Exfoliate Your Scalp With the Same Active Acids Found in Skincare

Photo: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels

Our favorite skincare ingredients are slowly inching into both body care and hair care—quite frankly, because they work. While hair care has had a one-size-fits-all approach for decades, it’s time to take the same customized approach we do to skincare. What are your hair concerns? What are you trying to treat or maintain? If exfoliating, removing buildup , or reducing flakes and irritation are on your list, it may be time to consider adding active acids to your hair routine.

Active acids have become synonymous with exfoliating the skin, and they’re just as effective on the scalp. Although our skin (including the scalp) naturally exfoliates and replaces dead skin cells on its own, active acids can help speed up the process, getting rid of any buildup, debris, and impurities.

While active acids all serve the same purpose, it’s important to note they aren’t created equal. Here’s the difference between some of the most commonly found active acids in hair care and the top products you need to try.


AHAs (or alpha hydroxy acids) are water-soluble chemical exfoliants that work on the surface of the skin to polish away dead skin and buildup without stripping the skin.

Beautylish recommends Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub or Raincry Volume Wash Shampoo


BHAs (or beta hydroxy acids) are oil-soluble chemical exfoliants that penetrate deep into the hair follicles to remove excess oils and impurities.

Beautylish recommends Briogeo MegaStrength+ Dandruff Relief Shampoo Charcoal + AHA/BHA with Salicylic Acid 3%

Salicylic acid

A common type of BHA, salicylic acid gently-yet-effectively exfoliates the scalp and can be a great way to combat dandruff, itchiness, and irritation. Bonus: it also has antibacterial properties.

Beautylish recommends Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo or SACHAJUAN Scalp Shampoo


PHA—or polyhydroxy acid—is the gentlest way to shed dead skin on the scalp. Because PHAs have larger molecules, they can’t penetrate as deep as other acids. They work exclusively on the surface of the scalp, reducing chances of irritation.

Beautylish recommends Verb Ghost Exfoliating Scalp Nectar