Hair Care, Hair Care Problems

Dry Scalp: Causes, Treatment & Preventions

dry scalp

What is Dry Scalp?

Dry scalp is a common condition where the skin on your head becomes overly dry, leading to irritation, itchiness, and flaking. It differs from dandruff in that it’s caused primarily by dryness, while dandruff is the result of a fungus.

The main symptoms of dry scalp include:

  • Flaking – Small white flakes of dead skin cells sloughing off the scalp. This is often most noticeable on the hair and shoulders.

  • Itchiness – The scalp feels itchy and irritated. Scratching can make flaking worse.

  • Redness – In severe cases, the scalp may appear red and inflamed.

  • Tightness/dry feeling – The scalp lacks moisture and feels tight, dry or dehydrated.

The key difference between dry scalp and dandruff is the cause. Dandruff is caused by a yeast-like fungus called malassezia that lives on the scalp. Dry scalp is usually not from a fungus but rather insufficient moisture. However, the two conditions can have overlapping symptoms like flaking and itchiness.


People can have dry skin anywhere on the body, including the scalp. Dry skin occurs when the skin loses water too quickly.

A person with dry skin on the scalp may notice:

  • patches of itchy or scaly skin
  • flaky skin with a rough texture
  • skin that stings or burns
  • peeling skin
  • itchy skin

There are many potential causes of dry skin, such as low humidity or indoor heating. In fact, the American Skin Association notes that dry skin is not usually anything to worry about.

Sometimes, however, an underlying skin condition might be the cause of a dry scalp. When this is the case, a person might need medical treatment.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that some people are more at risk of dry skin than others. These people include:

  • those over 40 years of age
  • those with brown, black, or fair skin
  • those with jobs that involve their hands being in water a lot, such as nurses and hairdressers
  • those who live in cold climates
  • those who smoke

Dry scalp can occur when the skin on your head loses too much water or moisture. The condition can cause itching and flaking. The skin on your scalp gets irritated and flakes off. There are various reasons why your scalp may be dry. Some hair care products can dry out and irritate your scalp. Weather and age can also affect your scalp. But more serious skin conditions can also cause dry scalp.

What’s the difference between dandruff and dry scalp?

Dry scalp and dandruff can both cause an itchy, flaky scalp. This can sometimes make it hard to tell the difference. However, excess oil causes dandruff, and loss of moisture causes dry scalp.

When you have too much oil on your scalp, your skin cells can build up. Your scalp may appear red, oily and scaly. The scales quickly flake off, and then dandruff appears. Dandruff looks like larger pieces of dry skin flaking off your scalp. It frequently comes and goes and is a very common condition.

Seborrheic dermatitis is the main cause of dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition with various causes. Yeast that lives on your skin, stress or your health can all cause seborrheic dermatitis. Babies can get seborrheic dermatitis, too. If your baby has a scaly, dry scalp, it’s called cradle cap.

While a dry scalp can cause itching and flaking, it’s different than dandruff. If you have a dry scalp, the rest of your body may experience dryness too. In addition, the cause of the condition is different. The loss of moisture can be due to many factors, including various skin conditions.

Possible Causes

What causes dry scalp?

If you’re wondering why your scalp is so dry, you’ll need to consider several reasons. The products you use on your hair could be causing contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a reaction to something that causes itchiness and irritation. Many hair care products dry out your hair by stripping it of its natural oils, which can leave your scalp irritated.

The weather could also be causing your condition. Environments with low humidity and areas located in cold climates can dry out the skin on your scalp. In addition, as you get older, your skin starts to dry out. However, the condition can occur for more serious reasons. These conditions may include:


Psoriasis is a long-term (chronic) skin condition that causes your skin cells to grow too quickly. This rapid growth makes your skin cells pile up on the surface of your skin in patches. These patches are called plaques. Psoriasis has many genetic components, but other factors may trigger it as well. These factors include infections, injuries and medications. It also includes lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol or smoking.

Tinea capitis (scalp ringworm)

Tinea capitis, or scalp ringworm, is a fungal infection of the skin on your scalp. Tinea capitis spreads very easily. You can get it through direct contact with other people and animals. You can also get it by sharing objects, such as hats and brushes, and by touching surfaces that harbor the fungus. Tinea capitis can live for a long period of time on infected surfaces and objects.

Complications of Dry Scalp

Dry scalp can lead to several complications if left untreated. The constant itching and flaking associated with dry scalp often leads people to excessively scratch their heads. This scratching can further irritate the scalp and even cause damage to the hair follicles. Over time, this damage can weaken hair strands and increase hair loss.

The cracks and fissures in the skin from severe dry scalp also create an opportunity for infection. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can enter through these openings in the skin and cause additional irritation or more serious infections. This is especially concerning for those with compromised immune systems.

Some potential complications of dry scalp include:

  • Increased irritation and inflammation from repeated scratching and abrasion of the scalp
  • Hair damage and potential hair loss due to weakened follicles and strands
  • Bacterial, fungal or viral skin infections entering through cracks and lesions
  • Bleeding, sores, and scabbing from excessive scratching
  • Overall discomfort, sleep disruption, and decreased quality of life

Catching and treating dry scalp early is important to avoid these complications. Using gentle, moisturizing products can help manage symptoms and minimize scratching and further irritation. Consulting a dermatologist is recommended for severe or persistent cases. With proper care, the complications of dry scalp can often be avoided.

Diagnosing Dry Scalp

Diagnosing the underlying cause of dry scalp requires a visit to a dermatologist. The dermatologist will start with a physical exam, looking closely at the scalp for signs of inflammation, redness, flaking, and scaling. They will also check for hair loss.

The dermatologist may perform a skin scraping to collect skin cells for examination under a microscope. This helps rule out fungal infections like seborrheic dermatitis.

Blood tests may also be ordered to check for nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, zinc, and other nutrients can contribute to a dry, flaky scalp. The blood tests allow the dermatologist to pinpoint any deficiencies.

The dermatologist will consider the patient’s symptoms, medical history, and exam findings to make an accurate dry scalp diagnosis. This guides them in creating an effective treatment plan tailored to the individual.

Home Remedies for Dry Scalp

Dry scalp can often be managed at home using some simple remedies and lifestyle changes. Here are some effective home treatments to try:

Use Gentle Hair Products

Harsh shampoos and other hair products can strip the scalp of its natural oils and irritate the skin. Switch to mild, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners designed for dry or sensitive skin. Also avoid over-washing hair – limit washes to 2-3 times per week.

Oil Treatments

Applying nourishing oils to the scalp can moisturize skin and reduce flaking. Good options include coconut, olive, almond, jojoba, and argan oils. Massage several drops of oil into the scalp before bedtime. Leave on overnight and wash out in the morning.

Diet Changes

A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids could contribute to a dry scalp. Make sure to get enough healthy fats from foods like salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, and avocados. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day.

Use a Humidifier

Running a humidifier, especially at night, can add moisture to dry indoor air. This helps prevent moisture loss from the scalp. Place several humidifiers in bedrooms and main living areas.

With some simple at-home remedies like these, dry itchy scalp can often be managed effectively. But see a dermatologist if symptoms persist.

Medical Treatments for Dry Scalp

If home remedies don’t relieve your dry scalp symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medicated shampoos or other treatments.

Prescription shampoos contain ingredients like salicylic acid, coal tar, selenium sulfide, and ketoconazole to reduce scaling and itching. These can help treat underlying conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and fungal infections.

Topical steroids like hydrocortisone are anti-inflammatory and can calm irritation and itchiness. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, lotion, or ointment to apply to affected areas of the scalp.

Antifungal medications in pill or shampoo form can treat fungal infections like ringworm on the scalp that cause flaking and itching. Oral antifungals include terbinafine, itraconazole, and fluconazole. Antifungal shampoos often contain ketoconazole.

Supplements may also help, like fish oil and vitamin D. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation. Vitamin D supports skin cell growth and immune function. Check with your doctor before starting any supplements, especially if you take other medications.

If your dry scalp doesn’t improve with prescription treatments, your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist for additional testing and treatment options. They can help identify any underlying conditions contributing to your symptoms.

Handmade Shampoo Bars

Handmade shampoo bars are an effective alternative to liquid shampoos for treating dry scalp. They offer several benefits:

  • Gentler on skin and hair: Handmade shampoo bars contain natural moisturizing oils like coconut, olive, jojoba, and argan that cleanse hair without stripping it of natural oils. This makes them ideal for dry scalp.

  • Reduce need for conditioner: The oils in handmade shampoo bars reduce the need for a separate conditioner. This saves time and money.

  • Customizable ingredients: Handmade shampoo bars allow choosing customized ingredients like tea tree oil, rosemary, and peppermint that help treat dry scalp.

  • Less packaging: Shampoo bars produce less plastic waste compared to liquid shampoos packaged in bottles. They are eco-friendly.

  • Cost effective: A single shampoo bar lasts longer than a bottle of liquid shampoo making them very cost effective.

Handmade shampoo bars are made using a simple cold process method. The basic steps are:

  1. Choosing the right oils like coconut, olive, almond etc.

  2. Selecting herbs/essential oils like peppermint, tea tree etc.

  3. Measuring and combining all ingredients in exact quantities.

  4. Mixing the oils and herbs well until blended.

  5. Pouring the shampoo mixture into silicone molds.

  6. Allowing bars to set and harden for 24-48 hours.

  7. Unmolding and curing bars for 4-6 weeks.

This easy process allows creating customized shampoo bars with ingredients targeted to treat dry scalp. The final bars produce rich lather to gently cleanse hair without drying.

Using Shampoo Bars for Dry Scalp

Shampoo bars can be an effective treatment for dry scalp because they are often gentler than liquid shampoos. Shampoo bars have a solid formula that requires less harsh detergents and sudsing agents compared to liquid shampoos. The solid bar formulation also allows you to carefully select and customize the ingredients based on your hair and scalp needs. For example, you can look for shampoo bars with moisturizing oils like coconut, olive, or argan that will help hydrate and nourish a dry scalp.

Shampoo bars also reduce exposure to certain chemicals found in many liquid shampoos, including sulfates, parabens, and silicone. Limiting these ingredients can be beneficial for sensitive scalps prone to dryness and irritation. The ingredients in shampoo bars are concentrated so a little goes a long way, meaning less product and chemicals touching your scalp. The minimal packaging of shampoo bars also cuts down on chemical exposure from plastic bottles.

Overall, with their gentler formulas and customizable ingredients, shampoo bars can be a great natural option for alleviating dry scalp while keeping your hair clean. Be sure to patch test any new products before fully switching your haircare routine. With some trial and error, you can find a shampoo bar that caters to your specific scalp needs.

Our Hair Care Products For Dry Scalp

Our Handmade Shampoo Bars

Our handmade shampoo bars are specially formulated to relieve dry scalp and leave hair soft and nourished. We use only natural, moisturizing ingredients that are gentle on sensitive skin.

Some key ingredients include:

  • Shea Butter – Deeply moisturizes and softens hair and scalp without leaving residue behind. Contains vitamins A and E.

  • Coconut Oil – Helps hydrate scalp and hair. Has antibacterial and antifungal properties to prevent dandruff.

  • Olive Oil – Soothes itchiness and repairs damage to the scalp. High in antioxidants.

  • Avocado Oil – Penetrates hair follicles to provide hydration. High in vitamins and fatty acids.

We offer shampoo bars in a variety of invigorating scents like citrus, floral, herbal, and woodsy. Prices start at $6 per bar.

You can purchase our handmade shampoo bars on our Etsy shop, at local farmer’s markets, or through our website. We also offer subscription plans for regular deliveries.

Give your scalp the TLC it deserves with our all-natural, handcrafted shampoo bars!

Tips for Managing Dry Scalp

Dry scalp can be frustrating to deal with, but there are some tips that can help keep it under control. Here are some gentle hair care habits to try:

Use a mild, sulfate-free shampoo. Sulfates can strip the scalp of natural oils and irritate the skin. Look for a gentle cleanser without sulfates. Our handmade shampoo bars are free of sulfates and other harsh chemicals.

Shampoo less frequently. Shampooing too often, like daily, can over-cleanse the scalp and cause dryness. Try shampooing just 1-2 times per week.

Rinse hair thoroughly. Make sure to rinse out all shampoo residue, as leftover cleanser can exacerbate dry scalp. Rinse until the water runs clear.

Avoid hot water. Very hot water can deplete natural scalp oils. Stick to lukewarm water instead.

Be gentle when drying. Vigorously rubbing hair with a towel can irritate a dry, flaky scalp. Gently squeeze out excess moisture instead.

Use a moisturizing conditioner. Conditioner provides hydration and can soothe itchiness. Focus conditioner on the mid-lengths and ends of hair, not directly on the scalp.

Try a hair oil. Apply a few drops of hair oil, like argan, coconut or olive, to the scalp and lengths of hair. This provides moisture and replenishes oils.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to keep the scalp from becoming dehydrated and flaky.

Protect scalp from weather. Use a hat or scarf to shield the scalp from harsh winds or cold weather, which can dry out the skin.

With some simple adjustments to hair care and hydration, dry scalp can often be controlled and managed effectively. Be gentle with your scalp and reach for moisturizing, natural products like our handmade shampoo bars.