Fight Client Stress With Scalp Massage


One of the most under-utilized techniques in the spectrum of touch therapies is the massage of the scalp. Health practitioners of every discipline agree that stress is the No. 1 enemy of wellness and well-being, and that chronic stress—ongoing, long-term anxiety—has never been more of a societal ill than it is right now. Scalp massage offers an immediate, low-tech, extremely accessible solution that may be seamlessly integrated into your service menu.

One of the key benefits of scalp massage is the simplicity and modesty of the technique. The client does not need to disrobe, and it can be offered in an open, unisex space, making it exceptionally marketable and well-suited to walk-ins and people in a hurry. In the United States, it is common for scalp massage to be offered simply as a dry service, unlike in India where the practice may involve oils selected according to the ayurvedic calendar, dosha—a client’s energy and body type—and tradition. Providing a scalp massage without oil, of course, vastly increases the appeal of the treatment in modern, urban settings, where freshly shampooed and styled hair is the cultural preference.

The roots of scalp massage

The roots of this method date back nearly 4,000 years to a type of ayurvedic technique native to the East Indian culture. The modern version hails from India via the United Kingdom, also known as Indian head massage. In India, the practice, involving the use of oils, is said to keep long hair strong, lustrous and in beautiful condition, and it is even claimed to prevent graying and thinning of the hair. However, it is now known that innate hair qualities, including color, coarseness, density, distribution and wave pattern, are determined primarily by genetics. Still, the intimacy of head and scalp massage speaks to a healing, life-affirming experience that helps enhance well-being. Will it make the hair more beautiful? Well, it couldn’t hurt!

The practice poses few, if any contraindications—just be sure to complete a thorough written consultation and skin analysis with your client, and refrain from performing scalp massage on anyone with obvious neck injuries or recent facial surgeries. Also, allow three days before performing scalp massage after injectable procedures.

Scalp massage may be offered as a stand-alone touch therapy and also may be incorporated into skin, hair, spa and body treatments. It’s an ideal value-added service when a mask, body wrap or deep-conditioning treatment is processing on the client, or as the final step to bodywork. Keep in mind that some state boards are picky about what areas of the body a skin care professional, massage therapist and cosmetologist may officially touch, so be sure to carefully check specific local rulings before offering or advertising this service. (Editor’s note: Log on to for a complete list of state board contact information for each state.)

On the subject of using oil as part of a scalp massage, it will make the experience more sensory for the client. A few drops of a calming aromatherapy blend, or a warm nut- or plant-based oil can be used if your client is suffering from dry scalp. Obviously, it is important to check with your client before incorporating oil to ensure they are not leaving your treatment room to go straight to a company function. If you are a full-service spa and the client prefers the use of oil, recommend that she schedule a shampoo, blow-dry and styling following the scalp massage.

Marketing and retail

Suggest that scalp massage be added after a nail service, before hair services, during an eyelash tint or as part of the client’s next skin care treatment. Send clients home with a trial size of a stress-relief oil, which they can use over the third eye area in the evening, and apply to their neck and shoulders to wind down and release stress.

Recommend scalp massage as a gateway experience to potential male clients who may be newcomers to the professional skin care experience. It’s nonthreatening, noncommittal, and it feels good. Consider introducing it to your clients as a nonalcoholic happy hour offering, since it’s a great way to relieve tension, especially for clients who spend their days in front of computer screens. Eight hours plus on a keyboard every day commonly results in eye strain, as well as neck, shoulder and jaw pain from clenching the teeth. Clasping a handset phone receiver between ear and shoulder—something many still do, in spite of the invention of headsets—adds to the problem.

Scalp massage is also a natural recommendation for two extremely common issues: frequent headaches and insomnia. It’s the equivalent of slipping out of an excruciatingly cute pair of stiletto heels, or loosening a tight necktie and starched collar; it’s soothing, sedating and relaxing—a much-needed release from the chronic stress that defines modern living.

Annet King is the director of global education for The International Dermal Institute (IDI) and Dermalogica. She develops, writes, presents and monitors the success of all classes that comprise the IDI curriculum, and is CIDESCO-, ITEC- and CIBTAC-certified. King’s initial career as the operations director for Steiner involved overseeing spas onboard several luxury cruise liners. This parlayed into extensive work in the skin care field in Singapore and other areas of Southeast Asia. She can be contacted at 310-900-0811 or [email protected].

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