Within the domain of hair and scalp care, the terms ‘dry scalp’ and ‘dandruff’ are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion among individuals seeking effective solutions for their scalp concerns. Understanding the fundamental distinctions between these two conditions is crucial for implementing targeted and successful remedies. While both dry scalp and dandruff share common symptoms such as flakiness and itching, their underlying causes and characteristics are markedly different. We set out on a journey to demystify the complex world of scalp problems, shedding light on the unique features that differentiate dry scalp from dandruff in this post.


Dry Scalp 

A dry scalp happens when your head doesn’t have enough oil to feel moist. It’s like when your skin gets dry, and it can make your head itchy, flaky, and irritated. It might also make your hair seem dry because the oil from your head keeps your hair healthy.

People with dry skin are more likely to get a dry scalp. This means that things causing dry skin can also lead to a dry scalp, such as:

  • Air that’s too dry, especially in winter.
  • Washing your hair too much.
  • Skin problems like eczema.


The scalp naturally sheds dead skin cells, and dandruff happens when this shedding process speeds up. The flakes in dandruff are actually these dead skin cells. The faster the scalp sheds skin, the more severe the dandruff.

Researchers don’t fully understand what causes dandruff, but potential factors include fungal scalp infections, scalp oils, and sensitivity to substances like hair products. These factors may work together, making dandruff worse in some cases. For instance, people with fungal infections might experience more severe dandruff if they have sensitive skin or an excessively oily scalp.

Many people have a fungus called Malassezia on their scalp, and usually, it doesn’t cause any issues. But for those with dandruff, this fungus can make the scalp irritated and cause flakes. The irritation might happen because of how the fungus interacts with other things on the scalp.



Dandruff is a common scalp condition that can be identified by several distinctive symptoms:

Visible Flakes: The most noticeable sign of dandruff is the presence of white or yellowish flakes on the scalp and in the hair. These flakes may also fall onto clothing.

Itching: Dandruff often causes itching on the scalp. The urge to scratch can be persistent and may intensify when the scalp is irritated.

Oily or Greasy Scalp: While dandruff is commonly associated with dryness, in some cases, it can lead to an oily or greasy feeling on the scalp, contributing to the formation of clumps of flakes.

Redness: Dandruff may cause redness on the scalp, particularly if there is inflammation or irritation.

Flakes on Eyebrows and Face: Dandruff can extend beyond the scalp, leading to the appearance of flakes on the eyebrows and around the nose.

Dry Scalp

Dry scalp manifests with specific symptoms that distinguish it from other scalp conditions. Common symptoms of dry scalp include:

Small, White Flakes: Unlike the larger, yellowish flakes associated with dandruff, dry scalp typically results in smaller, white flakes. These flakes may resemble those of dandruff but are often less oily.

Tightness or Dryness: Individuals with a dry scalp often experience a sensation of tightness or dryness on the scalp. This feeling may be accompanied by discomfort or a general lack of moisture.

Itching: Similar to dandruff, dry scalp can lead to itching. However, the itching associated with dry scalp is often more related to the dryness rather than inflammation.

Dull and Dry Hair: The hair itself may appear dull and dry, lacking the healthy luster and shine associated with well-moisturized hair.

Seasonal Variations: Symptoms of dry scalp may worsen during specific seasons, especially in dry or cold weather when environmental moisture levels are low.

White or Gray Patches: In some cases, individuals with a dry scalp may notice white or gray patches on the scalp. These patches may be associated with dry skin rather than an excess of oil.



Opt for a medicated shampoo: Using a shampoo designed for dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis at least twice a week. These shampoos contain ingredients like salicylic acid, ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide, which help reduce oil, combat fungus, and alleviate flakes.

Increase your omega-3 intake: Trichologist William Gaunitz and experts from the Cedars Sinai medical blog suggested that omega-3s can regulate oil production, leading to a reduction in fungal growth and flaking.

Consider vitamin D supplements: Trichologist William Gaunitz recommended taking vitamin D3 supplements to prevent dandruff. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, vitamin D helps slow the rate of rapid skin cell growth, which can contribute to more severe cases of dandruff and psoriasis.

Incorporate tea tree oil into your hair care routine: Tea tree oil is known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it an excellent choice for rebalancing the scalp. Look for hair treatments, shampoos, conditioners, and masks that include tea tree oil.

Practice meditation (and/or exercise): High stress levels can trigger dandruff and excessive flaking. Incorporating meditation or exercise into your routine can help reduce stress levels, potentially minimizing the likelihood of a dandruff flare-up.

Dry Scalp

Give your scalp a boost with a pre-shampoo treatment: If your scalp feels dry and needs some care, try using a special product made just for your scalp. Put it on your dry hair twice a week before you shower. Leave it on for about 10 minutes, then rinse well before shampooing and conditioning as usual.

Choose a gentle shampoo and conditioner for moisture: When your scalp is dry, using gentle products can really help. Look for shampoos without strong smells or oils and go for ones with soothing ingredients like aloe vera and oat milk.

Avoid products with a lot of alcohol: Some hair products have alcohol in them, and that can be a problem, especially if it’s one of the main ingredients. When picking your hair care products, check that alcohol isn’t one of the first five to ten ingredients. Your scalp will be happier without it.

Don’t wash your hair too often: Washing your hair too much can wash away the natural oils your scalp needs. Try not to shampoo more than every other day when you’re taking care of your scalp. And use lukewarm water, not super hot water—it can dry out your scalp and skin.

Use a humidifier at home: If you live in a really dry place or if it’s summer or winter (the driest times of the year), a humidifier can add some moisture to your environment.

Consider probiotics: You can help your scalp stay balanced and moist by using products with probiotics. Some hair products have them, or you can take them as supplements. Taking a complex with nutrients good for your hair, skin, and nails can also give your scalp the nutrients it needs.


If you find yourself grappling with persistent dandruff and dry scalp issues, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a medical professional. While over-the-counter remedies may be effective for some, if your symptoms fail to improve or worsen despite regular use of these products, it’s a clear signal to consult a doctor or dermatologist. 

Additionally, if you experience severe itching, discomfort, redness, or swelling on the scalp, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. Scalp infections, marked by signs like warmth and the presence of pus, require swift intervention and prescription medications. Changes in hair loss patterns coupled with dandruff or dry scalp, or the recurrence of symptoms after periods of relief, also warrant a doctor’s evaluation.

Individuals with associated skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis should consider consulting a dermatologist for comprehensive care. Early intervention by a healthcare professional ensures a thorough assessment of your unique condition, leading to personalized and effective treatment strategies to maintain a healthy scalp.


1. How do I know if I have dandruff or a dry scalp?

Those with a dry scalp may observe smaller and whiter flakes compared to the larger, yellow-tinged, or oily-looking flakes associated with true dandruff.

2. How do I know if my scalp is too dry or too oily?

You can determine if your scalp is too dry by observing small, white flakes, while an excessively oily scalp may result in larger, yellow-tinged or oily-looking flakes. 

3. Can hair fall out from dry scalp?

Yes. When your scalp is too dry for a long time, it can cause itching and flakes. It might even make your hair become thinner and start falling out.

4. Is it possible to have dry scalp but oily hair?

Yes. It might happen because your scalp is working too hard, maybe because of weather changes, styling too much, or it could be something you got from your family. 

5. Are shampoos for dandruff and dry scalp shampoos the same?

No. Dandruff shampoos use ingredients like salicylic acid or ketoconazole to fight fungal growth, while dry scalp shampoos use moisturizing elements like aloe vera and oat milk to relieve dryness and flakiness. 


I know a lot of people are asking questions about how to get rid of dandruff and how to get rid of a dry scalp. Although both make your head itchy and flaky, they happen for different reasons, so the treatment is not the same. Determining whether your scalp is too dry or has dandruff will help you choose the right products to keep your scalp healthy. If your symptoms do not improve, you should speak to your doctor for individual advice on scalp care