Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp - How Do I Tell Which One I Have?
If you experience flaking and itching on your scalp, you might have put it down to dandruff. But did you know that flaking and itching are also classic signs of a dry scalp? It is very easy to confuse one condition for the other because they have very similar characteristics. However, it is important to note that they are two distinct scalp conditions, both requiring very different treatments.
If you’re looking to get rid of those flakes for good, it is important to identify which condition you’re actually dealing with. Trust us, you don’t want to be wasting time and money on solutions that either do nothing for you, or make your existing condition worse!
So let’s dive into it...
How to Distinguish Between Dandruff & a Dry Scalp
Simply put, a dry scalp is the result of a lack of moisture. And much like dry skin, a dry scalp can also cause light flaking and itching. On the other hand, dandruff is the condition in which dead skin cells start building and clustering on the scalp. Eventually, these dead skin cells (large, white flakes) that have accumulated on the scalp fall off. This condition is often accompanied by redness and itchy rashes as well.
What Causes Drying on the Scalp
One of the most common causes of a dry scalp is over washing. If you’re washing your hair too often, especially with hot water, you’re not letting your skin and hair keep the oils being produced naturally. This results in your scalp becoming dry and flaky. Besides this, using hair products that do not suit your scalp or even environmental factors like weather fluctuations, pollution and sun exposure can also result in scalp dryness.
How to Treat it
- Avoid over-washing your hair
- Make sure to use cold water for your last rinse
- Use a gentle, sulphate-free shampoo that hydrates your scalp and nourishes your hair
- Avoid using hair products that contain alcohol
What Causes Dandruff?
A mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff is caused due to the overproduction of oil and a fungus called Malassezia furfur that lives on our scalp. These fungi thrive on oily scalps; they feed on excess sebum (oil) which results in dead skin cells clumping together to form the white flakes we call dandruff.
How to Treat it
- Use a shampoo that is loaded with science-backed dandruff fighters like tea tree oil and propanediol caprylate that help treat existing dandruff and curtail the formation of new dandruff. You can check out our dandruff-control Tea Tree range here
- Avoid scratching, no matter how tempting it is! The more you scratch to relieve itchiness, the worse the condition is going to get
- Use a gentle hairbrush or wooden comb. However, make sure you’re using it in a gentle manner. This also helps with blood circulation, and if your scalp tends to produce more oil in a certain area, brushing can help spread it evenly across your hair and scalp giving you balanced moisturization
When to See a Dermatologist
If you are having trouble figuring out if you have a dry scalp or are in fact dealing with dandruff, we recommend speaking with your dermatologist. Besides this, if you notice your condition getting worse wherein your scalp is feeling increasingly itchy, red, swollen or painful to touch, it's definitely time to pay your dermat a visit.
Q1. Does dandruff have a cure?
While you may not be able to cure dandruff completely, you can definitely take steps to treat and prevent it from recurring, as explained above.
Q2. How can I ease the symptoms of a dry scalp?
If you have a dry scalp, wash your hair with a gentle shampoo and then use a moisturizing conditioner. One way to tell whether you have a dry scalp or dandruff is to apply a light moisturizer to your scalp before you go to bed. If the cause is a dry scalp, the flakes should disappear once you shower the next morning.
Q3. I have yellow flakes. Is that normal?
While yellow flakes are common, it could be a sign that you are dealing with a much more intense form of dandruff. Therefore, we recommend consulting your dermatologist for an appropriate diagnosis.