Many are under the misguided impression that dry scalp, itchy scalp, and flaky scalp, are all the same thing. The reality, however, is that these are all unique conditions with varying symptoms, caused by different things. While these are all separate conditions, they do often go hand in hand as, for example, a dry scalp can cause flaking.
It is important to understand how these scalp conditions are different and how they relate to one another to effectively find scalp relief for the condition affecting you.
What You Need to Know About Dry, Itchy & Flaky Scalp
Do you find yourself constantly scratching your head because of an itchy scalp? How about those annoying white flakes that fall from your head onto your shoulders? You’re not alone.
Many people experience dry, itchy or flaky scalp — all of which is not only uncomfortable, but can also be quite embarrassing in public. As hair health enthusiasts, it's important to us to provide you with the knowledge you need to understand these conditions, and the tools to reduce their symptoms. Equipped with the right natural remedies, you can relieve your scalp and say goodbye to any pesky dandruff.
What is dandruff?
Dandruff refers to the dead skin cells that flake off of your scalp and appear around your scalp and in your hair as white flakes. This typically occurs when your scalp is irritated, or you are suffering from a skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis.
It may sound gross, but the reality is that your skin sheds dead skin cells — so why would your scalp be any different? According to EverydayHealth, dandruff impacts half of the adult population.
What is dry scalp
Dry scalp is what occurs when a scalp lacks oil and moisture. The oils on a scalp help to condition hair and skin, but when a scalp is dry, dry skin tends to flake off and, in many cases, cause dandruff.
The reality is that dry skin is notorious for flaking, and a dry scalp is no different. Fortunately, there are ways you can get rid of a dry scalp.
What is itchy scalp?
Itchy scalp, also known as Scalp pruritus, is a common condition where your scalp, quite literally, gets incredibly itchy. An itchy scalp is typically a result of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis (an inflammatory skin condition.)
Dry Scalp: What You Need to know
What is the difference between dry scalp and dandruff?
While dry scalp occurs when your scalp lacks moisture, dandruff refers to the visual dead skin cells that flake off of your scalp due to infection, irritation or other skin conditions. According to Healthline, Men develop dandruff more frequently than women.
What causes dry scalp?
Products you use: products like gel, hairspray, and shampoo that you regularly apply to your hair can cause your scalp to react and become irritated and dry as a result.
Age: As your skin ages, it tends to get drier, which is why dry scalp is common among older people.
Dry Climate: Just as the winter air dries your hands and lips, it also can dry out your scalp. Dry scalp is a common winter hair problem that many face every year.
Skin Conditions: Skin conditions like eczema are a common cause of dry scalp.
Over washing: over washing your air actually can strip your hair of its moisture and cause your scalp and your locks to dry out.
Dandruff: What You Need to Know
Causes of dandruff
Malassezia: Malassezia is a type of fungus that is found on the skin surfaces of both animals and humans and feeds on the oils of the skin. We know, gross — but it happens, and it irritates the scalp and causes dandruff.
Oily skin: While dry scalp occurs due to lack of oils, dandruff is caused by oils and irritation. You likely have experienced dandruff if you suffer from a condition called Seborrheic Dermatitis. This condition affects many areas of the skin, including the scalp, causing scaly patches, and oily, irritated skin that flake off as dandruff.
Underwashing: There are many disadvantages to overwashing your hair (i.e. dry scalp), but under washing your hair can also cause increased oil production and in some cases irritate your scalp and cause flaking (i.e. dandruff.)
The wrong hair products: If you are still uncertain as to why you have dandruff, take a look at the hair products you are using, as some hair products contain ingredients that can lead to an inflamed, itchy scalp. Shampooing your hair too often could also irritate the scalp further, causing dandruff, so we recommend to make use of dry shampoo instead, to soak up excess oils in your hair.
Skin Conditions: Skin conditions that cause dryness and irritation like eczema and psoriasis are leading causes of dandruff. Consult a doctor if medical conditions like eczema, psoriasis, fungus or bacterial infections are causing your dandruff and irritating your scalp.
Dry skin: This is especially an issue during winter months, as the cold winter air, combined with heated rooms indoors can cause an itchy scalp and flaking skin. Have you ever noticed how your skin tends to get dry or flaky during the winter, and needs that extra dose of moisturizer? Your scalp is the same! During colder months, the skin on your scalp gets dry, resulting in white flakes. Dandruff that is caused by dry skin, rather than oily skin usually falls off in smaller, non-oily flakes.
Not Brushing Your Hair Enough: This may seem very simple, however, brushing your hair regularly increases blood flow to the scalp and helps in the normal shedding of skin cells. This not only reduces the risk of dandruff, but it's extremely relaxing! Just remember which hairbrush to use for different purposes.
How to know when you have dandruff
You know you have dandruff if:
- Your scalp is flaking
- You are seeing white, oily flakes on your hair and your shoulders
- Your scalp is itchy
Itchy Scalp: What You Need to Know
While itchy scalp is not the same as dry or flaky scalp, it definitely is directly related to these conditions.
What causes itchy scalp?
Dandruff: Dandruff is a leading cause of an itchy scalp as dandruff causes dry and flakey skin cells that can make a scalp itchy.
Sensitive Skin: If you have sensitive skin to begin with, chances are that your scalp is easily irritated and is reacting to common hair products that you don't even realize are causing your scalp to be itchy.
Anxiety: Your mental health plays a significant role in your physical health. The reality is that extreme anxiety can also cause itchy skin, including your scalp.
General Irritation: Irritation by a product or tool like a hair brush or comb can cause itchiness or even contact dermatitis.
Head lice: A leading symptom of head lice is itchy scalp. If you aren’t familiar (or just haven't spent enough time at summer camp), head lice are small bugs that lay eggs in hair and cause itchiness. Oh, and lice is incredibly easy to catch as lice jump from head to head like they are fighting for an olympic medal.
How can you treat an itchy scalp?
The good news is that there are medicines you can take to reduce your itchy scalp, especially when it is brought on by a medical condition. Products you can use to treat your itchy scalp include topical steroids, pyrithione zinc, and antifungal creams.
Home Remedies For Dry Scalp, Itchy Scalp & Dandruff
To relieve your itchy scalp, you can either purchase an over the counter anti-dandruff shampoo or anti-fungal treatment, or go the more natural route and try some of these home remedies for dry scalp:
1. Baking soda
Baking soda is not only amazing for baking cookies, but is also a powerful disinfectant when it comes to cleaning anything, including your scalp. Baking soda removes the excess oils produced by the scalp, washing off that extra grease that contributes to dandruff. Baking soda is also a natural antiseptic, as well as helps balance the pH level of the scalp, making it a great DIY dandruff shampoo.
Here's how to create this DIY dandruff remedy
Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda with water until you reach the perfect paste consistency.
For best results, part your hair in sections and apply a few drops of olive oil before spreading the paste on your scalp, and let it sit for 5–10 minutes.
Thoroughly rinse the mixture out. For best results, repeat this procedure regularly—once or twice a week.
2. Apple cider vinegar remedy for dry scalp
Apple Cider Vinegar is one of the best home remedies for dandruff because it has probiotics and anti-inflammatory properties that kill viruses and yeast that cause itchiness on the skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties soothe scalp irritations caused by dandruff, while the high acidity makes it more difficult for bacteria and fungus to grow and cause dandruff.
Apple cider vinegar also acts as a mild conditioner, soothing the scalp and adding shine and bounce to the hair.
Tip: even if you aren't suffering from dandruff, Apple Cider Vinegar is amazing to keep your hair looking luscious during the dry winter months.
Here's how to create this natural dry scalp remedy
Mix half a cup of Apple Cider Vinegar with half a cup of water.
2. Massage it well into your scalp and then leave it in for about 10–15 minutes.
3. Rinse off with cold water. Repeat this routine regularly every few days until you start seeing results.
3. Lemon juice for dry scalp & itchy scalp
Have you ever gotten lemon juice on a recent cut? Did it sting like crazy? That’s because lemons contain antiseptic properties, which is why they are a great home remedy for an itchy scalp and dry scalp.
Lemon juice, much like Apple cider vinegar, is acidic and therefore alters the pH level of the scalp. This helps to banish unwanted dandruff causing bacteria and fungus. Keep in mind, however, as the pH level of your scalp changes throughout the day, lemon juice is just a temporary fix!
Here's how to make the lemon juice natural remedy for dry scalp
Massage fresh lemon juice onto your scalp and leave it in for 5 minutes. We recommend testing a drop of lemon juice on a small part of your scalp first—if it really stings, then dilute the juice with water.
Repeat this procedure at least daily until the itchiness goes away.
4. Banana and avocado for dandruff
This DIY scalp treatment is pretty much a smoothie for your head. Bananas and avocados are great dandruff treatments because they are both extremely moisturizing, which means they can reduce those dry flakes and inflammation.
Avocados are rich in antioxidants which keep the skin cells on your scalp happy and healthy, while bananas are especially great for conditioning the scalp and hair. Click here for more of our fave DIY hair masks using bananas and avocados.
How to use banana and avocado as a home remedy for dandruff
Mash two bananas with one avocado and apply all over your scalp where it is itchy.
Leave it in for at least 30 minutes. Rinse it out with cold water and repeat this regularly until the itchiness subsides or goes away.
5. Tea Tree Oil for dandruff
Tea tree oil is one of our favorite essential oils! It has natural anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, which will help relieve your dry or itchy scalp. Tea tree oil comes from leaves of the Myrtle Tree which is native to Australia and has been widely used in the country for at least 100 years.
The uses for Tea tree oil are endless. It is used in making homemade cleaning products, healing skin issues, treating viral infections and, of course, getting rid of dandruff. What’s even better, a little bit of Tea tree oil goes a long way.
How to use Tea Tree Oil For Dandruff
Mix three drops of tea tree oil with one tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil.
Massage it well into your scalp and then rinse thoroughly with water. The smell of tea tree oil is a little bit strong, so you may want to do this before going to sleep or on days when you’re at home.
An off-topic side note: if you ever get an unwanted pimple, dab a little bit of tea tree oil onto it and watch it dry out overnight.
How to Prevent Dry, Itchy & Flaky Scalp
Fortunately, there are many home remedies and treatments that can help you to reduce the symptoms of dry, itchy, and flaky scalp. That said, after you effectively reduce your symptoms using these treatments, it's a good idea to instil some habits to prevent these symptoms from arising again.
Maintain a Shampoo Schedule That Works for your hair type
The thing is, everyone has a different hair type that needs a different washing schedule. If you have brittle hair, you may want to avoid overwashing that will dry out your hair more. Alternatively, if you have an oily scalp that's causing dandruff, you may want to deep clean your hair more often. We even tested out what happens when you don’t wash oily hair for a week!
At the end of the day, it’s important to understand your own hair and what it needs—because there is no one size fits all hair-washing solution.
Manage Your Stress
Stress plays a major role in your overall health, including your hair health. When you manage your stress, you can better protect yourself from conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and other skin-related illnesses.
Choose the Right Shampoo
Shampoos and hair products can irritate your scalp and cause it to be dry, itchy, and in some cases flakey. If you have dandruff, look for shampoos with:
- Coal tar (slows the development of dead skin cells on your scalp)
- Salicylic acid (this helps to eliminate any scale build up)
- Ketoconazole (this is an agent that kills fungi that causes dandruff)
- Zinc pyrithione (an antifungal and antibacterial agent)
- Selenium Sulfide (an antifungal agent that needs to be rinsed out well after showering as it can discolour your locks)
It is also a good idea to look for shampoos with moisturizing properties that won't dehydrate your scalp. Be sure to identify the right shampoo for your hair type.
Drink More Water
If your skin is lacking hydration in general, you may feel the effects on your scalp. Drink water to keep yourself hydrated. Head & Shoulders suggests drinking 8 glasses of water a day for your hair.
Use a humidifier
The dry air in your home or office may actually be contributing to your dry scalp. Consider using a humidifier where you can to help restore some moisture to your hair and scalp.
Improve Your Diet
The reality is that your diet impacts your hair health. Make sure you are providing your body with nutrients it needs to be healthy and withstand environmental factors that can affect your hair health. By maintaining a diet that provides your body with Zinc, Vitamin B, and certain fats, you can better protect yourself from dandruff.
Additionally, if you eat a high carb diet, you will notice increased yeast on your scalp, which is a leading cause of flaking. Consider cutting down on sugars and carbs and seeing if it relieves your itchy or dry scalp.
Fortunately, there are many natural ways to prevent and treat itchy, dry and flaky scalp. That said, if you are experiencing open sores or wounds on your scalp or extreme redness, it is important to consult a medical professional. It is vital to take care of your scalp because it plays an essential role in both your skin and hair health.
Luxy Hair is committed to providing you with educational resources to understand your hair, how to keep it healthy, and why it does the things it does. We hope these home remedies will be just what you need to relieve your dandruff or itchy, dry scalp.
Have you ever tried any of these home remedies for dandruff or an itchy scalp? Which remedy was the most effective for you? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.