We all know the struggle of having a dry scalp. It’s itchy, flakey, uncomfortable, and can make you feel like you want to rip your hair out. However, it can be hard to determine whether that itch is due to dandruff or a dry scalp. While dandruff and dry scalp can have similar characteristics they are different conditions that require different treatments. Dandruff is caused by too much oil on the scalp and with a dry scalp the skin gets irritated and then flakes off. Once you are able to identify the characteristics and symptoms of each condition then you can take the right course of action to get the right treatment and be rid of the irritation.
If you’re looking for help, you're in the right place: we’ve rounded up a team of expert trichologists who are here to give us the 411 on differences between dandruff and dry scalp, scalp health, and tips for treating your condition. Trichologists are professionals who study diseases and problems related to the hair and scalp by assisting people with issues like hair loss, scalp psoriasis, hair breakage and more.
Before we dive into the details, let’s meet the experts!
Kachelle is a certified trichologist and hair loss specialist who provides all inclusive services like trichology consultation and scalp revitalizing treatments in addition to styling and color services. She is passionate about helping people discover how to have healthy hair and is a vital resource for guiding through every stage of this process.
Enitan best known as Enitanhaircoach and is the UK’s first Black Hair Coach and an accredited trichologist who educate and assist women with mainly afro-textured hair to have the audacity to be bold with their expectations for their hair and scalp health.
Jonesia is the owner of Salon J'Lynae (Galveston county first trichology salon) and Eminence Remy hair, an Indian and Brazilian hair company which was established in September of 2011. She is a certified Trichologist and has worked with top industry professionals in media, print, and television.
What is the difference between having a dandruff and having a dry scalp?
“There really isn't a difference between dandruff and having a dry scalp because both are characteristics of what is scientifically known as seborrhea which is a dysfunction of the sebaceous glands (oil glands) which is an overproduction of oil or underproduction of oil. Other factors that contribute to this are genetics, stress, diet and hormonal changes.”- Kachelle
“Very similar characters in terms of their symptoms and signs. Both can look flaky, with tight scalp, irritated skin and feel itchy. As a result of the similarities many of my clients confuse the 2, but a high percentage of those who think they have dandruff actually just have irritated scalp due to lack of washing or perhaps what the scalp is washed with. Dandruff is a medical condition that can get worse by stress or cold weather. Dry scalp is as the name suggests, scalp that lacks moisture or lubrication. This doesn’t means add oils to the scalp, as that makes the scalp even more irritated.” - Enitan
“Dandruff and dry scalp have some similarities therefore a lot of people feel like they can never get rid of it. Dandruff is harmless and can be more embarrassing if anything and can be caused by the off balance of ph on the scalp. Some cells overturn more quicker than others which attributes to the flakes that you see.” - Jonesia
Does your scalp health correlate with your hair health?
“Your scalp/ hair health absolutely correlates because they are both a reflection of what is going on internally in the body. Your hair and scalp are an indicator if you have a health imbalance. For example, if you are consuming too much sugar in your diet, it will cause your scalp to become more flaky. Also if you are not consuming enough water your hair and scalp will be dehydrated as well resulting in “dry hair””- Kachelle
“Your scalp health correlates more strongly with your nutritional intake than your hair health. You can have hair that’s thriving but a scalp that is always inflamed. This is because skin is a living cell and hair is not. Where the scalp is unhealthy, it can and will impact the quality of hair that comes through but that hair can still thrive with the correct care, it may take you longer and you will have more frustrating results before thriving one. However, if your minerals and vitamin intake is insufficient to meet the scalp needs, not only will the environment of the scalp be poor but you are likely to have premature hair shedding and the hair is more likely to be more brittle. Sometimes the hair is already damaged before it surfaces from the scalp.”- Enitan
“It’s ideal to eat a balanced diet and drink water to keep your skin in optimal condition. Acidic food can cause flare ups which may cause dandruff in most clients. Temperament or stress can also cause your scalp to flake. Take time for yoga,meditation or exercise to get the blood flowing to your scalp as well as providing your scalp with nutrients.”- Jonesia
What are your tips for helping combat dandruff?
“My recommendation to combat and ease the condition of dandruff are:
- Staying hydrated (Drink at least 64oz of water)
- Have a balanced diet; consume sugar in moderation.
- Shampoo/condition frequently
Especially with a medicated shampoo followed up with a moisture shampoo and deep condition.” - Kachelle
“Most medicated shampoos that are impactful to dandruff, do a fantastic job at keeping things under control but they are terrible for afro textured hair and make it very dry. Therefore, by using correct techniques the scalp can begin to be under control without drying out the hair. There is no cure for dandruff but it can be under control to the point you can go through the rest of the year and not have a single flare up.
Identify your triggers, for some that means prolonging wash days, for others it could be using a scarf that isn’t an appropriate fabric and /or hasn’t been washed in a while, I recommend the nudes4bed scarf made with mulberry silk. Triggers could also be using synthetic hair extensions so always be mindful of what type of extensions you are using.
Shampoos formulated with ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, and selenium sulphide can also be helpful. Don’t scratch when it is itchy, dandruff doesn’t cause hair loss but the aggressive scratching will. You can rub lightly but if you understand your triggers It can be managed that you wouldn’t even itch. Work with a trichologist or dermatologist.” - Enitan
“Dandruff is usually flakes and dry scalp is usually associated with the cracks on the skin. I wouldn't recommend greasing your scalp at all , placing grease on top of dandruff only packs the scales down underneath the mineral or petroleum based product.With dry scalp I always explain that the opposite of dry is wet. If you have a plant that is dying and the leaves begin to dry up you will never reach for oil , water is always the key.” - Jonesia
What are 3 recommendations for helping ease a dry scalp?
“Too much washing with shampoos with harsh surfactants will make it worse, use a moisturizing shampoo.
Instead of using an oil on the scalp, try aloe vera gel.
Don’t use hair masks on the scalp; they are designed for the hair.”- Enitan
“Shampoo more frequently with a mild based shampoo and conditioner, make sure you rinse really well and apply leave-ins to your hair only to prevent irritation.
Buy professional products, don’t reach for the cheapest brand. It may have irritants in it that your scalp may not be able to tolerate.
Don’t scratch this may lead to inflammation due to you ripping the skin with your nails.”- Jonesia
Which products would you advise to help treat dry scalp?
“I would recommend the over the counter “Nizoral Anti Dandruff” medicated shampoo once a week to minimize flakes while following up with your favorite moisturizing shampoo and deep conditioner. Following up with a moisturizing shampoo/deep conditioner is very important to retain moisture. Afterwards, you can apply a light weight-absorbing oil such as jojoba, sunflower seed oil to the scalp to hydrate the scalp. Apply as much as needed throughout the week. These oils are penetrative and will not clog the follicles. A healthy clear scalp is a thriving scalp for hair growth.”- Kachelle
My personal recommendations are aloe vera or a moisturizing shampoo like Angel helichrysum shampoo”- Enitan
“A real aloe vera plant can help soothe your scalp after properly cleansing your scalp. If you see any fluids coming from your scalp I would recommend contacting your dermatologist.”- Jonesia