LIVE

Do You Touch Your Hair Often? These Antibacterial Haircare Products Are for You

Nope, it’s not hand sanitizer for your head.
By Emily Cieslak
March 09, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

For many of us, it took the COVID-19 pandemic to realize how often we unconsciously touch our face, spreading germs to our eyes, nose, and mouth in the process. But you're probably less aware of touching your hair—whether it's twirling that one strand or scratching an itchy scalp, it's easy to unconsciously play with our locks. Sorry to break it to you, but according to experts, this habit needs to stop now, especially in the face of a pandemic. 

"We need to start thinking of the scalp the same way we think of the skin on our faces," says Paul Cucinello, hairstylist and CEO of Cucinello Beauty. "Touching your hair and scalp with unwashed hands is a no-no."

Though the risk of spreading COVID-19 through your hair is relatively low, Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says you can still spread other bacteria from your hands to your scalp, causing irritation and wreaking havoc on your 'do.

In fact, all that hair flipping may be the cause of your scalp problems. "The overproduction of bacteria and fungi on the scalp can create a disturbance in the scalp's microbiome, causing redness, dandruff, irritation, and sometimes, more serious scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, folliculitis, eczema, and psoriasis," says Cucinello. 

Antibacterial hair care

As everyone is thinking about germs and bacteria these days, the beauty industry has stepped up with a greater focus on scalp care as skincare. You've probably seen scalp scrubs and brushes popping up all over, as well as products being touted as antibacterial.

While it's a new buzzword, the concept of antibacterial hair care isn't new. A step above clarifying, it's simply about using proven "sanitizing" ingredients to help mitigate the overproduction of certain bacteria and fungi on the scalp and strands that can cause issues like dandruff, redness, and irritation. And just to clarify (since we know you're thinking it), antibacterial products—unless stated otherwise—kill bacteria, not viruses like COVID-19.

When should I use antibacterial hair products?

"While the idea of killing all of the bacteria that can develop on the scalp might sound tempting, it is a very slippery slope," says Cucinello. "Balance is the key here."

As the saying goes, if it's not broken, don't fix it. If your scalp is healthy and you don't notice any dryness or irritation, you probably don't need to use antibacterial products. In fact, you can throw off the balance of the scalp's microbiome by trying to overuse these products. 

Instead, Cucinello recommends following a healthy scalp care routine. You might be tempted to go days without washing or brushing your hair as work from home continues, but Cucinello says it's important to practice a regular routine of exfoliating and cleansing the scalp to banish buildup. Scrubs and scalp brushes can help, but regularly washing and massaging your scalp in the shower usually does the trick. And remember, don't touch your hair or scalp, especially with dirty hands.

"We've all become lazy with our hair care routine but convenience is sometimes the enemy," says Cucinello. Case in point: dry shampoo. It might be the first thing you reach for when your hair gets greasy, but coating your oily strands with product rather than washing them can do more harm than good. Cucinello says dry shampoo is fine every once in a while, but it can mess with your scalp's pH if you reach for it more than your shampoo.

What ingredients should I look for and avoid?

Cucinello recommends avoiding products with coal tar, harsh detergents, and sulfates, all of which can dry out and irritate the scalp. 

If you are experiencing mild irritation or dry flaking, you can look for ingredients with natural antibacterial properties like tea tree oil, manuka honey, and coconut oil. Ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, and selenium disulfide all have antifungal properties as well. And salicylic acid, which you may know from treating acne, is a beta-hydroxy acid that can be used to promote healthy cellular turnover on the scalp.

If you are having more serious scalp issues like folliculitis—inflammation of the hair follicle—or psoriasis, it's best to see a dermatologist for treatment. 

Now that you have the lowdown on antibacterial haircare, these are the best antibacterial products for your hair and scalp:

antibacterial-haircare-Anti-B Antibacterial Shampoo

1
Anti-B Antibacterial Shampoo

$20, amazon.com

With lemon essential oil, witch hazel, and aloe vera, this shampoo soothes everything from sensitive skin to ringworm. Bonus: It can also be used as a body wash. 

antibacterial-haircare-biosilk-shampoo

2
BioSilk Antibacterial Shampoo

$16, biosilk.com

BioSilk combines benzalkonium chloride, a known dandruff fighter, along with aloe, lavender oil, and glycerin to disinfect the scalp and moisturize hair.

antibacterial-haircare-safe-hair-sanitizing-spray

3
SAFE HAIR Hair Instant Cleansing Spray and Go Protection Shampoo

$24, amazon.com

If you work in a medical profession, Dr. King says you can use a sanitizing mist like Safe Hair after your shift and in between washes. When washing, the Go Protection Shampoo provides a deep clean. In addition to benzalkonium chloride, the products use Melaleuca, lemongrass, and aloe vera to kill 99.99 percent of germs on hair.

antibacterial-clothing-klorane-purifying-mist

4
Klorane Anti-Pollution Purifying Mist with Aquatic Mint

$18, ulta.com

Whether you work in a fragrant environment or simply spent the past hour whipping up a delicious, but smelly, dinner, this purifying mist can freshen up your locks, no water required. Mint, lemon, and tea tree oil neutralize odors and work deeply to detoxify the scalp and protect against future pollution. 

antibacterial-haircare-Just Nutritive Scalp Antibacterial Formula

5
Just Nutritive Scalp Antibacterial Formula

$26, amazon.com

Spot treat itchiness with this blend of nourishing oils. Jojoba and grapeseed oils bring on the nutrients while manuka and tea tree oil detox.