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8 Common Causes of Dry Scalp and How to Tell It’s Not Dandruff
By Jacqueline Samaroo
Is your scalp itchy? Have you been seeing white flakes in your hair and on your shoulders? They could be signs of dry scalp.
Most persons experience dry scalp at one time or another. It’s usually not serious but it can be quite annoying. Ugh!
Keep reading – this article covers both the symptoms and the most common causes of dry scalp. Plus, dandruff is the first thing that tends to come to mind when our scalp gets itchy and we see those flakes. So, we’ll also take a look at the difference between dry scalp and dandruff.
What is dry scalp?
Dry scalp is a condition affecting the skin on your head. It happens when the scalp does not have enough sebum to lubricate and condition it. Sebum is a natural oily substance. It is produced by glands in all the areas of your skin where hair grows.
Find out how vitamin A contributes to sebum production and to hair health.
Symptoms of dry scalp
As its name suggests, dryness is the main symptom of dry scalp. Other common symptoms of dry scalp are:
The itching and irritation usually cause you to scratch your scalp, sometimes excessively and too hard. When this happens, soreness and hair loss may become symptoms of dry scalp.
Dry hair is another possible dry scalp symptom. Dry scalp makes your hair dry because sebum is also needed to lubricate and condition hair.
Hair loss may also be a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency. Read more about it in our recent post: Vitamin D for Hair Growth – 3 Incredible Benefits.
8 common causes of dry scalp
The dryness of dry scalp usually doesn’t affect just your scalp. It is quite likely that whatever is causing it is also affecting the skin on other areas of your body, making them dry, too. So, if you have dry scalp, your arms and legs are probably dry, as well.
Typical causes of dry scalp include
1. Dry air
Cold, dry air can suck moisture from your skin, including your scalp. This is true whether the cold air it is from the chilly winter weather or the cranked-up air conditioner in your home, car, office, etc. Hot, dry air can also leave your scalp dry.
2. Excessive hair washing
Do you wash your hair every day or more often than is needed? This is one of the most common causes of dry scalp. Shampoos are meant to remove dirt, product buildup, and excess oils from your hair. However, over-washing means the sebum your scalp needs is constantly being stripped away. This can leave you with dry scalp.
3. Too-warm water
Washing your hair with hot or too-warm water can strip the natural oils from your scalp. Even if the water is just warm enough, try limiting the amount of time your scalp is exposed to it.
One of the consequences you can expect if you are not drinking enough water is dry skin, including a dry scalp.
Your skin naturally becomes drier as you age. You can help keep dry skin (and dry scalp) at bay by staying hydrated. Drinking sufficient water also has many other health benefits as we grow older.
6. Contact dermatitis
This is another common cause of dry scalp. Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction you can have to one or more ingredients in your haircare products. It often occurs as a red, irritated, and flaking rash. Though most cases of contact dermatitis are mild, the itching from the condition can be intense.
Atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema is a common form of eczema. It results in extremely dry, easily irritated skin. It is most often seen in children but the condition can also affect adults.
This is an autoimmune disease that causes overproduction and buildup of skin cells. This causes the skin to become dry, itchy, and scaly in patches. There are different forms of psoriasis but the one that affects the scalp tends to also show up on elbows, knees, and back.
Dry scalp vs. dandruff
Dandruff is usually a symptom or mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, a kind of eczema. Just like dry scalp, dandruff can cause skin to become itchy, and flaky.
What causes dandruff?
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of what causes dry scalp. Whereas dry scalp occurs when the scalp does not have enough of its natural oils, dandruff occurs when there is too much oil. The excess oils cause a buildup of skin cells which are then shed as the characteristic flakes of dandruff.
The overproduction of oils is often caused by the action of the Malassezia fungus on the scalp. This fungus occurs naturally on the skin of humans and many other animals. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint why it leads to dandruff in some persons and not others.
How to tell the difference between dry scalp and dandruff
With symptoms that are so similar, it’s no wonder many persons have difficulty figuring out whether they have dry scalp or dandruff.
- One thing you can do is take a close look at the flakes. Dry scalp flakes are usually smaller and whiter than dandruff flakes. On the other hand, the flakes you see from dandruff are larger and have a yellowish tint. They also tend to appear oily.
- You can also check your scalp and hair. If they look oily, then you are more likely to be suffering from dandruff rather than dry scalp.
- Do you have intense itching but no dryness? Intense itching on a scalp that neither looks or feels dry could mean your flakes are actually a sign of dandruff.
Consult your doctor if…
There are several ways you can treat dry scalp and dandruff on your own. However, you should consult your doctor if any of the symptoms seem extreme or the condition does not clear up in a couple of weeks. You may actually have a condition other than dry scalp or dandruff.
You should also see your doctor if scratching to relieve some of the irritation and itching has led to sores and/or bleeding on your scalp. Dandruff accompanied by painful inflammation is another reason to seek out the advice of your doctor.
Have you experienced dry scalp or dandruff? What remedy did you use?