The idea of applying makeup to your hair may seem a bit sus, but this growing category has gained momentum for good reason. Referred to as either scalp conceal or scalp foundation, these temporary topical products instantly create the look of a fuller, thicker hair. Some even conceal gray hair at the same time—all with a quick spritz or stroke of a makeup brush.
Interest piqued? Keep reading to learn more about what scalp foundation is, whether you can swap in regular foundation for the same effect, and an expert tutorial on how to apply scalp foundation so it looks natural and won't budge.
What Is Scalp Foundation?
Scalp foundation is very similar to traditional face foundation in the sense that it helps create a more even-looking base. Only with scalp foundation, the goal is to create more uniformity so hair looks thicker and fuller.
"This is essentially done by adding pigment to both the hair and the scalp, effectively covering gray roots, creating the appearance of thicker hair, or even covering areas of thin or absent hair," explains Sheilagh Maguiness, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Stryke Club. "Many of these products are now available in powders [or] liquids that dry to a powder."
Common areas to use scalp foundation include the part line, which is where we first start to see thinning, at the crown, and along the hairline where receding can occur. Scalp foundation and concealer are a temporary fix for thinning hair. Some are formulated to last for one to two shampoos while others rinse out the next time you wash.
Who Can Use Scalp Foundation?
Anyone with thinning hair or a receding hairline can benefit from using scalp foundation.
"My patients with alopecia will often try a spray-based formula to deposit pigment on the scalp and on the smaller new hairs that are growing in from treatment, making [hair] appear more full," adds Maguiness. "This technique helps to minimize the appearance of the hair loss and makes them feel more confident. If done right, it can really look quite natural."
Katelyn Ellsworth, lead hairstylist and founder of The Roselyn in San Diego, Calif., adds that scalp foundation is also a great solution for those dealing with hair loss from COVID or pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Can You Use Regular Foundation for Your Scalp?
The halls of TikTok and Instagram often show people using regular face foundation to add more structure to fine hairlines or create more fullness in areas of thinning hair. These products can be effective as long as they perfectly match your hair color (not your skin tone) and adequately stick to hair and skin.
This can be tricky to find though. And if your goal is a natural, full look, then it makes more sense to buy a scalp foundation intended for, well, your scalp. Plus, many scalp foundations are formulated uniquely so they stay put; some even last beyond one or two washes.
How to Apply Scalp Foundation
Ultimately, application depends on the product. Powders are brushed on with a makeup brush at the root, or it can be deposited directly onto the scalp without a brush.
For spray forms, aim the nozzle where you'd like to create more fullness and then gently spray the pigment. Liquid products can also be painted or dabbed on with a makeup brush depending on the product.
Application Pro Tips:
Build coverage: For powder or liquid, you can often build to your preferred coverage. Start with a little and continue to add more as needed. Similar to face foundation, it's important to strike a balance between too little and too much.
Use a slightly darker color: Ellsworth says, "Using a slightly darker color than your hair can create depth on your roots and usually looks more natural."
Finish with hairspray: "Add hairspray on top of the scalp foundation to set it in place for a prolonged period," advises Ellsworth.
Best Scalp Foundations
If you're curious about scalp foundation, start with these picks:
Me Cosmetics Can't Stop Me Now Ultimate Coverage Scalp Foundation
This powder scalp foundation effectively fills in areas of thinning hair while covering grays between color appointments. It also doubles as a brow filler.
Madison Reed The Great Cover Up Root Touch Up and Brow Filler
"For a powder formula, I like Madison Reed Root Touch Up," says Maguiness. "It has a wide brush that helps to deposit the pigment over areas to hide grays very effectively."
Tarte Big Ego Dab and Go Hair Concealer
This liquid, waterproof hair concealer features a sponge tip that makes for easy, precise application. Simply dab directly onto dry hair and scalp and work outward to create fuller hair and conceal grays.
L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up
The L'Oreal Magic Root Cover Up has a spray nozzle so that you can precisely deposit the pigment to your roots or any area you're trying to cover. Maguiness adds, "This product also adds pigment to the scalp and fine hairs, so it can give the look of thicker, fuller hair as well as hide grays."
Caboki 30 Gram Hair Building Fiber
If you have larger areas of alopecia or thinning, Maguiness recommends using this robust product. "It goes on in a powder form, but clings to both normal hair and smaller hairs that are growing in, as well as depositing pigment on the scalp," she says. "It can conceal very well, appears natural, and has great reviews from real users online as well as several of my patients."