Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: Find the Differences and the Best Treatments

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: Find the Differences and the Best Treatments

Many people assume that dandruff and dry scalp are the same condition but actually they are not. It is very easy to make that assumption because both dandruff and dry scalp can make the skin on the scalp itchy and cause dead flakes of skin to form. You may become aware that you have dandruff or dry scalp when you brush or comb your hair and dead skin flakes get shed and fall onto clothes, especially on and around the shoulders. The causes of these conditions differ greatly, and to successfully treat a scalp that is dry or to get rid of dandruff completely, it’s necessary to find out the root cause.

You can use many different home remedies to treat dry scalp conditions and dandruff. In this article, I am going to look at the differences between the causes of dry scalp and dandruff and what simple homemade treatments are effective in reducing itchiness and stopping dead skin flaking off in your hair.

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp – What are the Differences?

It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between dry scalp and dandruff. Over washing your hair can cause a dry scalp, which is a common cause of dandruff. However, the causes of dandruff are more than just having a dry scalp. Dandruff can also be due to scalp infections, oily skin, or an irritated scalp.

The Causes of Dandruff

Dandruff is defined as “the flaking of dead skin cells from the scalp.” According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of reasons why a person can have dandruff, and a dry scalp is just one of them.1 If you notice that the flakes of dead skin are white or yellowish and you have patches of red, greasy skin on your scalp, the cause of your dandruff could be seborrheic dermatitis.

Alternatively, the scaling on your scalp could be due to a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. When this fungus starts to overgrow, it causes more skin cells to grow and makes the scalp itchy. The white flakes of skin then shed from your scalp.

Poor personal hygiene can also cause dandruff with some people because they don’t wash their hair enough. Infrequent shampooing results in a buildup of dead skin cells and oils on the scalp. This can cause infections to occur and feed fungus on the scalp, making dandruff even worse.

Dr. Hansa D. Bhargava on WebMD says that eczema can be a cause of dandruff because it makes itchy red scaly patches form on the scalp which results in flaky skin.2

Scalp psoriasis can also cause itchiness along with scaly skin that causes dandruff-like flaking.9

The Causes of Dry Scalp

A dry scalp is usually due to a lack of moisture on the scalp and it can result in small white flakes of skin in your hair. Sometimes your head may become itchy and you will probably have dry skin on other areas of your body.2

You can tell if your dandruff is caused by dry skin because generally, the flakes of dead skin in your hair and on your clothes will be smaller and less greasy than skin flakes from other causes of dandruff.

Home Remedies for Dandruff and Dry Scalp

There are many effective home remedies to treat the symptoms of dandruff, and some of them help to treat dry scalp as well. Here are some of the best.

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

You can use raw apple cider vinegar as a natural home remedy to help cure dry, flaky skin on your scalp and reduce itchiness as well as dandruff. Many shampoos and soaps contain harsh chemicals which can disrupt the pH balance of your scalp. ACV can help to restore a healthy pH balance to alleviate itching on your scalp. Also, its high acidic content helps to kill off bacterial and fungal infections.

The University of Birmingham reported on a study showing that the acetic acid in vinegar can effectively inhibit the growth of bacterial infections.4

To use apple cider vinegar to get rid of dandruff and help treat itchy patches of skin on a dry scalp, you can make an ACV rinse for quick relief. This is what you should do:

  • Wash your hair normally with shampoo.
  • Dilute equal parts of ACV and water and apply to your scalp with a cotton ball.
  • Wrap your hair in a shower cap and cover with a towel.
  • After 10-15 minutes, rinse off with warm water and style as normal.

Use the apple cider hair rinse once or twice a week to effectively control dandruff and get rid of an itchy and dry scalp.

Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil has many antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help clear up dandruff and treat an itchy and dry scalp that is caused by dermatitis or a yeast infection. Also, the fatty acid content of coconut oil makes it a great scalp moisturizer to keep your hair looking shiny and healthy.

Regarding the antifungal activities of coconut oil on the Malassezia fungus species, the Indian Journal of Medical Research reported that coconut oil can help prevent dandruff that is caused by a fungal infection. Another study published in 2008 found that coconut oil helps to reduce the symptoms of dermatitis, including dry and itchy skin.

Make a coconut oil hair mask to nourish your dry scalp and help treat dandruff. For this anti-dandruff home remedy, you just need to apply coconut oil to your scalp. This is what you should do:

  • Wash your hair with your favorite natural shampoo.
  • Massage 1-3 tbsp. virgin coconut oil into your scalp (you can warm the coconut oil first, but the oil melts with body temperature as well).
  • Cover your hair with a shower cap and wrap your head in a towel.
  • Leave for 1-2 hours and then rinse the oil from your hair and shampoo again to remove any excess oil.

Use the coconut oil treatment 1-2 times a week to keep your scalp moisturized and free of any flakes of dead skin. You will also notice that coconut oil restores a natural shine to your hair. There are also many other reasons to use coconut oil on your hair.

Aloe Vera for Dandruff and Itchy Scalp

Aloe vera is an excellent home remedy to help cure dandruff and relieve dry, itchy scalp. It is a well-known fact that aloe vera is a great soothing agent for dry and damaged skin. You can also apply aloe vera directly to your scalp to get rid of scaly, dry, and flaky skin.

If your dandruff looks like yellowish flakes of dead skin caused by seborrheic dermatitis, you can use aloe vera on your scalp to help heal the scaly scalp. For example, a report published in the Natural Medicine Journal said that aloe vera can help to treat the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis if you apply it twice a day.6 Some studies have also shown that aloe vera can help treat the symptoms of psoriasis like flaking skin and itchiness.

To help get rid of dandruff or dry scalp, apply pure aloe vera gel directly to your scalp and leave for 15-20 minutes before rinsing off. Repeat the aloe vera application 2-3 times a week to help keep your scalp moisturized and to prevent dandruff.

Home Remedies for Dandruff

Tea Tree Oil for dandruff

Tea tree oil is one of the best all-around essential oils to keep your hair and scalp healthy and is a great home remedy for dandruff. Tea tree oil can effectively treat bacterial infections, scalp psoriasis, oily skin, and kill off fungus infections that cause dandruff.

Various studies into the effects of tea tree oil in treating the root causes of dandruff conditions have shown it to be an effective natural remedy that destroys various infections. For example, the Skin Pharmacology Society published a study in their journal showing that tea tree oil is effective in treating dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis and killing off other fungal infections on the scalp.3 Other studies have shown that 5% tea tree oil shampoo destroys the fungal infections responsible for dandruff.

To combat dandruff using a homemade tea tree oil shampoo, here is what you can do:

  • Add 8-10 drops tea tree oil to every 8 oz. of your favorite natural shampoo.
  • Wash your hair as needed with the tea tree shampoo.

Use the 5% tea tree oil shampoo regularly to get rid of dandruff, get relief from an itchy scalp, and prevent fungal infections irritating your scalp.

Baking Soda

If your dandruff is the result of an oily scalp or a buildup of dead skin cells and you don’t have a dry scalp, you can try baking soda. Many people have found that baking soda can be an effective natural remedy to help remove excess oil from an oily scalp and eradicate the infections that can cause dandruff as well as helping to reduce the sensation of scalp itchiness.

You can use the cleansing properties of baking soda in place of your regular shampoo to get a flake-free scalp. This is what you should do:

  • Rinse your hair with warm water.
  • Take a handful of baking soda and make a paste in your palm with a few drops of water.
  • Rub the baking soda paste into your scalp.
  • Wash thoroughly after one minute and don’t use shampoo afterwards.

Many people who use baking soda as a home remedy for dandruff find that it dries their scalp. So, if you suffer from a dry scalp, you should use one of the other dandruff remedies in this article.

Home Remedies for Dry Scalp

In order to treat the symptoms of dry scalp, it is important to moisturize the scalp properly. Very often, home remedies for dry and flaky scalp involve applying natural oils to the scalp. Therefore, some of these home remedies may be better used only if your dandruff is caused by a dry scalp.


Apart from being delicious to eat, honey has powerful antimicrobial and antifungal properties that make it an excellent natural remedy for dry, itchy scalp. Honey is also a natural moisturizer and you can use it to help treat dandruff that is caused by dry skin. Raw, natural honey relieves most dry scalp symptoms and will stop you feeling a constant urge to scratch itchy patches of skin on your scalp.

Many people are quite surprised to know that scientific studies have also shown honey to be effective in fighting dandruff, especially dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis. The European Journal of Medical Research published their study into how raw honey can cure and prevent outbreaks of dandruff. Honey was diluted with a little water and applied to patients who had itchy and scaling scalps. They found that within one week symptoms of itchiness and flaky dead skin on the scalp were significantly improved.7

Here is how to use honey to heal dry scalp:

  • Wash your hair with a natural shampoo or with the 5% tea tree oil anti-dandruff shampoo mentioned in this article and leave your hair damp.
  • Mix 9 parts raw honey with 1 part warm water (as was done in the above study).
  • Massage into your scalp for 2-3 minutes to allow the honey to penetrate the layers of dry, itchy skin.
  • Cover with a warm towel and leave for 2-3 hours.
  • Rinse the honey from your hair with warm water.

For best results and to keep your hair free of dandruff and itchiness, use the honey hair mask once a week. You should find that within a few weeks you no longer have any dead flakes of skin and the symptoms of having a dry scalp will be gone completely.

Olive Oil and Other Natural Oils for Dry Skin

If you notice that your scalp is dry, itchy and you constantly shed small flakes of dead skin cells, you can try using olive oil to soothe and moisturize the dry skin on your scalp. Olive oil is a great natural hair care product and it contains natural antibacterial compounds that can help treat and prevent skin infections.8 Because it’s also been proven to be an effective natural treatment for the symptoms of dermatitis, it will also give you relief from irritated, inflamed skin.

You can use a warm olive oil hair remedy to help moisturize a dry scalp and get rid of dandruff. All you need to do is warm up some olive oil and add 1-2 drops of tea tree oil if you want. Thoroughly massage the olive oil treatment to your dry scalp, cover with a towel and leave in your hair for at least 30 minutes. Wash out with a natural shampoo and when you dry your hair you will notice that it has regained its natural shine. Use the olive oil hair treatment mask once or twice a week until you no longer have a dry, flaky scalp.

Alternatively, you can use the therapeutic properties of jojoba oil, avocado oil or sweet almond oil to make a warm oil hair mask to treat dry scalp conditions and get rid of scaling skin from your scalp.

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