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Is Glycolic Acid an Effective Scalp Exfoliator?

Is Glycolic Acid an Effective Scalp Exfoliator?

Introducing the newest TikTok beauty trend: glycolic acid scalp exfoliation.

TikTokers have been using glycolic acid (or more specifically, The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution) as a treatment for dandruff. It’s applied before shampoo and conditioner in a bid to remove product buildup, dead cells, and flakiness for a dandruff-free scalp. But just how effective is it? And is it even safe?

Here’s everything you need to know about the glycolic acid exfoliating scalp scrub TikTok trend, and whether you should give it a try yourself.



Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a chemical exfoliant that gently removes the buildup of dirt, sebum, and dead skin cells to make skin smoother, brighter, and clearer while allowing your other skincare products to absorb better. It’s commonly found in skincare products such as cleansers, toners, and serums, as well as in aesthetic treatments such as peels. You’ll find glycolic acid in Rainbow’s Glow Bundle + Tighten Bundle. However, these are made for the face and body, not the hair.

Recently, TikTok users have started slathering their scalps and strands in their fave glycolic acid formula as an exfoliating scalp treatment to alleviate dry scalp and flaking. But should you really be putting a product designed for the face on your scalp? Is it the secret to flake-free healthy hair, or could it be causing more harm than good? Let’s find out!



According to the experts, incorporating glycolic acid into your haircare routine might be beneficial.

"AHAs can help improve flakes and reduce oil on the scalp, which translates to less greasy hair and improved flaking and even dandruff," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York City board-certified dermatologist. Glycolic acid is one of the best as it’s both a humectant and an exfoliator, meaning it draws in hydration while buffing away buildup. This makes it especially useful for more sensitive skin types looking to incorporate gentle exfoliation into their scalp care routine.

While chemical exfoliants can work on all hair types, some experts say physical exfoliators may be better for particularly oily scalps, as they provide a deeper removal of buildup.

With all this mind, you should be aware that glycolic acid scalp exfoliation does have its share of disadvantages. It’s important to keep these in mind before slathering your scalp in your favorite glycolic acid serum.



According to the pros, it’s better to use a product designed for the scalp rather than using one made for the face. That’s because formulations for the scalp differ from skin care as they typically work quicker. The derms advise against using facial products on the scalp. Then there are the possible side effects of putting glycolic acid on your scalp.

“Long-term use of glycolic acid can weaken the hair and cause hair loss,” says Dr. Cuross Bakhtiar, director of Harley Street Cosmetics.. “In my opinion, the use of it should be limited to once or twice a week and, after that, intermittently. However, this will depend on the amount of glycolic acid in the product or formulation you’re using.”

However, if you really want to be on the safe side and prevent any unpleasant side effects, it’s better to use an exfoliating treatment designed especially for the hair and scalp.



The best way to exfoliate your scalp is by using a formulation made especially for the scalp rather than simply using your fave glycolic acid serum. These treatments are usually gentle enough for sensitive scalps, and promote healthy scalp and hair growth. They work by unclogging hair follicles of excess oil, dead cells, and hair product buildup to leave your scalp feeling smoother and prevent the onset of dandruff.

There are plenty of scalp scrubs available. While not all contain glycolic, they contain other acids and exfoliating ingredients such as salicylic acid (BHA), lactic acid (AHA), castor beads, and sugar cane. For the sake of your scalp health, purchase a product that’s designed for your head.

To get the most out of your scalp exfoliator, use it as a pre-shampoo treatment. Then follow up with shampoo and conditioner to cleanse away product and restore hydration for silky smooth strands. Look for a conditioner or hair mask made with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, coconut oil, or olive oil.

Another way to exfoliate the scalp is by using a comb or brush to loosen dead cells on the scalp. Daily brushing is a must for hair health. Plus, it can help promote healthy hair growth.



Whether you’ve got dry hair or oily hair, every hair type should commit to a hair care routine comprising of a gentle shampoo, nourishing conditioner, hair mask, and brush. Scalp exfoliation can be beneficial too, as long as you’re using a formula designed for scalp, and you use it only once a week. If you have a severely sensitive scalp, you can limit scalp exfoliation to 1-2 times a month.

Aim to wash and condition your hair once every two days to remove the buildup of oil, dead skin, and styling products. If you’ve got dry, damaged hair, incorporate a hair mask 1-2 times a week. Those with oily or fine hair shouldn’t use a hair mask any more often than once a week to prevent weighing down their hair.

If you have a condition like dandruff, invest in an anti-dandruff shampoo. As for protecting your scalp against UV rays, apply a very thin layer of SPF along the hair line to prevent sunburn.


Glycolic acid is an excellent exfoliant for treating discoloration and blemishes. In spite of the growing trend on TikTok, we advise against using your fave glycolic acid serum on your scalp in favor of a scalp exfoliation treatment — that’s actually made for the scalp. While applying glycolic acid serum to your scalp won’t cause immediate negative effects, it can be irritating and potentially cause hair loss with long-term use.


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