If you have a flaky, itchy scalp, it’s reasonable to think you might have dandruff. However, it’s also possible that you have a dry scalp. Although both have many similar symptoms, such as annoying flakes falling from your hair, redness, or scaly patches, the two conditions have very different causes. This post will explore some of the reasons you might have dandruff vs. a dry scalp.

Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp: Causes

Dandruff is caused by skin cells on your scalp shedding more quickly than usual. The skin on your scalp sheds just like everywhere else on your body, but when it sheds more rapidly than usual, it shows up as dandruff flakes.
We know that the usual condition causing this excess shedding is called seborrheic dermatitis. This is when the scalp is oily and covered in whitish-yellow scales that flake and fall off. The cause is a fungus that naturally lives on your scalp, known as Malassezia. However, some people have too much of it, and it causes skin cells to shed more than usual.
This flaking and oiliness can extend to the eyebrows, the folds of your nose, the armpits, or the groin. Naturally, this flaking can make your scalp itch, but it does not mean you have a dry scalp. Dandruff vs. dry scalp can be often be distinguished by the appearance of the flakes. If they are oily or crusty, they are likely dandruff.
On the other hand, a dry scalp occurs because of the opposite issue: the skin on your scalp has too little moisture. When it becomes irritated, it starts flaking, but the flakes are smaller than those that come from dandruff. Low humidity and colder temperatures can cause this.

Solutions for Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp

Luckily, solutions for dandruff can sometimes be as simple as getting a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo from your local drugstore. Shampoos with pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, or salicylic acid are available readily over the counter and have antibacterial and antifungal properties that inhibit Malassezia from multiplying. This decreases the amount of skin that flakes off and may help with your symptoms. Stronger formulations with compounds such as ketoconazole or coal tar are also available, with more potent antifungal properties.
If you have a dry scalp, the goal is to moisturize the skin. You can use coconut oil, aloe vera, or olive oil. Simply massage the oil into your scalp, let it sit for five minutes, and wash your hair thoroughly to remove the oil.
That said, if you try a dandruff shampoo or other remedy, and your condition does not improve, gets worse, or your skin starts getting red or irritated, discontinue use and contact us at (352) 218-3211. At Care Dermatology, our certified dermatologists will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment based on an analysis of your skin.

Get an Expert Opinion

Ultimately, to find out the exact nature of your scalp condition, you should contact a professional. You should also check with your doctor before you begin regularly using an anti-dandruff shampoo, as your skin may be sensitive to some potential side effects. At Care Dermatology, our certified dermatologists will help you determine the root cause and design an appropriate course of treatment. Call our office at (352) 218-3211, and we’ll be happy to help.