The hard truth is that you can try every volumizing spray, mousse, or styling cream on the market, but the secret to good hair days starts at your scalp, not your strands. No one knows this better than Helen Reavey, a celebrity hairstylist, trichologist, and the founder of Act + Acre, a haircare brand that puts the scalp first.
A few years ago, Reavey was lead a show in Paris Fashion Week when she made the realization that the models' curls weren't holding and their hair was limp because their scalps were red and raw to the touch from whirlwind styling sessions backstage at earlier fashion weeks in Milan and London. Unable to find an available solution, she founded her brand and created Scalp Detox, a treatment that clears product buildup, breaks down sebum, and rebalances the scalp.
"A lot of people thought I would do styling products because of my line of work, but I always had a passion for scalp health," Reavey tells InStyle. "When I was training years ago, one of my teachers was a trichologist, and that's what really lead me to understand that if you care for your scalp, you'll have healthy hair. And if you have healthy hair, you won't need to use a lot of styling products on it."
Act + Acre approaches its formulas in the same way you would skincare, and it even developed the Cold Processed method of making products to ensure ingredients' benefits best, not to mention it reduces the energy used during the production process.
"We thought about skincare — you'll notice our treatments have a lot of highly active ingredients that you find in skincare as well, so we wanted to use the analogies of skincare because your scalp is skin and you can take care of it the same way," Reavey says.
Ahead Reavey breaks down Cold Processed haircare, the one thing everyone can to do improve their scalp health, and more.
How did your personal experiences as a hairstylist inspire you to start Act + Acre?
I worked in the salon for 10 years, then started going on tour with celebrities like Alicia Keys and doing fashion shows with Sam McKnight. No matter what celebrity or model I was styling, scalp health was always an issue because of how much product was being put on their hair — it really doesn't discriminate against anybody. In 2017 I started leading shows at Paris Fashion Week. During the test run the night before the show, the models' scalps were red, raw, and sensitive to the touch because they had every product under the sun used on them at the Milan and London fashion shows beforehand. Their scalps were inflamed, but their hair was also dead and wouldn't take a curl. My husband had flown into Paris to surprise me while I was there working and I mentioned to him how I wish there was something I could give the models that would dissolve product buildup and tone down inflammation of the scalp. It was like a lightbulb moment went off because a few days later he told me he was going to leave his job and we were going to start a brand together.
What makes the cold processed technology in the products so special?
Every single product on the market uses heat to mend the ingredients together. Think of oil and water: you need heat to blend them. I knew that when you smell peppermint, for example, in a product, it's really just a synthetic fragrance to make you think that it's there. You might think you're getting the benefit of the ingredient but it's actually not in there. So I started thinking about what I could to do create something that's truly beneficial for scalp health, and I knew essential oils had to be included — they're important because they're anti-fungal, balancing, and stimulating. But if we were to use the traditional process, the oils would just evaporate. With the Cold Processed method, we looked at how cold processed food is produced and how the nutrients are preserved and based it off that. We use hyperbaric chambers, ice-cold water, and 1,200 pounds of pressure to combine the ingredients. So we use less energy, but the ingredients also aren't getting wasted.
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What is one thing everyone can do to improve their scalp health?
If you're willing to invest in and try our products, I always suggest our Scalp Detox. It's our hero product and the one that came off that Paris Fashion Week situation. It dissolves excess product, stimulates hair growth at the follicle, removes dead skin cells, plus balances and hydrates the scalp. That being said, I'm an advocate of not wasting the products that are in your cupboard. If you have a product with salicylic acid or an AHA acid, you can use it as a scalp exfoliator. As a trichologist, I don't recommend scrubs because they're harsh on the scalp. If you wouldn't use it on your face, you shouldn't use it on your scalp.
As for how often to exfoliate your scalp, it's about being aware of its condition. You're going to have dryness in the winter, so I recommend once per week or every two weeks as a way to start off — even if you don't have any scalp conditions. We don't wash our scalp every day so if you go longer between washes, I'd recommend including a scalp treatment in your routine every time you wash your hair.
Haircare is shifting towards using skincare ingredients in products. What has it been like to see this change as a brand that's always prioritized scalp care?
It's incredible to see this shift because it means the conversations we started are making an impact. I've enjoyed really educating people on scalp health because before people thought they just had to live with an itchy scalp or limp hair. We're not saving lives, but we're making people feel good about their hair which is important.
I'd love to see more brands thinking about the methods and the ingredients they use; making sure they're at the proper levels to be effective. For example, skincare ingredients in a shampoo doesn't really make sense because it's just going to wash off, so the products have to mimic the steps in skincare routines, too.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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