What is dry scalp?
Dry scalp can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing, but you can take steps to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery.
Dry scalp is dryness of the skin in the densely-haired area on top of your head. It is not a specific medical term and is often related to other conditions like dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis (called cradle cap in babies). Many people experience degrees of scalp irritation, from small flakes of dandruff to large, itchy scales on the scalp.
The main difference between these two conditions is their causes. While dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture in the skin on your head, dandruff is caused by an accumulation of oil on your scalp and/or the presence of certain kinds of microbes.
Symptoms of dry scalp
The symptoms of dry scalp are often:
- Visible flakes
- Hair loss
Causes of dry scalp
Dry scalp occurs when the skin on your head does not have enough moisture. This can be triggered by exposure to cold, dry air, contact dermatitis as a reaction to products that you use in your hair, or even old age.
Dandruff can also be caused by a fungus called Malassezia, which can be made worse by stress or hormones.
Diagnosis for dry scalp
Most dry scalp can be diagnosed and treated without a visit to your doctor. However, if the problem is persistent, and your attempts to treat dry scalp at home are not effective, speak to your doctor or a dermatologist.
If your attempts to manage your dry scalp at home are unsuccessful, it may be an indication that you are experiencing another condition like psoriasis, eczema, or impetigo. If your dry scalp is accompanied by open or bleeding sores on your head, it’s also a good idea to seek medical care. A visit with your doctor or a dermatologist can help you identify if a more complicated skin condition is the cause of your symptoms.
Treatments for dry scalp
If the itchiness and flaking are caused by a lack of moisture in your scalp skin, there are many ways to manage the condition at home. Some are over-the-counter options including shampoos or moisturizing treatments, while others use natural ingredients that you may already have.
Home remedies for dry scalp
Some home remedies that can alleviate the dryness of your scalp include shampooing less frequently, using water that is not as hot when showering, or applying a moisturizer to your head like:
- Coconut oil
- Tea tree oil
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar
- Witch hazel
- Baking soda and olive oil
- Mashed bananas
Over-the-counter and prescription treatments
Many over-the-counter shampoos are available to address the issues of itchy, flaky scalps. Dandruff shampoo can help minimize flaking. Two of the most common active ingredients are coal tar — derived from wood and coal and used for medical purposes — are treatments for psoriasis, including of the scalp, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Others include tea tree oil, which can also help alleviate symptoms.
If these options do not work, your doctor or a dermatologist can prescribe a prescription-strength shampoo or other topical treatment for your dry scalp.
Possible complications and side effects of treatments
Dry scalp, while it can cause some mild discomfort, is largely a cosmetic issue with no real possible complications. However, if you are scratching and create open wounds on your scalp, you could acquire a secondary infection.
Side effects of treatments like anti-dandruff shampoos and at-home moisturizing are nearly nonexistent, outside of the potential for an allergic reaction.
Latest Skin News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Dermatology: "How to treat dandruff."
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Dandruff."
Archives of Dermatological Research: "Dandruff: a condition characterized by decreased levels of intercellular lipids in scalp stratum corneum and impaired barrier function."
Indian Journal of Medical Research: "Association of Malassezia species with dandruff."
Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings: "A Practical Guide to Scalp Disorders."
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo."
Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings: "Clinical Diagnosis of Common Scalp Disorders."
National Psoriasis Foundation: "Over-the-Counter Topicals."
Top How Do You Get Rid of Dry Scalp Related Articles
Dandruff PictureA mild skin condition that produces white flakes that may be shed and fall from the hair. See a picture of Dandruff and learn more about the health topic.
Dandruff SlideshowDandruff is a common scalp condition. Learn about the causes of dandruff as well as treatments and remedies like dandruff shampoos. Find out how to get rid of dandruff.
Dandruff vs. Dry ScalpDandruff is a condition characterized by small white flakes that shed from the scalp. Dry scalp is simply dry skin on one's head. Dry scalp is uncommon, and dandruff is very common. Dandruff treatment and prevention incorporates the regular use of an anti-dandruff shampoo.
Do I Have Dandruff or a Dry Scalp?What is the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp?
Your Hair & Your HealthIs your hair or scalp trying to tell you something about your health? Learn more about dandruff, scalp psoriasis, ringworm on the scalp, folliculitis, scalp pimples, and medications and conditions that affect your hair and body.
Is Dandruff (Seborrhea) Contagious?Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) is a chronic condition in which skin on the scalp flakes and sheds. Dandruff is not contagious. Sunlight exposure and stress reduction can improve the symptoms and signs of dandruff.
Dandruff (Seborrhea)Dandruff (seborrhea) is a skin disorder that results from neither too much moisture nor too much oil. Dandruff can be treated with shampoos that contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole.
Seborrheic DermatitisSeborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition. Symptoms and signs include a red, scaling rash on the scalp, face, ears, and torso. Treatment often includes the use of a medicated shampoo and the application of a topical steroid lotion.
Skin Problems and Treatments: Guide to Seborrheic DermatitisGet to know the symptoms and treatments of seborrheic dermatitis, a common skin condition that often affects the scalp but can happen in other areas, too.
Skin QuizWhat's that all over you? Skin, of course! Test your knowledge of your most amazing organ with the Skin Quiz!
What Triggers Seborrheic Dermatitis?Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease characterized by flaky, red, or yellowish scales that resemble dandruff. Sometimes, the scales may itch or even crust and ooze.