Dry scalp: causes, treatment and prevention

26th Mar 2024

If you’ve ever had a dry scalp, you’ll know how itchy, flaky and uncomfortable it can be. While it’s a pretty common problem, it can be frustrating, embarrassing and can cause discomfort.

Let’s take a closer look at what causes dry scalp, whether it’s different to plain old dandruff and how you can add a dry scalp treatment into your routine.

What is a dry scalp?

Dry scalp is a condition that’s caused by a lack of moisture on the scalp, often when the scalp’s natural oils are depleted. This leads to flakiness (especially when you scratch your scalp or brush your hair), itchiness, tightness, dryness, inflammation and redness. You might also experience scalp sensitivity and discomfort, especially after washing with harsh shampoos, hot water or exposing your scalp to dry air.

If you have a dry scalp that feels itchy, then scratching your scalp might make you feel better in the short term but it can cause irritation, inflammation and even lead to infection if the skin is broken. The symptoms of dry scalp can vary from person to person, and they can also overlap with other scalp conditions, such as dandruff or eczema.

Dry scalp causes

There are a few different reasons that a dry scalp can happen - and you might not even realise that some steps in your daily routines might be making your scalp feel worse. It might be that you only experience it at certain times of the year, or if you use certain products. Here are some of the most common reasons for a dry scalp.

Washing your hair too often, or using water that’s too hot can disrupt the natural moisture balance of your scalp. It can strip away natural oils, leaving your scalp feeling dry and looking flaky. Turning down the heat when you wash your hair, using gentle hair products and trying to go a little longer between washes can all help your scalp to stay in balance. A colder shower or bath can actually be great for your skin and overall wellbeing too.

The weather can also have an impact on your scalp too. If you live somewhere with cold, dry air (especially during winter), this can affect the natural balance of your scalp too. If you’re in a lot of artificially heated spaces, this can also dry out your scalp. The winter can be tough on your hair and scalp because of this.

Hair care products that use harsh ingredients, like sulphates and parabens, can cause dryness and irritation. That’s why all of our products are sulphate and paraben free - research shows they aren’t good for the health of your hair and scalp.

Some skin conditions can cause similar symptoms to a dry scalp. Eczema, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis can make your scalp feel dry, sore and flaky. If you think any of these medical conditions might be the reason behind your dry scalp, speak to your doctor to get treatment.

What’s the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff?

Dry scalp and dandruff can look similar, and both terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re totally different conditions with different causes and symptoms. Plus, you treat them in different ways so it’s important to understand the differences.

A dry scalp happens when your scalp lacks moisture, leading to flakiness, itchiness and sometimes even redness. Dry scalp flakes are typically smaller and less oily than dandruff flakes. It’s usually caused by your hair care routine, products or lifestyle

Dandruff, on the other hand, is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp, which leads to excessive shedding of dead skin cells. Dandruff flakes are larger, oilier, and can be yellow or white in colour. You usually need to use medicated products to treat dandruff, as well as deal with the cause of the yeast overgrowth.

How to treat a dry scalp

If you have a dry scalp, you need to focus on restoring balance and moisture back to your skin. You want the natural oil production on your scalp to be back in a healthy balance, so finding the right dry scalp treatment is essential.

Start by using a moisturising, sulphate-free shampoo and conditioner. When it comes to getting a dry scalp back in balance, we love the Re:BalanceDuo. It’s a cleansing and conditioning combo that’s deeply soothing and perfect for a dry, irritated scalp. Formulated with peppermint oil and lemongrass to calm, along with sunflower seed oil and Brazil nut oil, it’s nourishing and hydrating. As well as being a great dry scalp treatment, it’s also made from natural, organic ingredients, is totally sulphate-free free and is cruelty-free too.

If you can, wash your hair less often to see if that also helps to get your scalp back into balance. Turning down the heat when you wash your hair can also help to rebalance your natural oils (bonus points if you can do a cold rinse). Take a look at what other products are in your routine and avoid any with drying, irritating ingredients like sulphates and parabens.

If you’re experiencing flakes and build-up from your dry scalp - or if you want to prevent it from happening going forward - you should exfoliate your scalp regularly. Purify:ScalpCleanse is a gentle sugar-based exfoliating scrub that removes product build-up and flakes on the surface of the scalp. It’s also infused with natural bergamot, black pepper and detoxifying volcanic ash to help keep your scalp healthy and in balance.

If a scalp scrub isn’t for you, then try Purify:Scalp Serum, an AHA-based scalp exfoliator that helps get to the root of dry scalps. It uses Lactic & Glycolic Acids to gently slough away dry, flaky skin and product build-up without that scrubby feeling, whilst intensely moisturising and improving the scalp’s natural moisture barrier. Taking only 10-15 minutes, it is applied to dry hair before shampooing as normal. Plus, it is silicone, sulphate-free as well as being vegan and cruelty-free just like the rest of our range.

A dry scalp can be rebalanced with some patience, and the right routine. So if you’re experiencing dryness or discomfort, take the time to check out what might be the cause of your dry scalp. You can then get started on getting the healthy balance back with the right dry scalp treatment.

Shop our scalp care range.