To the uninitiated, a bald head may seem far easier to maintain than a flowing mane. Bad hair days become a thing of the past. So does that morning mirror time spent trimming those edges. But once you (or fate) decide it’s time for Mr. Clean’s clean-shaven look, your scalp turns into the main event. That’s why several experts — among them barbers and dermatologists — tipped us off to this trick: Think of your caring for your bald head as steps in your skin-care routine rather than part of your hair-care habits.
The two biggest concerns with a bald head are dryness (which can be caused by lack of sun protection) and dandruff, according to our panel of experts — which also include groomers, an aesthetician, makeup artist, and trichologist. As the scalp gets exposed to direct sunlight, it becomes susceptible to sun damage and drying, explains cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. Dryness can lead to dandruff. “You don’t need hair to get dandruff! Those without hair are actually at a more heightened risk for dandruff,” says celebrity cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank. For bald people of color in particular, either can result in discoloration and “light-colored patches,” warns Dr. Andrew Alexis, the director of the Skin of Color Center at Mount Sinai West. (Still, Alexis told us that skin color doesn’t change any treatment he recommends.)
Above all, our experts say it’s important to keep your bald head clean, moisturized, and protected from the sun, because any irritations will not only bother you, but also be visible to everyone else. Below, our experts share all the stuff they say is integral to keeping a bald head looking its best. To help you better find what you’re looking for, we’ve arranged the products in the order that the pros say you would use them in a daily routine.
Best scalp cleansers for bald heads with dandruff
Our experts say the first step to a good-looking scalp begins with the products you use in the shower. That’s especially true if you’re one of the many who struggle with dandruff, as they note that a bare scalp means any scales and redness are even more noticeable. “Dry scalp is really common” among bald people, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Samer Jaber, who adds that dandruff is too. The first line of defense, according to the pros, would be an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo like this one that contains active ingredients like coal tar, which Alexis tells us has been shown to fight dandruff effectively.
Pyrithione zinc is a common anti-dandruff ingredient that you’ll come across, according to dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. This Dove shampoo features it — the ingredient has antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties that can also help with inflammation and itchiness, she says. The mild, pH-balanced formula can decrease yeast on the skin (yes, it can happen on your scalp, too) without causing irritation, King adds.
King mentions that those with oily scalp skin can benefit from a cleanser that has salicylic acid — which is oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate into pores to gently exfoliate and remove excess (and pore-clogging) sebum. Re-Fresh’s formula includes salicylic acid and apple cider vinegar, which does the same thing but is also anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, she says. And King points out the shampoo has other moisturizing ingredients — like coconut oil — to keep the scalp from drying out even further.
An alternative dandruff treatment Jaber likes is this zinc-based bar soap, which he says might be easier to apply to a bald head, as it won’t run the way a liquid shampoo might. (Zinc may not be as widely used for treating dandruff, but it is often recommended by dermatologists and Jaber says it’s equally effective). This bar is all-natural, featuring ingredients like oatmeal for gentle exfoliation. Frank similarly says that the zinc helps decrease inflammation while argan oil in the bar soap hydrates.
Best scalp cleansers for bald heads without dandruff
According to barber Hung Nguyen of Fellow Barber, even if dandruff isn’t something you struggle with, bald men are particularly susceptible to a dry scalp because sun exposure will dry out their skin year-round. That’s why he and other experts say it’s important to regularly wash and cleanse your scalp even if you don’t have dandruff (or have moved past it).
To cleanse a scalp that doesn’t have dandruff, Jaber and Alexis say you can use whatever you’re using on your body, as long as it’s moisturizing and gentle — like this classic Dove bar soap that Jaber recommends. “You can think of the scalp skin as very similar to the facial skin,” Alexis explains. “So the gentler products you’d use for your face, such as moisturizing soaps, are good for the scalp too.” King used the same metaphor, saying that those with bald heads that aren’t dandruff- or oily-prone should use a gentle cleanser like they would on their faces. She’s another Dove Beauty Bar devotee, but prefers the original formula as it doesn’t use any harsh detergents and has several emollients, such as stearic acid, that work to support and soften the skin barrier.
While the Dove soap is very gentle as far as soaps go, its chemical ingredients might still be too harsh for some. “Usually I think it’s best to go as natural as possible,” says groomer Ronnie Peterson, who notes that any additives increase the chances of irritation or allergies. For anyone with sensitive scalp skin, he recommends this foaming wash. It’s made specifically for “bald, shaved, and buzzed heads” and is non-comedogenic (so it doesn’t block pores), hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free, so it’s extra gentle. It’s also “great for healing irritation from razors,” Peterson adds. Esthetician Taylor Worden recommends using it once a day when you shower to keep the scalp fresh and hydrated.
The Bee Bald line is made specifically for bald and shaved heads (other products from the brand make an appearance down below). Green thinks that scalp cleansers should be gentle and nourishing yet still effective at cleansing any buildup of dead skin cells, oil, and dirt (this will prevent issues like irritation, dandruff, and dryness, too). This cleanser fits the bill, she says, as it’s formulated with jojoba, aloe, and salicylic acid. The three work to give a gentle exfoliation, deep cleanse, and keep the scalp healthy and hydrated. She recommends using it once daily.
“It would be easy to think that you can grab any shampoo that you want and do a quick scrub of your scalp in the shower and call it good,” says Patrick Butler, the technical director of education at Floyd’s 99 Barbershop. “Unfortunately, that’s not enough.” But this is a pretty easy grab-and-go shampoo: It’ll remove dirt and oil while opening your pores up, Butler mentions. And you can use it daily without worrying that it’ll dry your skin out — he has personally used it on his own head. He also says that the blend of tea tree, peppermint, and lavender leave that traditional tingling sensation you get from some hair-care products.
Trichologist Bridgette Hill of Root Cause Scalp Analysis is partial to oat-based cleansers for bald heads as they help continually replenish and maintain a balanced microbiome, which are the key to keeping the scalp’s skin healthy. Hill says formulas meant to deep cleanse aren’t going to be great on the scalp as they’re too aggressive. An oat cleanser like Klorane’s will also provide a soothing effect that she thinks is essential to scalp health. When shampooing a bald head, she recommends more frequent washes if you tend to sweat more, and if your scalp is on the drier side, washing weekly.
Best moisturizing oils for bald heads
After you shower, while your pores are still open, applying a moisturizing oil will further hydrate a bald head, according to our experts, who say it’s especially imperative to use one before you shave your scalp. That’s because, according to Nguyen, “when skin is moisturized it has more flexibility, so when you’re shaving it won’t pull as much. And because the skin is smoother, the blade will glide across it better.” At Nguyen’s barbershop, they use Strategist-favorite Everyday Oil. “It’s a blend of hot-pressed essential oils and cold pressed plant-based oils, fused together to make a moisturizing product that doesn’t leave that slippery coating like most lotions do,” he explains. Nguyen adds that, because the oil is good for any and all skin, there’s “truly no waste: If you have any leftover in your hand, you can use it on your face, your neck, your knuckles.”
For a cheaper oil, Anthony Michael Tapia, a master stylist at Barbiere barber shop in the East Village, loves the classic Palmer’s coconut oil. “It’s antifungal, antibacterial, and good for dandruff, too,” he says. Even though an untreated, solidified coconut oil — the type you’d find at a natural-food store — is technically more “pure,” he prefers this liquid formulation because it’s less messy and absorbs quickly.
Best shaving products for bald heads
Both Alexis and Nguyen warned that shaving foam has no moisturizing properties, and worse, the chemicals that make it foamy can actually dry and strip skin. Instead, Alexis advises using “a hydrating, thick shaving cream,” and Nguyen told us he uses this one on all his bald clients. “It’s an Italian brand that lathers very nicely and is really moisturizing,” he told us.
Tapia swears by this more affordable cream for cleaning the scalp and preparing it for a shave at the same time. While not technically a shaving cream, he has used it to shave customers’ heads for years, with positive results. “If I’m at the shop with a client, I need to work quickly,” Tapia explains. He can’t give someone a shave if their scalp is dry, so he applies this fast-absorbing cream and they’re usually good to go right away. Tapia says it’s not greasy and you only need a small amount.
More important than the razor you use (which our experts say could be the one you also shave your face with), this lathering brush is a tool that Nguyen says is one of the best ways to prep for an irritation-free shave. Why? “Because when you apply the shave with the brush, it massages the scalp, which encourages blood-flow, which in turn brings essential nutrients to the scalp. It also lifts the hair as you go, to prep for the blade.” Lifting the hair means that it will grow back more evenly, and without razor bumps, because you’re shaving hair that’s positioned to be cut. You simply wet the brush to create a lather by rubbing it against the soap, then run the lathered brush along your scalp to prep it for the blade. While Nguyen is a fan of the shaving soap from Claus Porto (a brand we’ve written about before), he says any shaving soap will do.
[Editor’s note: Three Arrows is re-launching its site so the brush set will be in stock soon.]
Best scalp moisturizers for bald heads
After you’ve washed, oiled and shaved, our experts say you’ll want to moisturize (a step, they note, you should do whether you shave or not). Dermatologist Dr. Peterson Pierre reminds that a bald head is “more sensitive in general because it no longer has any protection, so adding moisture should become part of your regimen. Look for products that include hyaluronic acid, shea butter, ceramides, glycerin, and the like.” A perennial Strategist favorite, Weleda Skin Food is also a great moisturizer for the scalp, according to Peterson: “I love this cream for everything. It’s rich, thick, and natural.”
If you want your head to have more of a muted look, Peterson recommends this mattifying moisturizer. “I use this for TV commercials if I’m working on someone with a shiny forehead,” he says, adding that it works especially well when used in conjunction with this mattifying primer stick. “I usually use this for a photo session with harsh lights, but I think it works wonderfully in daylight.”
This post-shave healing balm is one of Bee Bald’s most popular products. “It really soothes irritation,” Peterson says. “My friend loves it, and he shaves with a razor every three days.” Worden points out that the balm contains a combination of honey, bee-pollen extracts, vitamin E, and oat, which work together to calm redness, bumps, or an irritated scalp.
We heard about this moisturizer from Worden and Green. You can pair it with the post-shave balm as it helps with any oil buildup while offering the scalp enough hydration without feeling greasy, Worden says. Green feels similarly, adding that the shea butter, titanium dioxide, and vitamin E in the formula provide a soothing effect that locks in essential moisture and helps protect against sun damage.
King’s three-part rule of thumb is to hydrate with humectants (like glycerin), support the skin barrier with emollients (think sweet almond oil), and lock in moisture with occlusives (common ones include argan and jojoba oils). This lotion features glycerin, which will draw in moisture to hydrate and lock it into your skin, and sweet almond oil that some research suggests can rejuvenate damaged skin, she explains. King adds that the vitamin E in the formula is effective in protecting against UV damage (a huge worry for those with bald heads, as we’ve learned).
This moisturizer is meant for bald heads specifically. Frank points out that the shea butter will moisturize while the tea-tree oil can assist in combating a common fungus called malassezia that causes dandruff.
This cream is formulated to lock in moisture and features antioxidants to maintain a healthy look and feel to the scalp, according to Butler. He likes how the moisturizer soaks right up into the skin and doesn’t leave that dreaded greasy texture.
Best sunscreens for bald heads
In terms of products, “sunscreen is the most important thing for people who are bald,” says Jaber, which is the same opinion of others we spoke to. “Your scalp is directly underneath the sun,” so there is a high risk of sun damage if you don’t take steps to protect your skin. He advises bald patients to wear a hat or ball cap when outside, but of course a good sunscreen is essential as well: “SPF 30 or higher. Higher is better.” In addition, he says you should make sure the sunscreen is labeled “broad spectrum,” and that you should reapply it every few hours. Jaber didn’t recommend a specific brand, but this sunscreen from La Roche-Posay adheres to his criteria, and it’s Peterson’s favorite: “It’s anti-shine and, to me, La Roche-Posay is the best line for sunscreen.” Green also approves of the sunscreen for bald heads. She appreciates the clear, matte finish as well — so no leftover white cast or greasiness is left behind. To Jaber’s point above, Green adds that the broad-spectrum formula will protect against UVA and UVB rays.
“Sometimes they leave that white finish, but this one doesn’t do that,” makeup artist Robert Reyes says of this sunscreen from Strategist-favorite Supergoop!. It’s his preferred sunscreen for bald heads because the formula lightweight and applies clean without leaving any white residue.
The lightweight texture of this sunscreen means it’s easy to apply and keep on applying during the day, according to King. The sunscreen also does double duty, King explains: It provides broad-spectrum coverage and offers DNA repair enzymes to help address past sun damage, “which means it’s actually repairing and protecting at the same time.”
This sunblock is a favorite with dermatologists we previously spoke to, but Pierre approves of it for those with bald heads since the zinc-based formula blends right in, even on skin of color. Like the Isdin sunscreen above, Pierre points out that it features the same DNA repair enzymes to help with sun damage, too.
Worden echoes that SPF is a must and also emphasizes that you should probably bring a hat with you before leaving the house to prevent more aging of the head. Her sunscreen of choice for bald heads is from Jack Black as it won’t drip into your eyes and doesn’t feel greasy or leave a white cast on the skin. Plus, it’s water-resistant, which is necessary since those with bald heads are likely to sweat more when exposed to the sun, she says. Butler approves it as well for the same reasons, saying that it blocks the sun rays that will dry you out, making it a more moisturizing option.
Hill points out that this brush-on sunscreen is approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation. The powder allows for maximum coverage, she says, and can be reapplied throughout the day (the brand says at least every two hours) easily with the brush. It comes in four different tones — ranging from fair to deep — which is helpful to ward off that white shadow that darker skin tones may experience with other mineral-based sunscreens, Hill explains.
And if you’re worried about shine…
Listen, we get it. High shine can happen to anyone. But for those with bald heads, it can present a particular problem that might, on the surface, feel unfixable. Butler recommends this powder to reduce noticeable shine. “A powder may sound like you need to learn about makeup, but fear not.” He calls this an easy-to-use product — it’s been both helpful to him and his clients — that just requires a quick dab with a pad into the powder and a fast pass over the scalp. “Your shine will disappear, and you’ll look calm, cool, and collected.”
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