this thing's incredible

I Use a Cult Facial Toner to Get Rid of My Dry and Flaky Scalp

Photo: Courtesy of Isobel Lewis

I never suffered from a dry scalp until I graduated from university, when, like some kind of weird metaphor, there it was. “Welcome to adulthood,” it said. “It’s all downhill from here.” Over the following couple of years, I spent September through March trying to keep my itchy, flaky scalp at bay. I switched to an anti-dandruff shampoo, laid off the dry shampoo, and started using a manual scalp scrub brush in the shower. The first two helped things a bit — if you’re reading this and have a dry scalp, please, for the love of God, stop using dry shampoo — but manually exfoliating agitated things and left me flakier than ever.

Last autumn (after two years of this) I noticed a r/SkincareAddiction member suggest a K-beauty technique of using acid facial toners to exfoliate the scalp. Something clicked for me: Physical exfoliants dislodged the dry skin from my scalp but still left me looking flaky, so a chemical exfoliant could totally remove the buildup. I already owned the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution from the Ordinary, but wanted direct confirmation before giving it a go. I searched Google for reviews and hit the jackpot on fanserviced-b, where blogger Tracy Robey wrote about her success with the method and the product. Six months on, I’m a convert. The Ordinary’s product is most effective when used on dry hair immediately before a wash. After parting my hair, I use the small nozzle attachment to cover my scalp with product before working it in with my fingers. I have very thick hair, so I usually just focus on the front hairline and my parting where the issue is most visible. Once every month, or when things feel particularly agitated, I exfoliate my whole scalp with it, which someone with finer hair might prefer to do every time.

Then, I let it do its magic, usually leaving the acid tingling away for between 10 and 15 minutes, before rinsing it out in the shower (avoiding getting any in my eyes) and proceeding with my standard shampoo and conditioner. My scalp feels fresh but not sore, and my wash routine remains the same, where I can still go the same three days between shampoos as before. As the bottle contains a hefty 240 ml for only £6.80, I’m yet to hit the halfway mark after nearly five months of continuous weekly use on my scalp and occasional use on my face.

A note: If you’re concerned about using acids with dyed hair, a representative for the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Perfumery Association said the product was unlikely to impact permanent or semi-permanent hair colour. They explained: “Alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid are very good at removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface and have numerous beneficial properties for the hair and scalp.”

When we asked a group of experts for their pick of products to treat acne scars, The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid Suspension was a top recommendation. Dr Michele Farber of Schweiger Dermatology told us that azelaic acid works by “inhibiting the formation of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which in turn stops the mechanism that produces skin-darkening melanin.” Natalie Multon-Levy — another dermatologist that we chatted with — recommended The Ordinary’s option for both its affordability and effectiveness. Since then it has appeared on our March best-sellers roundup, proving popular with Strategist readers.

The Ordinary’s Serum Foundation comes recommended by experts as the best tinted moisturiser for under £10. Facialist expert Michaella Bolder (her clients include Dame Helen Mirren amongst others) told us that the serum foundation “is a fantastic and super-affordable liquid that, when chosen in the light form, acts as a matte, tinted moisturiser, which is great for all skin types.” She also praises the shade selection available from The Ordinary, that caters for “most, if not all skin tones.”

According to beauty columnist Rio Viera-Newton, “rose-hip oil contains small amounts of tretinoin, a retinoid that’s been proven to help some people out with acne, as well as linoleic acid, which can help reduce the size of blackheads.” That’s what makes The Ordinary’s Rose Hip Seed Oil a product she regularly reaches for to get control over a breakout. According to Rio, this £9 bottle is so effective she’s never felt the need to invest in any of the much dearer “cult” rose-hip oils.

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I Use a Cult Facial Toner to Cure My Dry and Flaky Scalp