The Japanese Art of Scalp Care – Q &A with Nekko Female Co-Founders Arisa and Sayaka

The only thing I worry about more than my pores, when the weather turns sweltering and swampy, is my scalp. Most of us would not believe the depth of toxins and grime that collect on the scalp in a given year. In the summer, more pronounced buildup is assured given increased outdoor activities, rigorous gym routines to keep that summer bod in check, and extra sprays of dry shampoo to neutralize the funky odors on public transit. It’ll take more than an extra vigorous scrub to thoroughly cleanse clogged follicles for optimum hair health. A quick view of an average cluster of hair follicles under a microscope will make anyone a die-hard believer in the need for a dedicated scalp care regimen.

Since my favorite scalp products were discontinued late last year, I’ve been on the hunt for a sulfate-free line that detoxes, tones, and even treats the scalp for a smooth, pristine base and nourished roots. The difficulty of my search has been compounded by the need for keratin-safe scalp care. The biggest post-keratin treatment no-no is sodium chloride – basically salt – which is typically the main exfoliating agent and surfactant in most scalp scrubs. In addition to salt-free, in line with clean beauty principles, I prioritize formulations rich in antioxidant-rich, botanically-derived ingredients, as well as the peptides and amino acids proven to contribute to the health and shine of all hair textures. 

As luck would have it I found a female-founded, AAPI-owned company which fits the bill and then some: Nekko – it means “root” in Japanese. The brand’s homage to the long history of Japanese botanical self-care is in more than just the name. Nekko’s entire scalp line is rich in the Japanese exports we all love: ginger, green tea, seaweed, rice bran oil, and above all else, omsen – mineral-rich, Japanese fine bubble water for which their hot springs and bath houses are internationally renowned. Japanophiles will recognize the similarities with kansui, the hot spring water believed to give ramen noodles their legendary springiness.

Because the most precious step in deep cleaning the scalp happens pre-shower, the Nekko Pre-Scalp Cleanser is best applied to a prepped scalp before showering. After vigorous massage and brushing of dry scalp, rinse hair to remove debris. Part hair, then squeeze the cleanser directly onto the scalp and massage vigorously for 2 min.

 Rinse hair again in the shower, lather a small pump of the Nekko Head Spa Shampoo and apply to the scalp. Ultra concentrated, free of sodium-chloride and sulfates, and divinely refreshing from the eucalyptus, rosemary, sage, and mint oils, it produces an endless luxurious foam that makes you want to wash your hair just for the sheer pleasure of it. Rich in amino acids, bilberry extract, and phytosterols, this treatment shampoo is best left on for 2 min to stimulate maximum micro-circulation and allow the newly purified follicles to soak up all the nourishment. Given the concentrated nature and the barback size of the shampoo, it seems like you’ll never run out. In the event you do, it’s sold in a pouch that simply popped into the recycled evergreen eco pump – one less empty to worry about. Follow with the conditioner of choice on the ends to keep the scalp pristine. 

Those with chronically oily scalps or dandruff can swap out or alternate with the Nekko Scalp Oil pre-shampoo. After scrubbing the scalp, while still dry, apply and massage the tonifying blend of grapefruit seed, jojoba, rice bran, and cardamom seed oils and let soak in for 10 minutes to break down sebum and toxins before shampooing twice for an uber clean experience. 

In the third step, to clean, towel-dried hair and scalp, 5-7 drops of the Nekko Rejuvenation Serum completes the treatment with apple stem cells, ginseng, more green tea extract and pH-balanced fine bubble water. Deeply nourishing and soothing, it’s formulated to strengthen the follicle, provide moisture and strengthen the hair from the roots. The lightly scented, fast-absorbing essence-like consistency will only add more invigoration to already immaculate tresses.

Don’t feel bad about using heat tools afterwards, the shampoo contains  special smoothing amino acids that are best activated with a blow dryer or flatiron.

Not only is Nekko female-founded, the co-owners Arisa and Sayaka are both stylists, hair analysts, and certified trichologists – specialists in diseases or problems related to the hair and scalp. Given the combined 20 plus years of salon experience and a long list of customers which inspired the scalp care collection, I was thrilled to chat with the LA-based beauty entrepreneurs about wellness and the desire to give their clients renewed scalps (and confidence).

Q & A

1. There’s no official designation for wellness or clean beauty – how do you define them personally and as entrepreneurs?

Wellness is defined as inner beauty that maintains the balance of mental and physical health, while clean beauty refers to products that use ingredients that are gentle on both the skin and the environment. As an entrepreneur, my goal is to provide safe and effective products based on these principles.

2. What was your eureka moment, when you knew deep-down that it was the time in your life, and in the market, to start your own brand and make your own products?

My eureka moment occurred after observing the scalps of numerous customers. I frequently pondered how I could assist them with their scalp issues through effective home care solutions. This reflection and desire to make a difference led me to the decision to launch my own brand.

3. What product in your line are you most proud of? Describe the genesis of the product.

The product I am most proud of is our scalp oil, the first we developed, designed to offer a simple and effective home care solution. With its main ingredient, organic rice bran oil, rich in antioxidants and vitamins to nourish both hair and scalp, and the addition of oils with antimicrobial properties and sebum-regulating effects, it is especially suitable for those with dull, flaky scalps, making users feel an “aha” moment with its effectiveness.

4. Do you have formal business training, such as an MBA, or a similar degree in chemistry? Or is your professional background mostly in the beautysphere?

We are certified trichologists and hair analysts with over 20 years of experience. Our journey began with introducing headspa treatments from Japan to the US, and since then, we’ve dedicated years to studying over 100,000 scalp conditions. This extensive research has led to the development of NEKKO.

5. Was your line born out of frustration with commercial products, the medical establishment, and/or doctors? Or were you motivated to address a specific need not addressed by most brands? 

People often focus on their face and skincare routines, but they tend to overlook scalp health. When I moved to the US from Japan, I noticed many people here struggle with issues like flakiness, oiliness, and hair loss. I’m glad I introduced the concept of head spa treatments to the US—it’s like a facial for your scalp. That’s why I developed scalp care products. I’m seeing more awareness and interest in scalp care growing, and I hope more people recognize its importance for promoting healthy hair growth.

6. It’s hard to believe that there are still skeptics out there about the benefits of dedicated skin care, hair care and wellness regimens, especially to treat skin, scalp, and hair problems. How do you address that skepticism?

It’s crucial for skeptics to experience the results firsthand, especially since scalp care is a relatively new concept in the US. We emphasize the importance of educating people about its benefits. Through our proven track record and scientific approach, we demonstrate how these practices significantly improve skin, scalp, and hair conditions, helping skeptics understand the importance of professional care.


Read Part 1 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Glow Bar CEO HERE.

Read Part 2 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Uzima CEO HERE.

Read Part 3 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Kinship CEO HERE.

Read Part 4 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Raw Sugar Living CEO HERE.

Read Part 5 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Alchimie Forever CEO HERE.

Read Part 6 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Kindness Powered Skincaee CEO HERE.

Read Part 7 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Iles Formula CEO HERE.

Read Part 8 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Blessed Bananas CEO HERE.

Read Part 9 in the “Female Founders Q&A” series with the Exoceuticals CEOs HERE.

Gesha-Marie Bland


Not bland at all. Gesha-Marie Bland is an essayist, Vanity Fair-published film and television writer, and unrepentant beauty junkie who jumpstarted her career at NYU’s Master’s Program in Cinema Studies. In homage to her beauty icons Jeanne Moreau, Dolly Parton, and Grace Jones, she is forever in search of the perfect cat-eye liner, a killer pair of heels, and unforgettable statement accessories. Currently NYC-based, this dual American-French citizen still wears all-black and has a soft spot for clean beauty, pharmaceutical-grade actives, and most ingredients sourced from vineyards in the south of France. She loves New Wave cinema, Mary Gaitskill’s fiction, Spain, and matcha double-shots. After selling "The Ripper," her Alexander McQueen-Issie Blow biopic to the Cannes-winning production company Maven Pictures, she remains convinced fashion and couture are the next frontiers for edgy cinematic stories.