If you've got embarrassing white flakes on your shoulders and dull, dry hair, dry scalp may be to blame. Find out which of the dry scalp treatment options will best nourish both your scalp and your hair.
A dry scalp can cause dandruff, those embarrassing white flakes that appear on your clothing and your hair. A dry scalp can also be itchy, red, and irritated, and make your hair appear dry and dull.
Dry Scalp: The Root of the Problem
Your scalp can dry out for a number of reasons, including:
- Dietary deficiencies
- Cold and dry weather
- Too-frequent shampooing
- Hair products that often contain alcohol, which can dry out your hair
There are many effective dry scalp treatment choices to pick from, depending on what might be causing the problem:
- Conditioning Treatments. A dry scalp that isn't producing enough of natural oil (sebum) can make your hair dull and your scalp itchy and flaky. Try giving your dry scalp back some of the nourishment it needs. Look for an at-home deep conditioning or hot oil treatment at your local drug or beauty supply store. If you use a hot oil treatment, make sure it isn't too hot; warm oil or a deep conditioner applied the scalp twice a week can help moisturize and soothe an itchy, dry scalp.Deep conditioning and hot oil treatments can also make dry, brittle hair healthy and supple. Follow package directions to know how long to leave it on your scalp and how to rinse it off — if not properly removed, treatments will leave hair greasy rather than shiny.
- Shampoo Switcheroo. Dry scalp can be caused by using harsh shampoos or shampooing too often. If you have a dry, flaky scalp or dull and dry hair, try using a different shampoo. Opt for a gentle formula made for dry hair, and don't shampoo every day. Instead, shampoo every other day with warm (not hot) water; frequent washing and hot water can dry out your hair and your scalp. Also avoid gels, mousses, hairsprays, and other products that contain alcohol and can dry out your scalp and hair. Limit the use of heat appliances, like a blow dryer, to give hair a chance to recover.
- Scalp Massage. If a dry scalp is producing white flakes, treat yourself to a gentle scalp massage. Stimulate your scalp with your fingertips as you shampoo or when applying a hot oil or deep conditioning treatment to your scalp. Gently massage the product into the scalp to help it work better (it feels great, too). Just take care not to scratch your scalp with your fingernails.
- Vitamin B. Dry scalp may be caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as not getting enough vitamins B6 and B12 in your diet. Boost your intake through fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals and, if necessary, through supplements such as flaxseed oil, zinc, and selenium.
- Other Diet Dos. Eating the wrong foods can impact your hair and scalp as well. Too many sugary foods can lead to a dry scalp and cause flaking, so limit desserts and trips to the candy jar. Even spicy foods can trigger dandruff, so try to avoid them and see if you notice any improvement. It's also important to cut down on salt and alcohol if you have a dry scalp and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Hydrate your skin from the inside, too, by drinking plenty of water to keep your skin and scalp naturally moisturized.
- Dandruff Shampoos and Treatments. Try medicated over-the-counter dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, or selenium oxide; these active ingredients can help clear up irritated, flaky, and dry skin. Make sure you use them at least once or twice a week, and alternate with a moisturizing shampoo. There are also oils and scalp treatments available to treat dandruff; look for coal tar, selenium, or zinc in a coconut oil or salicylic acid base to help manage dry scalp.
- See Your Doctor. If you can't find a remedy on your own, schedule a visit with your doctor or dermatologist. Your dry scalp could be the result of a health condition. For instance, seborrheic dermatitis can lead to dandruff, but is actually caused by an overproduction of scalp oil and will need to be treated differently than a dry scalp due to too little oil. Do your best to keep your scalp, skin, and hair moisturized with these tips, but see your doctor if they don't quite get the job done.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH