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Dry Scalp Vs Dandruff: What Is the Difference And The Treatment For Both

Do you have a scalp which is flaking and are suspecting dandruff? While your concerns may not be misplaced the problem could just be related to a dry scalp. Quite a few people are dealing with the problem of dry scalp and dandruff and are unaware of why they are dealing with an irritating problem.

I had a similar problem some time back [I still do] and it was really getting on my nerves until I decided to get to the bottom of this matter and understand the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp. As I was concerned about my condition I also decided to delve into the treatments I could use to overcome this problem. Given below is what I learned ever since I began my research.

I needed to go into every factor of why I was affected by this condition. I, therefore, began my studies from the very beginning in order to get it a comprehensive understanding of dry scalp and dandruff. I had to work step-by-step and this is how I managed my routine.

Learning About the Symptoms And Causes

I got to learn that the dry scalp I had was because the skin on my scalp had too little moisture. The lack of moisture was causing the skin to irritate and flake away. I was surprised with the information because I showered regularly and always ensured my scalp received plenty of moisture. However, my surprises further increased when I was told the following:

Dry scalp would also be triggered by factors such as old age, dry hair, cold weather, or contact dermatitis which can be a side effect of products which I had applied on my scalp. I was a regular user of shampoo, hairspray as well as a styling gel. This information convinced me I had to give up on some of the products I had been using if I wanted to overcome the problem with dry scalp.

I also got to learn that the main cause of dandruff was seborrheic dermatitis which had the potential to turn the skin scaly, oily and red. Seborrheic dermatitis can also develop on parts of the body which have oil glands and therefore dandruff can also develop along the sides of the nose, armpits, groin, Etc. Fortunately, my condition wasn’t as bad and I just had to worry about my dry scalp and dandruff I was noticing. However, I feared the matter could worsen making me a potential candidate to have dandruff all over my body.

I also gathered information that a fungus known as Malassezia could trigger dandruff because the fungus generally finds the scalp it a good place to live in. I was concerned whether I had too much of it because it had the potential to cause the skin cells to multiply faster than normal. I was also informed that Malassezia needed favorable conditions such as age, stress, and hormones to multiply. Age was in my favor and I wasn’t facing any stressful conditions. Nevertheless, I wanted to find out whether there were imbalances in my hormones and therefore decided to visit a dermatologist to understand my condition better. I also wanted to understand whether the dry skin on my scalp was a result of eczema which is a condition.

The Difference between Dandruff And Dry Scalp

Understanding the difference between dandruff and dry scalp was even more difficult because it is possible for everyone to suffer from both conditions. The flakes which are observed generally in most cases are dandruff. However, I was fortunate to get the information that the condition of dandruff can affect an individual if his or her scalp feels oily or the hair begins to look greasy. Instances of intense itching in the scalp despite the scalp not feeling dry are also possible causes.

A dry scalp, on the other hand, is a problem which affects people with dry skin and indicates that the scalp does not have enough oil to leave the skin feeling lubricated. A dry scalp can also cause irritation, flaking and itching while at the same time also causing the hair to appear dry because the oil from the scalp can help to condition the hair.

I wasn’t prepared to aggravate my condition and therefore decided it would be better to have an expert opinion and decided to visit a dermatologist.

Visiting The Dermatologist

I was confident I wasn’t suffering from any conditions which could leave behind a telling effect on my scalp. I just wanted to understand whether I was affected by the problem of dandruff or just had a dry scalp. I was surprised to understand even dermatologists couldn’t tell the difference between the two conditions just by a casual examination. Information about whether I was suffering from any autoimmune disorders or chronic illnesses had to be provided before any determination could be made by the expert. I wasn’t suffering from any of the conditions and also did not have a weakened immune system which could enhance the chances of scalp conditions worsening.

I certainly invested some time and money for the visit but walked away confident in the knowledge that I was suffering from a common condition which could easily be dealt with from home. It was a relief to understand I could deal with both conditions myself without needing assistance from a dermatologist because I was suffering from a phenomenon which affects millions throughout the globe.

The Treatment For Dry Scalp And Dandruff

It is a dry scalp which causes dandruff and therefore the conditions are both interconnected. I had to deal with the dryness in the scalp if I also intended to gain a sense of control over dandruff. As I was dealing with two issues simultaneously I decided on the following:

I decided not to indulge in excessive washing of my scalp and make an attempt to leave my scalp moisturized.

I was aware that dandruff wouldn’t be caused by dirty hair but can only develop if I didn’t wash my hair regularly because the oily buildup could contribute to flakes.

I decided to begin using a gentle dandruff shampoo (check out my review of the best ones I’ve found) along with a moisturizing conditioner to overcome the problem of dry scalp.

I adopted the tactic of applying a light moisturizer on my scalp before going to bed every night to understand whether the flakes on my scalp would disappear when I showered the next morning.

I also considered visiting hairstylists to understand whether they can perform a scalp treatment to deliver more moisture to my scalp. However, as it could only solve one problem and not the other I eventually decided to continue treating dandruff from home by using some commercially available products.

Initially, I zeroed in on the following:

Pyrithione zinc shampoos such as Head and Shoulders which contain this antifungal drug. It can kill the fungus on the scalp to prevent flaking. Moreover, Pyrithione zinc shampoos could also be used every day because these are gentle.

I was overwhelmed with the variety available on the market which made me wonder whether I should seek further advice. Fortunately, I come across another shampoo which contained tea tree oil which I was told was a natural ingredient which had antifungal properties. It simply indicated I could use the sample without the fear of any side effects. I just had to ensure I was not allergic to tea tree oil. Once the treatment is competed, I would recommend using an oil to promote hair growth and a healthier scalp.

Keeping dandruff and dry-scalp in check



Learning about the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff was an experience which made me realize I would continue worrying about why one person can be affected by the condition of dandruff by a fungus that is virtually harmless to the other. Experts in the business haven’t understood the mystery after being years in the business. Under the circumstances, it was but natural for me to understand that while both conditions were annoying they were not harmful. It was also a relief to understand that both conditions can be controlled by using common remedies or even prescription medications from home without the need to invest in expensive care.

by Darion Robinson



  1. one of the best treatments against dry scalp is drinking a lot of water. I found that my dry scalp was caused by my dehydration. My diet pills make me feel so dehydrated that my whole body is just flaky. also, for quick remedy, you can buy a ginger shampoo from the body shop. They’re usually on sale during the last month of each quarter. That’s when i’d usually get my stock.

  2. Taking supplements for my weight loss has caused some serious dryness on my scalp. I’ve tried so many remedies but what worked for me was the coconut oil. Sometimes argan oil. Sometimes, I just go bald. It’s better that way. But when it’s winter, I have to keep my hair. and yes you are right, it’s very confusing between the two. It’s easy to mistake the two so to be sure, just go to a skin doctor. Good luck!

  3. Growing up in an indian family, i was always using natural products. Ayurvedic, as what we call. It’s always natural so it’s always safe for the body. I stumbled upon your article because ive always thought that flakes were sign of dandruff. Stuff you learn from commercials, right? So just to add, coconut oil can work wonders against dry scalp. It will smell a little weird, but try it at least once a week. You’ll be surprised with the difference. If you have naturally curly hair, your curls will look great. If you have naturally straight hair, it will have this prettier shine.

    • Tips from a pro! Thanks Aisha, these are important tips to look for.

  4. When my scalp gets flaky, I assume it’s from strong shampoos. ironically, anti dandruff shampoos did not solve my problem. it only made it worse. And using anti dandruff shampoos always hurt my face for some reason. I guess it’s cos of the “anti-dandruff” properties. Switching to organic stuff made my flaking bearable. Funnily, I found resolve in baby shampoos. HAHA! I tried it once, cos well, i ran out of shampoo and my kids still had a full bottle. and my hair was instantly shiny and soft plus it didn’t hurt my face which was great.

  5. Living in the desert and not having the option to have cold water to wash my hair has turned my scalp into a nightmare! I never thought that my scalp could get just as dry as the skin on my face. I didn’t think of it as dry scalp because, I assumed I was just having dandruff. Like you, it really got to my nerves. But, I had help from Body Shop. Their ginger shampoo is very gentle. It’s also organic so, I never had to worry about additional irritations like normal shampoos have extra chemicals that must have added to the dryness of my scalp. Anyhoo, cool blog. keep posting!

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