You’ve got your usual hair lineup down pat (i.e. the shampoo, conditioner, leave-in…), but how does your scalp care routine look? See, your hair can’t reach its full potential without you focusing on your scalp first. Whether you’re on the dry or oily side, adding a scalp serum is key to maintaining strong, hydrated and healthy locks. In case this secret weapon is new to you, we asked a panel of experts to share everything they know about scalp serums and how to best use one in your routine.
We Scoured the Internet and Found 20 Scalp Serums Worth Adding to Your Haircare Routine
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Meet the Experts:
What Is a Scalp Serum?
“Scalp serums are concentrated topical formulas that help soothe, nourish and rebalance the scalp,” explains Godbee. “As a hairstylist, I stress to all of my clients the importance of a healthy scalp. It’s the foundation to having healthy, strong hair and encouraging hair growth,” she adds.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Scalp Serum?
Have irritation? Flakes? Dryness? Thinning? There’s a serum out there for you. The benefits include (and are not limited to) calming, nourishing and cleansing your scalp. One major pro of using a scalp serum: it protects and prevents future issues from happening—if you’re consistent, of course. “They are an ideal 'solution solver' that [can be] added to the routine [to combat things like] product build up, environmental factors or other common stressors,” adds Philip B.
What Ingredients Should You Look for in a Scalp Serum?
Your skin type plays a big role in finding the right serum for you. Here’s what our experts have to say:
- If you have an oily scalp, consider formulas that clarify and control oil production. Reslan says ingredients like glycolic acid, apple cider vinegar and charcoal are a great start.
- If you have a dry scalp, hydrating formulas are the way to go. Godbee suggests water-based, lightweight oils that won’t be too heavy on the scalp (which can create product build up). Instead, look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil and argan oil to hydrate and maintain your scalp’s moisture.
- If you have thinning areas, you’ll want to find serums that encourage healthy hair growth. Look into zinc, biotin and vitamin-based products (like vitamins A and E) to improve fullness, reduce shedding and repair locks. Philip B. also suggests growth-activating ingredients like Redensyl: “It’s rich in vitamins and essential oils. It also provides nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles and increases the blood flow in the scalp—making hair stronger and thicker.”
What Ingredients Should You Avoid in a Scalp Serum?
You’ll want to find scalp serums that are paraben-, sulfate-, formaldehyde- and silicone-free. These ingredients can increase flakiness, sebum production and shedding.
Reslan also points out that some natural ingredients can do more harm than good. “Although there is a conscious effort to avoid commonly known toxic ingredients in hair care, it’s equally important to be aware of natural ingredients that can irritate your scalp or worse, cause thinning,” says Reslan. “Many plant-based hair product brands contain high concentrations of botanical oils that can be irritating ingredients. If combined with alcohol, the penetration is enhanced on the scalp, which may increase irritation in sensitive individuals. If you’re already thinning, it’s best to avoid these ingredients.”
How Often Should You Use a Scalp Serum?
The frequency will depend on how often you normally wash your hair. That said, all of the experts recommend using a scalp serum on freshly shampooed hair for best results. “Apply the product to your scalp and use your fingertips to massage the product into your scalp and hair,” suggests Philip B. “Don't rinse the serum, but instead let it sit so it can absorb.”
There’s also the option (especially for people with a dry scalp) to incorporate it into their daily routine whenever they need a hydration boost. Overall, it’s about what your scalp needs. Ready to try one yourself? Check out the 20 scalp serums below—along with a few customer reviews to make the decision a little bit easier.
The Best Scalp Serums at a Glance
- Best Overall: dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Daily Scalp Serum
- Best Splurge: Dr. Barbara Sturm Scalp Serum
- Best Budget: Aussie Miracle Coils Scalp Serum
- Best for Irritated Scalps: Bread Beauty Supply Scalp Serum
- Best for Dry Scalps: Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment
- Best for Oily Scalps: Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment
- Best for Dandruff: Renpure Tea Tree Lemon Sage Scalp Serum
- Best for Thinning Hair: The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Serum
- Best for Hair Growth: Act + Acre Cold Processed Stem Cell Serum
- Most Lightweight: Fable & Mane SahaScalp Amla Soothing Serum
- Most Nourishing: Nuele Nighttime Scalp Serum
- Best Clean Formula: Reverie CAKE Restorative Scalp Tonic
- Best Vegan Formula: Vegamour GRO Hair Serum for Thinning Hair
- Best Pre-Wash Treatment: Philip B Scalp Booster
- Best for Natural Hair: Pattern Beauty Scalp Serum
- Best Multitasker: Ouai Scalp Serum
- Best for Instant Relief: Sunday II Sunday Soothe Me Daily Scalp Serum
- Stylist Pick: Virtue Soothing Scalp Supplement
- Editor's Pick: Matrix Total Results Instacure Scalp Serum
- Dermatologist Pick: The Inkey List Caffeine-Stimulating Scalp Treatment
- Why We Love It: Cruelty-free, lightweight, great for all hair types
With over 500 5-star reviews, this lightweight serum promises to soothe and nourish the scalp. The key ingredient—apple cider vinegar—boosts hydration and protects against inflammation, while also promoting healthy hair growth. Plus, the formula helps control sebum production and balance the scalp’s pH.
Promising Customer Review: “I have fine, thin hair and I’m constantly losing hair or having hair fall out from breakage. Since I started using this serum, I have noticed less hair loss and breakage even though I just had my hair colored and bleached. I like how the serum can be applied to wet or dry hair. After I towel dry my hair, I put a few drops on my fingertips, apply [the serum] to my scalp and work it through my hair all the way to the ends. Sometimes I do a section at a time to make sure it's evenly spread. No need to rinse the serum out. I've noticed my hair is more balanced, smoother and softer. No more itching, constant scratching or white flakes on my clothes.”
Dr. Barbara Sturm
- Why We Love It: Cruelty-free, dermatologist-owned brand, great for dry scalps
This one is all about improving your overall scalp health. That means addressing things like dryness, irritation and inflammation. Its hydrating formula (featuring hyaluronic acid, papaya extract and panthenol) improves moisture throughout the scalp. Apply it on dry or wet hair before massaging the product in for the best results.
Promising Customer Review: “It mellows out my troubled, stressed-out scalp. Love the ritual of applying on wet hair before bed a few nights a week. It calms the itch and irritation without leaving hair greasy. I'm noticing that my scalp is reaching balance; there is less of an issue with my hair becoming oily after just one day.”
- Why We Love It: Paraben-free, a pleasant coconut scent, affordable
If you’re dealing with a dry scalp, this serum offers rich nutrients. Its cocoa butter and macadamia nut oil combo moisturizes your scalp and prevents breakage at the root. And if you’re looking for a wallet-friendly option, this one is a great start to your scalp care regimen.
Promising Customer Review: “Not only does this feel wonderful on the scalp, it also feels amazing on my dry, troublesome 4b strands. I will be reordering. Although it's a decent sized bottle, it won't last as long as it usually would as I'll continue using it on my hair, too. Recommended for fellow naturalista.”
Best for Irritated Scalps
- Why We Love It: Clean ingredients, BIPOC-Owned, great for all hair types
No one likes an irritated scalp. This gentle serum refreshes and soothes any troubled areas with mandelic acid, chinaberry extract and eucalyptol. This anti-itch treatment also acts as an exfoliator to keep your scalp clean and flake-free before your next wash day.
Promising Customer Review: “I have an easily irritated, super sensitive scalp when it comes to products that state they're supposed to ‘cool/refresh’ the scalp. This does not cause any flare ups or irritation for me at all! Love that it's a very gentle cooling sensation—not like someone dumped a whole bottle of peppermint oil on your head.”
Best for Dry Scalps
- Why We Love It: Paraben-free, great for dry scalps, works for all hair types
This serum features a blend of salicylic acid and geranium oil to reduce product build up, clear up flakes and soothe the scalp. The pre-treatment also has argan oil and vitamin E that adds shine and moisture to your strands. A helpful tip: Add three drops to your dry scalp (and dull strands), let sit for a few minutes and rinse before continuing with your wash routine.
Promising Customer Review: “I have had the worst scalp since I was a child... I'm in my 40s now. I have tried a lot of things like [changing my] diet, dermatologist treatments, etc. I added this to my already ridiculous routine. (I also have a mixed afro that is crazy dry and fine but thick, so it's already a lot of work.) I'm finding this treatment is a really big help. I wash my hair once a week. My scalp is now less flaky, and itchy, and the build-up is way less.”
Best for Oily Scalps
- Why We Love It: Clean ingredients, gluten-free, great for oily scalp
This serum is ready to balance out your oily scalp once and for all. Loaded with charcoal, tea tree oil and witch hazel, it helps to unclog pores, reduce irritation and control oil production. Apply a few drops and let the serum get to work on clearing away any build up. Oh, and the peppermint provides a nice cooling sensation for a moment of Zen right at home.
Promising Customer Review: “This stuff is out of my budget, but I love it so much! It gets rid of any dandruff I have and does not make my hair look greasy or different in any way! I just use it after washing and while my hair is still damp. I have been using a lot of different scalp scrubs lately cause my dandruff took a turn for the worse, but this stuff still works better.”
Best for Dandruff
- Why We Love It: Plant-based ingredients, affordable, great for dry scalps
Suffering from flakes and irritation? This scalp serum is for you. Its nourishing formula includes tea tree oil, argan oil, coconut oil and shea butter that's formulated to relieve and hydrate your itchy scalp. The ginger mint also offers a soothing sensation to keep your scalp fresh and calm for the rest of the day.
Promising Customer Review: “I was skeptical as I have tried many products over the years to try and tame my scalp itch at the back of my head. I was shocked when after just one application this seemed to make a difference! [I] have been using it for a few days now and [it’s] really helping with the itching and dryness. I even had some open areas from all the itching and it didn’t sting at all. I can’t say enough great things about this product!”
Best for Thinning Hair
- Why We Love It: Vegan formula, silicone-free, great for all hair types
This multi-peptide serum promises to improve hair density, especially for people with thinning hair. The ingredients list features redensyl, procapil and baicapil to thicken, nourish and improve the overall appearance of your locks. It’s recommended to apply the product daily on a dry scalp to see the best results.
Promising Customer Review: “If you stick with this it will do wonders! After a couple weeks, I didn’t notice much, but after a month of using this every day…oh my gosh! Amazing! I’ve had a horrible hair line for years from always wearing my hair in a tight high ponytail. I had a ‘dancer hairline’ always pulled back gelled down and tight. I now see growth in areas I was insecure about [and it] even helped my eyebrows!”
Best for Hair Growth
Act + Acre
- Why We Love It: Vegan formula, great for all hair types, complimentary gift with purchase
A perk of some scalp serums is new hair growth. This one does just that and focuses on improving fullness and reducing shedding. The key ingredient—apple stem cell—hydrates the scalp, protects against thinning and promotes more voluminous locks. The serum also has aloe vera bamboo extract and pea sprout extract to soothe and smooth strands.
Promising Customer Review: “I bought this serum to help my hair grow thicker. It isn’t oily at all and blends in nicely into the scalp. I have been using it consistently daily and definitely feel like my hair is growing with resilience.”
Fable & Mane
- Why We Love It: Clean ingredients, silicone-free, great for sensitive scalps
The last thing you need is for your serum to feel heavy on your scalp. This one promises to soothe itching, hydrate and strengthen the area without making things greasy. It’s rich in amia (an Indian super berry), bakuchi and aloe to rejuvenate sensitive scalps.
Promising Customer Review: “I’ve used this twice and both times I could tell a noticeable difference in my scalp. It was very clean and [I] felt like my head could breathe. Incorporating a scalp serum to your hair routine is key!! [Though] I did feel like I needed more than one syringe, as directed, to cover the area evenly.”
- Why We Love It: Natural ingredients, great for all hair types, great for nighttime routine
Yes, this scalp serum moisturizes, calms and detoxes, but it’s the all-encompassing formula that gives it a standing ovation from reviewers. In it you’ll find a bunch of antioxidants, humectants, and oils to soothe, hydrate and clear your scalp. A few highlights include castor oil, argan oil and aloe vera. Another bonus: The lavender scent keeps you calm and prepared for a night of sleep.
Promising Customer Review: “I use this serum every single night on my scalp. Just brush it in, easy as that and after just a few days my dandruff cleared up completely. My hair is soft and shiny in the morning but not greasy. It has a mild clean smell, and not oily, so no need to worry about the pillowcases. I love this serum [because] the ingredients are good and it works for me.”
Best Clean Formula
- Why We Love It: Cruelty-free, clean ingredients, great for all hair types
Looking for the benefits of a scalp serum without the harsh ingredients? This scalp tonic features sweet white lupine plant (to protect against skin damage), Swiss apple stem cells (to support healthy growth) and Indian senna plant (to moisturize and restore the scalp). Plus, it includes a nourishing blend of essential oils to keep your scalp nice and hydrated.
Promising Customer Review: “This product was great at helping me maintain a balanced scalp. Having to forgo regular washes, it helped keep fungal dandruff at bay and didn't add to the buildup of oil on my scalp. I regularly trimmed my hair at home, so I know my hair follicles were happy and healthy. It also smells very pretty and gives you a reason to spend time stimulating your scalp.”
Best Vegan Formula
- Why We Love It: Cruelty-free, 100 percent vegan, exclusive discount for members
This hair serum takes a holistic approach to hair thinning and shedding. Its vegan formula (consisting of mung bean, curcumin and red clover) is designed to soothe the scalp, revitalize strands and increase your hair density (by what the brand claims is 52 percent, FYI). And while all scalps aren’t created equal, the brand promises results in three to four months.
Promising Customer Review: “I have used this serum for six months straight and I can say for sure that is works. I have hormonal and other health issues that cause me to have slow hair growth, so I never expected a miracle with this serum. But I am happy to share my hair showed incredible improvement. My bald spots on the scalp are definitely filling up slowly. I have a lot of baby hair now and I plan to go on with the usage of this serum to hopefully see more hair growth and fuller head of hair.”
Best Pre-Wash Treatment
- Why We Love It: Sulfate-free, expert-approved, pleasant scent
Apply this treatment before shampooing to prep your scalp for a thorough cleanse. The self-heating mixture stimulates blood flow and reduces thinning. The key ingredient—rednesyl—is proven to thicken locks in the long run. Just let it sit on your scalp for five to 20 minutes (depending on your sensitivity) before rinsing and continuing with your haircare routine as usual.
Promising Customer Review: “I’ve been using the scalp booster for almost a month now. My hair is finally looking full again. I use it three times a week and leave it in my hair for about 15 minutes. It starts to get warm and tingles so you can feel it working and doing its job! My hair is silky, shiny, full and not frizzy! So happy to have this product for my hair! It is the golden key to hair growth! It works.”
Best for Natural Hair
- Why We Love It: Black-Owned, great for protective styles
Whether you’re sporting your natural curls or rocking a protective style, this scalp serum is dedicated to boosting natural hair. It’s loaded with aloe juice, glycerin and castor oil to restore and refresh dry scalps. Plus, its rich in peppermint and lavender oil, which offers a calming sensation to relieve any tension and inflammation.
Promising Customer Review: “This product is great for those who are looking to soothe a dry scalp. I got this product to use on my scalp when I have my hair in braids. It does a great job of cooling [down] irritated spots and does not drip down all over my face. I apply it at night before wrapping up my hair. The problem is if you apply too much product it does cause buildup that can also cause dirt and more irritation.”
16. Ouai Scalp Serum
- Why We Love It: Cruelty-free, paraben-free, great for thinning hair
Whether you’re dealing with dryness, flakes or shedding, this scalp serum checks all the boxes. It includes a blend of adaptogens and hyaluronic acid, which is said to increase hydration to the scalp. There’s also red clover flower extract that soothes and protects your strands against styling. The finishing touch? Peptides to encourage fuller, thicker hair.
Promising Customer Review: “I’ve only been using this product for a few days, but I’m already in love! This serum is so lightweight. I was worried it would be oily and leave my hair greasy, but it’s so lightweight that you can apply quite a bit and you can’t even tell! It also gives your hair a nice lift, making it look more voluminous. I also have dry, flaky scalp and I think this helps soothe and hydrate it. I’m excited to see the hair growth results! I know this is a pricier item, but I think it’s worth the splurge.”
Best Instant Relief
Sunday II Sunday
- Why We Love It: Vegan formula, Black-owned, great for natural hair
Whether you’re on-the-go or need an instant fix, this scalp serum has your back. It promises itch and tension relief in about 15 minutes. The soothing formula, made up of alternsis botantics and peppermint oil, minimizes any inflammation and irritation upon application. Plus, the nozzle tip makes it easy to apply directly on the scalp, especially if you’re rocking a tight hairstyle (i.e, ponytails, high buns or braids).
Promising Customer Review: “I have a sensitive scalp that is prone to flares of itching and flaking. I use this product when I have braids or any other protective style and it is the only thing that constantly soothes my scalp.”
- Why We Love It: Dermatologist-approved, sulfate-free, great for oily scalps
“I recommend this lightweight serum because it’s great for nightly use and is filled with peptides and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture at the scalp without clogging the follicles,” says Godbee. A closer look at the ingredients and you’ll find peptides, ceramides and keratin, along with plant and water-based ingredients like watercress and Indian cress extract to enhance scalp and hair health.
Promsing Customer Review: "I went into the store looking for some sort of scalp treatment for flaky dry patches that showed up overnight. This killed it! It feels so soothing when putting it on, the smell is amazing, and I wake up with a hydrated scalp that is less flaky and my hair is SO shiny!'
- Why We Love It: Cooling sensation, nozzle applicator
Want to rock a tight hairstyle without discomfort? This scalp serum relieves any tension and refreshes your scalp whenever you need it. The soothing formula features biotin, avocado oil and liquid proteins to moisturize and calm irritation. Plus, the nozzle applicator lets you apply the product directly to the irritated spot and leaves a cooling sensation behind.
Customer Review: “My scalp tends to get dry in the winter and this anti-breakage scalp relief serum helped keep my scalp hydrated and nourished. I tend to wear my hair up which would leave tension in my scalp and this helped to alleviate that. The serum did not feel oily nor leave any residue. Overall, it worked really well with my hair! I highly recommend [it]!”
The Inkey List
- Why We Love It: Dermatologist-approved, fragrance-free, clean ingredients
This treatment works over time to improve and support your scalp health. Key ingredients include caffeine powder, redensyl and betaine, which have been said to stimulate the scalp, reduce hair loss and encourage healthy hair growth. On that note, the serum promises to thicken strands with its vegan formula while it simultaneously conditions and smoothes.
Promising Customer Review: “This has saved my hair (!!!) after I had COVID-19. [For] three months, my hair started shedding like crazy. I was scared to wash it or brush it because so much would come out. I have really thick hair and I lost so much to the point that other people were noticing. I started using this and I’ve noticed so many baby hairs coming in—little to no shedding. Even my hairdresser noticed the regrowth and I didn’t tell her that I had been using it. This saved my hair!”
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Chelsea Candelario is an Assistant Editor at PureWow. She’s been writing about beauty and culture for 7+ years. When she’s not searching the Internet for the latest beauty trends (and testing them out herself), she’s constantly highlighting inclusive brands that might not be on your radar.