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Hair cycling for healthy scalp and hair: Does alternating products in your haircare routine really work?

Surprisingly, yes, say our hair experts. Here’s what you need to know about the viral trend, and why you should consider getting on board.

Have you wondered why most of us would think nothing about doing a multi-step skincare routine day and night to ensure our face looks its best, yet when it comes to washing our hair, it’s often the simpler (and faster) the better? So why aren’t we showing our hair and scalp the same love and care?

Fun fact: Our scalp ages faster than the skin on our face (six times faster), and body (12 times faster), and its ageing is caused by our lifestyle habits and environment factors.

On what constitutes to a healthy scalp and hair, Dr Harold Ma, medical director of Freia Medical explained, “a healthy scalp should be balanced – no flaking, itching, redness and soreness. Not too dry, not too oily while healthy hair strands should be well-hydrated, but not too oily or limp. The hair texture should be smooth and manageable”.

Dr Ma recommended using a good scalp care shampoo for five to six days, switching to a scalp purifying/clarifying shampoo once a week to reduce build-up of excess sebum. For women, he also advised to add a pump of conditioner on the ends of the hair, while hair masks can be used once a week as well.

Think of it as setting a ‘hair routine time-table’. – Dr Eileen Tan
(Photo: iStock)

Inspired by the viral skincare trend, skin cycling, the Internet tells us that hair cycling is essentially alternating products in your haircare routine to achieve healthy scalp and hair. Rather than using the same products every time, you alternate between clarifying shampoos, ultra-hydrating masks and scalp or hair specific products.

According to Dr Ma, while the term ‘hair cycling’ is not new, it also doesn’t mean to “keep switching shampoos for the sake of it”. In fact, he believes that hair cycling is the use of “appropriate products at a preset rhythm and timing for your specific hair requirements and incorporating elements of detox or purification of the scalp”.

Think of it as “setting a ‘hair routine time-table’", said Dr Eileen Tan, dermatologist at Eileen Tan Skin Clinic & Associates. More importantly, she adds that such a routine should be kept simple and straightforward.

“It is neither necessary to use multiple range of hair products nor keep to a sophisticated long list of various products, which make it difficult to follow,” Dr Tan explained.


(Photo: iStock)

When done correctly, a hair cycling routine can help you strike the perfect balance between keeping the scalp clean and healthy, not stripping it of all its natural oils and moisture, and yet keeping the hair nicely hydrated and manageable, explained Dr Ma. The incorporation of a weekly scalp exfoliation or the use of clarifying shampoos and alternating days of hydrating haircare can help. In doing so, you can reduce build-up of residue and hair products and replenish the much-needed water content in the hair shafts, said Dr Ma.

Virtue Labs exfoliating scalp treatment, S$77, from Sephora.


Yes, said J Lim, a director at Chez Vous: Private Space. “Our hair and scalp are not made up of one single component, and likewise there is no product that can provide comprehensive care to both our hair and scalp. This is why we should rotate the use of our products to provide optimal care.”

Though to Dr Tan, a hair cycling routine would be more beneficial if you’re battling multiple scalp and hair concerns, such a combination of scalp dermatitis with dry hair and split ends.


(Photo: iStock)

According to Lim, there aren’t any disadvantages to hair cycling, unless the wrong product is being used or wrong application method.

For instance, applying a nourishing hair conditioner onto the scalp. “Our hair tends to be dry and damaged, thus our haircare tends to be richer. But our scalp needs to be thoroughly cleansed,” Lim said. Instead, she advised using “a scalp shampoo once a week and a purifying scalp lotion or scrub once every 21 days – to follow your scalp renewal cycle – to ensure that the scalp is purified gently”.

Aveda scalp solutions balancing shampoo, S$47.50.

Dr Tan, on the other hand, shared that a potential downside would be the difficulty in identifying a culprit product if allergy rashes develop, in the case of using a multiple range of products every alternate day or every few days. In addition, she also added that the discipline to follow through a hair cycling, especially if it were a complicated one, could be tricky as well.


(Photo: iStock)

As with many things in life, doing things in moderation is key. According to Dr Ma, the over-use of conditioners, hair masks and scalp scrubs can counteract any benefits they may have. For instance, while hair masks can nourish dry and damaged hair, over-zealous use of it can lead to a build-up of grease and sebum, which can alter the natural balance of our scalp and result in scalp acne, he explained.

As a rule of thumb, scalp exfoliants or clarifying shampoos should be used once to twice a week while ultra-hydrating shampoos and masks can be used twice to three times depending on your hair type and needs.

K18 leave-in molecular repair hair mask, S$70 for 50ml.

And leveraging on the same principles of skin cycling, Dr Ma shared that you can give your scalp a break from the use of too-rich haircare and overly harsh exfoliants, swapping it for a scalp balancing shampoo on the “rest” days. After all, “a balanced scalp will promote healthy hair”.

At the same time, Lim also added that haircare products need time and frequency of use to work. “Scalp serums, especially anti-hair loss ones, need at least three to four months to see results, so don’t stop using it prematurely.” In short, do not be tempted to switch out your haircare products too quickly.


(Photo: iStock)

Without a doubt, hair cycling is beneficial for anyone. But it will also look different for everyone.

“Everyone is different and following another person’s routine may not always work, so be sure to find the right routine that will bring out the best in your own hair,” advised Dr Ma. This is crucial because hair cycling done wrong can worsen your scalp and hair conditions. 

For instance, if you’re suffering from thinning hair, hair loss or serious scalp issues, a hair cycling routing may not be as effective. These issues may not be due to the hair products in question, but rather a deeper issue such as an underlying medical condition like thyroid dysfunction, nutritional deficiency or even genetics, said both Drs Ma and Tan. In this instance, it would be best to seek medical help for professional advice.

Ultimately, a hair cycling routine can only do so much. Dr Ma also added that a balanced lifestyle and nutrition are also essential. “Hair cycling alone will not be the answer to all your hair woes. But it can form part of a wider strategy to preserve our luscious locks.”

Source: CNA/yy