Dry Scalp

One of the first signs of dry scalp is the shedding of little white flakes from the head. This can often be mistaken for dandruff, which is usually caused by an excessively oily scalp. If you notice that you’re shedding flakes, don’t automatically treat it as dandruff because the treatments are very different. Dandruff shampoo will dry out your hair, and if you’ve already got dry scalp you don’t want to make it worse. So how can you tell the difference? If the flakes are dry, it’s probably dry scalp. If they’re oily, you most likely have dandruff. Neither one will be a great thing to have on your next big date. But figuring out the causes will help you get rid of a dry scalp.

While a dry scalp itself usually isn’t much to worry about medically, it can be a very uncomfortable and a socially embarrassing condition to deal with. Dry scalp is caused when your scalp’s sebaceous glands aren’t producing enough sebum, an oily substance that keeps your hair and skin moist. It is often only a temporary condition caused by extreme temperatures, low humidity, or other environmental factors. As annoying and painful as a dry scalp can be, once you’ve figured out the cause of your problem, the treatment could be as simple as switching shampoos or using a deep conditioning treatment once a week.

Best Quick Fix for Dry Scalp

If you’re suffering from a dry, itchy scalp and need relief quickly, warm some olive oil and gently massage it into your scalp. Wrap your head in a towel and let it soak in for about 20 minutes before washing with a mild shampoo. It helps refresh the skin without a lot of crummy chemicals.

Is it Really Dry Scalp?

Eczema.While it’s most common on arms and legs, atopic dermatitis, or eczema, can be present anywhere on the body and is often formed as a reaction to soaps or other irritants. Symptoms include severe itching, patches of red or brownish-gray skin, and small bumps.

Psoriasis. Psoriasis occurs when new skin cells are formed before old ones are shed, causing them to build up on your skin’s surface. Scalp psoriasis can look like a red plaque or silver scales and can cause dryness, flaking, itching, burning, and temporary hair loss.

Dandruff. Dry scalp is often mistaken for dandruff, which is usually caused by overactive sebaceous glands or poor hygiene, but can also be brought on by dry skin. While dry scalp causes dry, white flakes, dandruff is usually oily and tinted yellow. Dandruff can often be treated with more frequent hair washing or medicated shampoos, but in some cases medical treatment may be necessary.

Get to the "Root" of Your Problem

There are many factors that could be causing your dry scalp. Here are the most common:

  • Exposure to intense heat or cold
  • Lack of moisture in the air
  • Excessively long or hot showers or baths
  • A reaction to harsh shampoos
  • Dehydration
  • Poor diet

Best At-Home Treatments for Dry Scalp

Figure out what’s causing your scalp to be dry.

The first thing you need to do to treat your dry scalp is narrow down the possible reasons why you may be experiencing this ailment. Are you regularly exposed to intense heat or cold, coupled with low humidity? Do you take long, hot baths or showers every day? Do you put a lot of styling products in your hair? Narrowing down the potential causes of your dry scalp will help you to figure out which remedies to try first and speed up the process of treating your dry scalp.

Take a look at your hair care products.

Excessive amounts of gel, mousse, or hairspray can clog your pores, restricting your scalp from producing an adequate amount of natural oils to keep itself hydrated. The next time you wash your hair, read the ingredients list on your shampoo and conditioner. Look for ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate. These are foaming agents that are common in shampoos and can cause dryness in the scalp. If your shampoo contains any of these ingredients, it may be time to switch to one that contains gentler ingredients. We’d recommend Paul Mitchell Tea Tree & Lavender Shampoo.

Change your hair washing routine to relieve a dry, itchy scalp.

If you wash your hair daily and suffer from a dry scalp, try giving yourself a day or two between washes for your body’s natural oils to hydrate your skin. While nothing may feel better on a cold winter day than a hot shower or bath, it can be doing some serious damage not only to your scalp, but to all the skin on your body. Frequent exposure to hot water will only dry your skin out more. Try to keep the temperature lukewarm while washing and even cooler when rinsing to avoid hot water damage.

Treat yourself to a scalp massage.

Massaging will not only encourage your scalp to produce its natural oils, but rid it of residue as well. You should get in the habit of doing this every time you wash your hair. Simply rub your fingertips in a circular motion on your scalp as you shampoo and condition your hair. You want to use firm enough pressure to increase circulation and trigger your sebaceous glands to produce the sebum that will keep your scalp naturally moisturized. Just be sure you’re not scratching yourself with your fingertips. If your scalp is especially dry, massage olive oil into your scalp before you shower.

Protect your scalp from extremes to relieve dryness.

Dry scalp is most common in winter months, when humidity levels and air temperatures both drop, but can also occur in the warmer months if you’re not protecting your head adequately. Wear a hat when you go outside to protect your scalp from damage caused by the sun, wind, and cold. Another extreme to avoid is heat from blow dryers and other hair styling products. Pat, don’t rub, your head with a towel when you get out of the shower and let your hair dry naturally. If you do use a blow dryer, use its cool setting.

Apply an avocado hair mask to your replenish your scalp’s oils.

When winter has your scalp and hair dried out and in need of deep conditioning, make your own replenishing hair mask with an avocado. Just mash one and rub it into your wet or damp hair. Let it soak for about half an hour, then rinse it out with cool water and shampoo afterwards. Many recipes call for the addition of other ingredients, such as egg yolk, olive oil, honey, or yogurt. You can try different mixtures until you find the right concoction for your scalp and hair needs.

Seeking Professional Help for Dry Scalp

If you’ve tried numerous at-home treatments and still haven’t noticed an improvement in your condition, it may be time to seek advice from a medical professional. A doctor will be able to give you lifestyle advice, such as a change in your diet or techniques to manage stress. They may also suggest supplements you can take to help your scalp return to its normal, healthy state. It’s also a possibility that your dry scalp is a symptom of a bigger problem that is best handled through medical treatment, such as dandruff, psoriasis or eczema. If you’re experiencing other undesirable symptoms on your scalp, such as bumpy or scaly patches, bleeding, burning, hair loss, or intense itchiness that causes interference such as loss of sleep, consult a dermatologist, who will be able to diagnose your problem. He or she may also be able to help you figure out triggers to avoid and prescribe creams or ointments for itching and antibiotics if you’re experiencing open sores. If your condition is severe enough, phototherapy—in which the affected skin is regularly exposed to specific beneficial wavelengths of light—may be recommended.

Natural Solutions for Dry Scalp

A healthy diet can keep your body working properly.

Lack of essential nutrients or overly sugary or fatty foods may be contributing to your dry scalp. A diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains will be better for your scalp and your body overall than one made up of processed junk food.

Staying hydrated is important for a healthy scalp.

When your skin is dry, that is often a sign that the rest of your body is probably dehydrated as well. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water and cut down on or eliminate alcohol and sugary beverages from your diet.

Add moisture to dry air.

Use of fireplaces, space heaters, and furnaces during the winter months will reduce the humidity level of your home. This, along with the cool air and low humidity outside, makes it hard for your scalp to stay moisturized throughout the day. A humidifier can help your skin retain its moisture—just be sure you’re using it properly to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Amazon sells a few single-room units like this humidifier from Pure Enrichment that has a lot of cool features.

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About the Author

Julianne Ragland

Julianne Ragland