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.

Like 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.

How to Take Care of Dandruff at Home


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 it into your shampoo. It works because aspirin has salicylic acid in it.)

Next up, it's important that you up 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, 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.

How to Take Care of Dry Scalp at Home


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.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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