When your scalp is itchy and flaky, you might find yourself using the words “dandruff” and “dry scalp” interchangeably. But while you might think these mean the same thing, they’re actually two different scalp conditions that need to be managed in different ways. Understanding the difference between dandruff and dryness can help you to choose the best treatment option for your scalp.
What causes dry scalp?
It can be caused by a number of different factors. For instance, cold, dry air can leave skin lacking moisture and using certain products in your hair could also be to blame. Certain types of shampoos, conditioners and hair masks contain chemicals that can be harsh on the scalp.
Older people, and people who suffer from dry skin on the rest of their body, are more likely to suffer from dry scalp. And dehydration can also be a culprit.
What are the symptoms of dry scalp?
Your scalp might be dry if it feels tight and itchy. Dry scalp is often associated with small, white flakes, which can look similar to dandruff flakes. If you’ve been itching it, your scalp could even be sore, and you might be able to see redness and scabs under your hair.
Dry scalp treatment
How you manage dry scalp depends on the cause of the problem. For mild cases, limiting how often you wash your hair – and using a gentle shampoo and moisturising conditioner when you do – can stop your scalp drying out.
You should also ensure that the water is not too hot, as this can dry out your skin. However, dry scalp can also be a symptom of other scalp conditions like psoriasis. So, for more severe cases, or if your dry scalp doesn’t get any better make sure to visit your GP who can recommend treatment options.
How is dandruff different to dry scalp?
Where dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture, dandruff is actually caused by the over‐production of oil on the scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis can occur anywhere on the body, and makes skin red, oily and scaly, and is often responsible for dandruff flakes.
What does dandruff look like?
Dandruff flakes are often larger than the flakes you would get from a dry scalp. They can be white, or have a yellowish tinge, and can appear very oily. Your scalp itself could look oily too and appear red and irritated.
Much like with dry scalp, when a person is suffering from dandruff their scalp can become very itchy. But as tempting as it may be, you should avoid scratching, as this could introduce bacteria to the scalp and cause infection.
How to manage dandruff
Using specific shampoos formulated to target dandruff can help you to manage this scalp condition. Medicated shampoos containing coal tar can help to slow down the overproduction of skin cells. They can also help to relieve the itching associated with dandruff.
If you’re worried about a scalp condition, or your scalp is very inflamed, you should visit your GP or dermatologist. They can recommend the right treatment for you.