out of sight, out of mind. But just like the skin that covers your face and your body, the skin on top of your head is also pretty darn important.

“A healthy scalp microbiome is crucial to your overall hair health because it’s the foundation,” Sam Archer, Nutrafol's VP of Product Marketing & Innovation says. “The scalp microbiome acts as a barrier by shielding hair follicles and the scalp from infection, toxins, irritation and hair damage. When the scalp microbiome is damaged or compromised, it can cause an imbalance in sebum production and pH, a dry, flaky, sensitive scalp, and even hair damage.” And, yes, all of these issues can have an overall impact on your hair health, growth, and sheen.

Scalp health isn’t just about having lush locks, though. There can also be larger health consequences, specifically stemming from sun exposure. Here’s why: Your scalp is particularly vulnerable to the sun’s UV rays, which puts you at risk for sunburns, and subsequently scalp skin cancer. In fact, roughly 13 percent of skin cancers are found on the scalp, which is why protection (think hats and a scalp specific sunscreen like Sun Bum’s Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30) is key.

“Depending on hair lengths, sunburn may lead to inflammation and hair loss, most seen with bald men or within protective styles that expose the scalp,” DiAnne Davis, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist says.  

So how do you keep your scalp healthy? Here our experts weigh in.

Start with Regular Washing

To help keep yours scalp, and, in turn, your hair healthy, Dr. Davis advises washing your strands every one to two weeks, depending on your lifestyle and hair type. “Committing to a wash routine assists in maintaining proper hair and scalp care and prevents product build-up, which can also lead to dryness and dehydration of our hair strands,” she says.  Regular hair washing is also one of the best ways to manage seborrheic dermatitis to keep redness, scaliness, itchiness and breakage to a minimum, Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD a board certified dermatologist, founder and medical director of Skin Wellness Dermatology  and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, says. Failing to wash consistently on the other hand “allows chronic conditions like seborrheic dermatitis to flare and exacerbates the itching and flaking that represent the main symptoms,” he explains.

Choose Your Products Carefully

For starters, your product choice may vary based on whether your hair is natural or treated. Chemically treated hair may prefer oil as oppose to creams, while natural hair may prefer liquid consistencies or foams, according to Dr. Davis. She also say that your hair type may determine whether products can work with or against you. For example: Over-applying products can lead to dehydrating the hair and scalp. Scalp reactions can also be caused by allergic reactions to indigents from natural or organic hair dyes, she adds. Ingredients that can potentially irritate the scalp include sodium chloride, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate as well as synthetic fragrances while silicone-heavy products can block the scalp. 

Archer points to Nutrafol’s Scalp Microbiome Support collection, which contains three key products (a scalp exfoliating mask, Build-Up Blocker; a cleansing shampoo, Root Purifier, and a scalp microbiome rebalancer with soothing botanicals, Stress Reliever), as healthy-for-the-scalp picks. Products in this line “keep the microbiome balanced to provide an optimal ecosystem for the scalp,” Archer says. Dr. Davis is a fan of many of the products in the Royal Oils Collection by Head & Shoulders, which a suite of 10 products formulated specifically for Black hair and designed to offer scalp relief and moisturize hair.

Grease With Caution

“Greasing the scalp is something many of us did growing up, and we reminisce on our hair length and strength during those times,” Dr. Davis says. But finding the right balance is crucial to ensure you hydrate malnourished strands while avoiding over-greasing the scalp, clogging the hair follicles or contributing to product build-up. If you can't give up grease, she recommends only adding it once a week if needed, depending on hair type and dryness.

Exfoliate. Exfoliate. Exfoliate.

Just as your face and body need routine sloughing, so does your scalp. “A scalp exfoliator two to four times a month can help to keep the scalp free of excessive dead skin cells and debris,” Dr. Hartman explains. Dr. Davis recommends using Royal Oils Water Activated Scalp Scrub to get the job done, noting how excellent it is for combating oily hair and removing build-up and residue in-between washes. 

Stop Scratching

You scalp can itch for all sorts of reasons, including the most super common dandruff (resembles smaller, tinier flakes that come and go in cycles), seborrheic dermatitis (excess dandruff), reaction to a specific hair product, or scalp psoriasis and eczema (appears as larger thick scales and is usually visible on other parts of the body too), according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. What’s important is to tackle each ailment properly—whether that means using medicated shampoos or switching out problem products. That’s because “excessive scratching breaks the hair, increases inflammation and breaks the skin which predisposes it to infection,” according to Dr. Hartman.

The bottom line: If you are having serious scalp issues that are affecting your day to day life, seek a formal evaluation from a board-certified dermatologist so that the condition and course of treatment can be outlined. The longer you wait with many of these issues, the higher your risk for hair loss and other health issues.