Health Care

Difference Between Dandruff and Dry Scalp, Symptoms, Treatment, and More6 min read


Sometimes, people misunderstand the difference between dandruff and dry scalp, so they think that they are the same. However, I can definitely tell you that there is a big difference.

Like any other skin cells on our body, the skin on the scalp renews it cells every 24 days, new skin cells are formed underneath and all the old cells just slough off to uncover the new ones.
However, problems appear when our scalp is too much dry or effected by dandruff.

People usually believe that they have dandruff when they feel a dry, flaking scalp, but you can’t be sure whether the cause is dandruff or a dry scalp as both have the same main symptoms, including falling flakes and an itchy scalp.

With dandruff, the cause is not dryness but having too much oil on the scalp. This excess oil builds up on the scalp and causes dandruff. Knowing which is the condition you have can help you get the right treatment to banish all those flakes for good.

The best way to differentiate between dry scalp and dandruff is due to their appearance. Dandruff flakes are bigger, harder and have the oil look, but the dry scalp flakes are small and soft.



Saying that Dandruff is caused by dryness is a big mistake as it is caused by too much oil. According to Jessica Wu, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California Medical School, dandruff appears as a result of the overgrowth of harmless yeast. This yeast grow up on the scalp and feed on the excess oil as well as dead skin cells found there, they shed the cells of the skin and clump into flakes.


Dry Scalp

On the other hand, dry scalp is caused by the loss of moisture from the skin which gets irritated and flakes off . This loss of moisture is the result of cold weather and humidity, soap, strong detergents, certain products, hard water, diet (like consuming a lot of caffeine) and many others.


Signs And Symptoms Of Dandruff
We all know the dandruff, but let’s see some of its symptoms:

1- Dandruff is greasy and yellowish white in color.

2- Its flakes are large and hard compared with the dry scalp flakes.

3- It causes itching and usually have scalp odor.


Signs And Symptoms Of Dry Scalp

Dry scalp flakes also have some slightly different symptoms like:

1- Its flakes are smaller and softer than those of the dandruff.

3- It causes itching and small white flakes that come off easily.


Causes of Dry Scalp

Drying your hair too much can cause dry scalp

If the skin on your scalp is dry and has too little moisture, it becomes irritated and flakes off.
Such case can be caused by the following conditions:

1- Cold weather and dry air
2- Contact dermatitis due to the reaction to certain products like shampoo, styling gel, and hairspray.
3- Age

Causes of Dandruff

The causes of dandruff can be divided into two types, External and Internal Causes. So let’s know more about them:

External causes Of Dandruff:
– Consuming too much sugar, fat or starch.
– Improper nutrition and unhealthy diet.
– Having dandruff in the family history.
– Allergic hypersensitive.
– Hormonal imbalance.
– Emotional stress and Lack of rest.
External Causes Of Dandruff:
– Excessive use of hair products which contain harmful chemicals.
– Excessive use of hair-coloring products,hot hair curlers or curling irons.
–  Drying your hair by heating  
– Stress and anxiety .
– Inadequate rinsing of the scalp and hair

– Seborrheic dermatitis which turns the skin oily, red, and scaly.
– Malassezia which is a kind of fungus that lives on your scalp and triggers dandruff.
– Not washing your hair enough which give the oil a chance to build up and contribute to flakes.

Treatment for Dandruff and Dry Scalp

First of all, to know whether you have a dry scalp or dandruff, you can do a small test. Apply a light moisturizer to your scalp before you go to bed. Take a shower the next morning, if all the flakes disappear, then you have a dry scalp; otherwise it is dandruff.

Whether you have dandruff or a dry scalp, there are few home remedies as well as some tips to help you get rid of these problems.

Let’s start with dry scalp:

moisturizing conditioners are essential for treating Dry scalp

If you suffer from dry scalp, try these tips to solve the problem:

  • Wash your head with a gentle shampoo and then use a moisturizing conditioner.
  • Use steam to deliver more moisture to your scalp.
  • Use Apple cider vinegar rinses or other natural remedies to help restore the pH on your scalp.
  • Do a light scalp message using natural oils like extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, etc.
  • Try some yogurt honey mask or any other natural hair masks which can hydrate your scalp as well as bring moisture to combat dry scalp.

For Dandruff
Dandruff is mainly caused by the excessive oil and fungus on the scalp, to get rid of them check these tips:

  • Wash your hair every day with a gentle shampoo to reduce the amount of oil on your scalp.
  • If your dandruff is more severe, use a dandruff shampoo like those containing:
    • Ketoconazole (Nizoral): It kills the fungus that causes dandruff.
    • Salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal):  It removes extra scale from your scalp before it can flake.
    • Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue): It reduces fungus and prevents too many skin cells from dying off.
    • Pyrithione zinc (like head & Shoulders, Jason Dandruff Relief 2 in 1): It is gentle and can be used every day.
    • Coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel): It slows the growth and shedding of skin cells on the scalp.
  • You can also use shampoos which contain tea tree oil, since this oil is an effective alternative remedy for dandruff. Consult your doctor before using it if you suspect having allergy to tea tree oil.

How to prevent Dandruff and Dry Scalp:

wash your hair once a week with an anti dandruff shampoo even if you don’t suffer from dandruff

Eventually, you should follow these tips to prevent the formation of dandruff and dry scalp:

  • Even if you don’t have dandruff, you can wash your hair once a week with an anti dandruff shampoo, to avoid having such problem in the future.
  • Avoid using hair products( like shampoo, moisturizer, etc) which contain harsh chemicals especially bleach and alcohol as they can dry out your scalp.
  • Avoid oily hair products which build up on your scalp as they cause dandruff.
  • Expose your scalp to the sunlight for a few minutes a day.
  • Try some relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing to manage your stress.

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