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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Itchy, flaky, irritated — not exactly words you want associated with your scalp, right? But if you have a dry scalp, that’s likely exactly what you’ll experience. And not only can a dry scalp be uncomfortable, it can seriously ruin a good hair day.
But what can you do about a poor scalp condition? Thankfully, there are a number of things you can try to return your flaky scalp back to its moisturized glory. First, you’ll want to get to the bottom of what’s causing the dryness.
From dehydration to medical issues, dry scalp can be a sign of several things. Learn how to identify what’s happening with your scalp, then read up on these dry scalp treatment tips.
As we mentioned, many different things can lead to a dry scalp — and before you know how to treat it, you have to know the source.
You can read every medical journal article and skin care blog on the Internet, but at the end of the day, your best bet is to schedule time to talk to a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess your dry scalp situation and help you determine what’s causing it. Period.
However, since you’re already here… These are some of the conditions they’ll be on the lookout for are may include:
This non-contagious skin condition is often referred to as dandruff.
It can occur on other areas of the body, but the scalp is the most common spot for it to appear. This type of dermatitis can lead to itchy red patches, greasy scales or crusty or powdery flakes.
Around 11 percent of people will deal with seborrheic dermatitis. It’s most common in infants under three months (it’s called cradle cap) or in people between the ages of 30 and sixty.
Men tend to deal with it more than women, but it can be a problem for everyone. People born with oily skin are also more likely to deal with dandruff. It is often a lifelong condition that can be managed with treatment.
This medical condition, which is genetic, leads to skin cells growing too quickly and building up. Like seborrheic dermatitis, it can happen anywhere on your body.
People with psoriasis on their scalp may notice red patches that can be elevated or inflamed. You may also notice a flaky scalp, itchiness and a burning scalp.
A dry, itchy scalp can also be caused by scalp ringworm, a fungal infection more formally called tinea capitis.
This infection forms on your scalp and within your hair follicles (specifically on the hair shaft). Scalp fungal infections are usually caused by fungi called microsporum and trichophyton.
You should know that tinea capitis is a contagious infection. This means you can catch it when you come into contact with someone who has it — or they can catch it from you. While it’s most common in children and people with weakened immune systems, anyone can catch it.
If you have a dry scalp, treating it will make your scalp feel much better. Again, a medical professional can best tell you what steps you can take to address your dry scalp.
If you have seborrheic dermatitis, over-the-counter dandruff shampoos are often a first line of defense — especially for mild cases.
Ideally, you’ll want to look for a shampoo that contains selenium, zinc pyrithione or coal tar. Your healthcare provider can also prescribe shampoo with active ingredients like ciclopirox or ketoconazole to help.
You may be instructed to use them daily until the dandruff is gone, then weekly as maintenance. While you’re clearing up your dry scalp, you may want to avoid using other hair products.
More severe cases of dry skin on the scalp are treated similarly with prescription shampoos.
With severe dandruff, you may be prescribed shampoo that contains betamethasone valerate, clobetasol or fluocinolone.
If you have psoriasis on your scalp, you may be given a different treatment plan. You’ll most likely need prescription medication, typically in the form of a medicated shampoo, cream or ointment.
If tinea capitis is what’s behind your scalp dryness, you’ll likely be given antifungal medication. Griseofulvin, for instance, is an oral medication used to treat scalp ringworm.
No matter what hair type you have, you may deal with a dry scalp at some point in your life.
Most often, a flakey scalp is due to a condition called seborrheic dermatitis (which is often called dandruff).
White flakes (aka dandruff) are a sign of skin cell buildup and are just one sign of this condition. Other signs include redness and irritation.
Over-the-counter dandruff shampoo can help, though. You’ll want to use this in place of your normal shampoo until the dandruff goes away. Once you wash with the shampoo, you can condition as normal.
Other skin conditions that can cause scalp dryness are psoriasis and tinea capitals (scalp ringworm). Similarly, they can be dealt with by using medicated hair care products like shampoos or creams.
If your scalp is dry, the first step is to consult with a healthcare provider. From there, they’ll be able to figure out what’s going on and suggest treatment options.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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