Dandruff Versus Dry Scalp: Figuring Out What to Do

Many people who suffer from dandruff or dry scalp often confuse the two conditions. As far as they are concerned, they just want their scalp itching problems to go away. It is easy to see why the confusion because the signs and symptoms of dry scalp and dandruff overlap. Both conditions lead to itching, soreness, flaking, and sometimes, some mild throbbing beneath the skin’s surface. There is also a sense of tightness that immediately takes place right before you get the irresistible urge to scratch your scalp. These are the overlapping symptoms of dandruff and dry scalp.

Make no mistake about it, these two conditions have different causes. This information might not make much of a difference for people suffering from dandruff or dry scalp because all they see are white flakes in their fingernails or falling off their heads. All they can think about is the itch they feel in their scalp. However, if you want to get to the bottom of dandruff or dry scalp, you have to pay attention to their causes. Without a clear understanding of the cause of either condition, you will have a tough time effectively treating dandruff and dry scalp. You have to distinguish one from the other. They have to be on the opposite sides of your mind so you can figure out the cause of your condition and the solutions that will make your symptoms go away.

The Cause of Dandruff

Dandruff happens when your scalp secretes excessive oil. This can be due to several factors. Maybe you eat too much fatty foods or going through some hormonal change or you do not react all that well to humidity so your skin compensates by sweating which frees up a lot of oil. Whatever the case may be, oil builds up in your scalp and when it dries it gets itchy. Even if you do not scratch it, your scalp starts to flake and becomes really itchy. Indeed, for people with dandruff problems scratching their head takes effort because the more they scratch, the more flakes fall off their head, and the more the scalp itches. The itch just won’t go away even if you keep scratching your scalp.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This is the medical term for skin oil buildup that causes skin irritation. Even if you do not scratch your scalp, the oil buildup irritates the surface of your skin turning it red. It becomes itchy, and later on, scaly. The outer layer of your skin starts to flake off in white thin sheets.

Fungal Causes of Dandruff

There is a fungus that is often found in the scalp of people suffering from dandruff. This fungus is called Malassezia. Everyone is exposed to Malassezia spores. You probably have some on your scalp. But having this fungus does not mean you are going to have dandruff. It becomes a problem when the condition of your scalp becomes imbalanced leading to Malassezia growth. As the fungus grows, it triggers the skin cells on your scalp’s surface to grow rapidly to cope with fungus growth. The skin cells compete with the fungus cover and this leads to oil buildup, itching, burning, and scratching. 

Effective Dandruff Treatments

Since oil buildup is the ultimate cause of dandruff, it is important to use products that reduce scalp oil levels. You also need to use products that have a soothing ingredient that reduces irritation of your scalp skin. Dandruff shampoos with fungicide ingredients clear out the fungal buildup on the surface of your skin. A typical anti-dandruff shampoo has zinc and ketoconazole which are powerful anti-fungal agents. It also contains selenium sulfide. To slow down skin cell replication, many dandruff treatments have coal tar. Salicylic acid also helps prevent scalp skin tissue from flaking.

The Cause of Dry Scalp

The cause of dry scalp is different from that of dandruff. When you have dry scalp, it means your scalp has low moisture levels leading to your skin drying out. Dry skin becomes easily irritated and the surface layer starts to flake off. The problem with low moisture is your skin does not produce enough oil. It cannot hold it so the outer layers start to flake and itch as it dries out.

Generally, the causes of dry scalp are dry and cold air, allergic reactions to some chemicals, old age (as you get older, your skin has less of its internal fluids and gets drier), excessive use of shampoo, or heavy chemicals. People with psoriasis often report dry scalp. An inflammatory diet that is high on sugar, carbohydrates, and fats can have a drying effect on your scalp too.

Symptoms of Dry Scalp

Besides white flakes of skin falling off your head when you scratch, dry scalp is itchy and has a drying effect on your hair so your hair’s quality also suffers. Dry scalp is a skin condition. It is not unusual for people suffering from itchy flakes to have dry or ashy skin in various parts of their body.

Dry Scalp Treatments

The key to the effective management of this condition is moisturizing. You need to properly moisturize the skin on the top of your head like other dry areas of your body. You also can use scalp massage treatments that allow oil to seep into your pores. Steering clear of products that have harsh chemicals is a good idea too. These chemicals can lead to dry hair and skin. As much as possible, do not shampoo daily. Try to find shampoo products that have tea tree oil or coconut oil. Not only do these have a soothing effect on your skin, they usually are packed with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ingredients. As far as your diet is concerned, try to drink water regularly to hydrate your system including your skin. Cut down on sugar, carbohydrates, heavy fats, and salty foods. This helps regulate your system’s hydration level.

Dry Scalp and Dandruff Home Remedies

One of the most effective ways to deal with dandruff and dry scalp is to forgo commercial formulations and products. You can use the best variety of natural home remedies made from organic sources so you can have a lot more control in managing the overall health of your scalp and preventing dandruff.

Here are some traditional home remedies that you might want to try:

Coconut Oil

Not only is virgin coconut oil amazing when it comes to soothing the surface of the scalp, but it also comes packed with bacteria-fighting and anti-fungal properties.

It is so effective in soothing irritated skin because it has anti-inflammatory properties. It is no surprise then that a lot of people with atopic dermatitis (the reddening and constant irritation of skin that leads to raised or patchy surfaces) prefer coconut oil. Just a little bit of this amazing tropical oil can go a long way.

Before using it, make sure you insist on cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. This way, you’re not settling for industrial coconut oil, which is basically just a byproduct of coconuts that have been primarily processed for cooking oil.

When you buy virgin coconut oil, you should be buying a product that has been specifically grown, harvested and processed for topical skin and scalp management uses.

To use this product, make sure you add a small amount of the oil on your palms, then massage it with your fingertips. Once it’s evenly applied to your fingertips, take your fingers and apply it to your scalp.

It’s important to massage the top of your head evenly. Don’t just focus on one area and neglect the rest. Once you’ve done this, leave it on for about 10-15 minutes.

The good news is that it’s not going to irritate your scalp. Just leave it on and then rinse it out with cool water.

Tea Tree Oil

Just like coconut oil, this natural oil variety has anti-bacterial and fungus-fighting abilities. It is also a great antiseptic.

Historically, people have been using this oil to take care of dandruff. Not only will your dandruff go away, but it can also treat the underlying reasons why you get dandruff in the first place.

Please note that tea tree oil cannot be used by itself. It has to have some sort of carrier oil. You can use coconut oil or some other light oil as an agent for this oil.

How does this work out? Well, you just need to get your carrier oil ready, add a few tea tree oil drops, then you are good to go. You basically use it the way you would coconut oil.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a succulent plant that has a long-held reputation for treating the skin. It is an all-natural moisturizer.

If you’re looking to hydrate your scalp so it doesn’t develop dry skin and dandruff, moisturize in an all-natural way by using aloe vera. This compound has such a soothing effect that it actually reduces the inflammation of your scalp. Put it on your hair and use it like you would coconut oil.

Apple Cider Vinegar

It may not smell all that pleasant, but apple cider vinegar actually does a great job of knocking out bacteria on your scalp, which enables you to manage the amount of skin oil-eating bacteria on your scalp. This can lead to less dandruff breakouts.

Apple cider vinegar also has inflammation-fighting capabilities and it can also trigger your scalp to exfoliate.

To use apple cider vinegar, you need to go to your local health store and pick out the most organic ACV product you can find. Don’t apply it directly to your scalp. You have to first mix it with plain water in a one to two ratio.

Apply it evenly to your scalp by drizzling or dropping it onto your scalp bit by bit. Let your soaked hair stand for around 5 minutes. After this, you can then use your normal shampoo to rinse it out, and then apply your favorite conditioner.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel has long been known to have anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been used to manage itchy scalps. If you have an itchy and dry scalp, this may be a good treatment.

Again, just like with tea tree oil, you would need a carrier oil. This can be a neutral light oil.

Add a few drops of witch hazel. Make sure it’s thoroughly mixed, and then use it like you would coconut oil. But the big difference is that instead of waiting for 10 minutes for it to work its effects, you can keep it on your hair for around 5 minutes before you rinse it out.

The Final Word on Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp

It’s very important to know the difference between these two hair conditions so you can treat them accordingly. The good news is, when you use either a commercial product or an all-natural home remedy treatment, it can go a long way in knocking out the underlying conditions that lead to dandruff.

Please understand that when you develop dandruff, it’s usually because your scalp has developed a condition. So, when you knock out the underlying condition, this automatically means that you also take care of the dandruff.