Stop Scratching: The Differences Between Dandruff And Dry Scalp

Stop Scratching: The Differences Between Dandruff And Dry Scalp

Whew. Let's stop the itch, stat.


Aight. This is the kind of article that is pretty near and dear to my heart because, when it comes to caring for my scalp and hair, I have spent quite a few years trying to figure out the difference between when I've got dandruff and when my scalp is simply dry. And believe you me, it's not until you actually get that those two things are not one in the same, that you're able to get to the root of what may be causing your incessant itching, irritation and/or flaking, so that you can find some serious relief.

So, if you've already scratched your scalp once, even since reading this intro, and you're saying to yourself, "Enough is enough, dammit!", I've got some info that can definitely put you on the path towards healing your scalp and feeling much better overall.

What Is Dandruff?

So, here's the thing about dandruff. Every minute, our body sheds somewhere between 30,000-40,000 dead skin cells. Our scalp is certainly not exempt from this fact. Well, when dandruff occurs, it's the result of our scalp shedding an accelerated amount of cells. As a result, there is oftentimes noticeable flaking (flakes that are pretty large and oftentimes greasy in texture) and a significant amount of itching and scalp irritation.

As far as what causes dandruff, that is a pretty layered answer. For starters, there is a fungus/yeast that lives on most of our scalps caused Malassezia. When Malassezia gets out of control, it can result in dandruff (kind of like how when a yeast gets out of control in our vagina, it can cause a yeast infection). If Malassezia is what's triggering your dandruff, the dandruff probably won't go away until you get rid of the fungus/yeast (via topical or oral antifungal agents that may require a prescription by your doctor, depending on how bad it is). Something else that can cause dandruff to occur is a scalp that is too oily or has too much product build-up. This is problematic because oil and "gunk" is something that Malassezia actually feeds off of; that's why it's so important to keep your scalp and hair clean by washing them every 10 days or so.

Two other things that can cause dandruff that aren't discussed enough are bacterial infections and allergies. Both of these can result in the speeding up of dead skin cells. On the allergy tip, if you happen to try a new product and your scalp doesn't like it, it could end up shedding more skin cells in order to remove the product which could also cause dandruff.

As I said, dandruff is the result of all kinds of stuff. Yet knowing the main ones can help you to get to the root of what could be giving you dandruff drama.

Home Treatments for Dandruff: How to Take Care of Dandruff

Now that you know what typically triggers dandruff, I'm pretty sure you're wondering if there is anything that you can do to prevent it or, at the very least, manage it. In many cases, definitely. For starters, you might want to look into using a shampoo that has salicylic acid in it. That's a type of dissolving agent that is actually found in foods like blueberries, avocados, and pine nuts. Anyway, what it does is soften the top layer of your scalp and wash away the extra dead skin cells, so that they're less itchy and irritating. Salicylic acid also has the ability to remove oily build-up and can soothe dermatitis if you happen to have that skin issue too. (By the way, if you're low on cash, you can crush a couple of aspirin up and put them into your shampoo. It works because aspirin has salicylic acid in it.)

Next, it's important that you increase your zinc and Vitamin B intake. It's been discovered that a lot of people who struggle with dandruff happen to be low in both of these nutrients. You can take them in supplement form or you can consume foods that are high in both of these vitamins. Foods high in zinc include meat, seeds, nuts, eggs, and whole grains. Foods high in Vitamin B include leafy greens, seafood, fortified cereals, yogurt, and poultry.

If you're looking for some at-home remedies for dandruff, here are a few that are pretty effective:

  1. Tea tree oil contains potent anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that will fight fungus/yeast. Add a few drops of the tea tree oil to your shampoo for maximum results.
  2. Aloe Vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties that will not only help to protect your scalp from getting dandruff, it will also soothe your scalp as it heals from it. You can apply the gel directly to your scalp. Let it sit for about an hour and then shampoo and condition your hair as normal (just make sure the gel is 100 percent pure).
  3. Apple cider vinegar has the ability to balance the pH levels in your scalp. The more balanced your scalp is, the more challenging it is for fungus/yeast to thrive. Just apply one-part water and one-part apple cider vinegar as a rinse to your scalp on wash day. Let it penetrate for five minutes or so and then rinse with cool water.
  4. Listerine is something else that stops dandruff in its track. That's because the menthol it contains is a great fungus/yeast fighter. Simply mix two tablespoons of the mouthwash with a half-cup of distilled water. Use it as a pre-rinse before shampooing and conditioning your hair. Again, it's pretty effective.
  5. Manage your stress levels. It really is a trip, just how much of our overall health and well-being is tied into how stressed we are—or aren't. When it comes to dandruff specifically, when you're stressed out, your immune system is compromised. When that happens, it's easy for fungus/yeast to overtake your system.

If you try all of these DIY treatments and your dandruff does not improve, see your doctor or a dermatologist. You may need something more powerful to get the fungus/yeast under control. Also, do not skimp out on not conditioning your hair, thinking that it will help. Your scalp needs proper moisture; what it doesn't need is a ton of product build-up, so wash your hair no less than every 10-14 days (more around the 8-10 day mark while you're trying to manage your dandruff).

What Is Dry Scalp?

Now let's get into what dry scalp is all about. If you happen to live in a climate that is very dry or is extremely hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter; if you constantly wash your hair in hot water; if you've already got a skin condition (like eczema); if the rest of your skin is dry, or if you're dehydrated (check out "10 Overlooked Signs That You're Dehydrated"), you are definitely someone who is prone to have dry scalp.

That's because dry scalp is what happens as the direct result of your scalp not getting enough of the oil that it needs in order to stay moisturized. And, just like the rest of your body, when your scalp is parched, that can make it itchy, irritated, and can result in small flakes of dead skin coming up.

It should probably also go on record that aging can also subject you to having dry scalp, simply because, as you get older, it can be harder for your scalp to hold onto the natural sebum that your body produces. By the way, it is quite possible that you can have dandruff and dry scalp at the same time; although, if you adhere to the tips that I already provided regarding dandruff, you should be able to tell the difference between the two in no time.

Home Remedies for Dry Scalp: How to Treat Dry Scalp

As far as dry scalp goes, there are several at-home remedies that can quickly get you on the path to some real relief.

  1. First, it's important that you drink plenty of water. As we've already discussed, dehydration plays a real role in dry scalp, so the more water you've got into your body, the better.
  2. Something that can help to moisturize and heal your dry scalp is coconut oil. That's because it's an oil that has antifungal and antibacterial properties that can help to keep fungus/yeast at bay. If you're someone who likes to "oil your scalp", applying a little bit of it once or twice a week can help to make dry scalp a thing of the past.
  3. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids in them can help to deeply penetrate your scalp and give it extra moisture from the inside out. Some foods that have those acids in them are salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and algae. While we're on the topic of diet, it's a good idea to eat more moisturizing foods, period. For some suggestions, check out "These Foods Will Give Your Skin & Hair The Moisture They Crave" on our site.
  4. A great rinse for dry scalp is witch hazel. It contains some powerful astringent properties that can cleanse your scalp without stripping it dry. Combine one-part witch hazel with one-part water, along with five drops of lavender essential oil (it's got antimicrobial and antibacterial properties) and five drops of sweet almond oil (it's a deep conditioner). Pour all of this onto your hair before shampooing it. Gently massage your scalp and then shampoo and condition as usual.
  5. Add some jojoba oil to your shampoo. It has Vitamin E and zinc in it which will help to soothe your dry scalp while moisturizing it at the same time.

Dandruff and dry scalp can both be a pain, no doubt. Yet, more times than not, they are both pretty easy to manage, so long as you know exactly what you've got and you are consistent in applying remedies to them. Here's to being scalp healthy and itch-free, sis. For real, tho.

Featured image by Shutterstock

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