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Difference Between Dry Scalp And Dandruff (And Treatment Options)

Difference Between Dry Scalp And Dandruff (And Treatment Options)

The reason you’re here is probably because you are beginning to notice small, white flakes all over your hair and shoulders. It could be accompanied by itching, tightness, redness, and well, a lot of discomfort throughout the day when you look on your shoulder and have to constantly be brushing off those pesky, little flakes.

You have dandruff, someone told you, and they may be correct. No, it’s dry scalp, another said… which may also be correct. That’s because the two conditions are very similar – and dandruff can even be caused by dry scalp – but they are not the same.

Image credit: Shutterstock

If you aren’t sure whether you have dry scalp or dandruff, then you need to diagnose it first and understand why you got it before tackling the problem, as both these conditions have different methods of treatment. So, scroll down to find out the difference between dry scalp and dandruff.


Both the conditions are accompanied by small, white flakes all over the scalp and hair (which often falls down to the shoulders), but they do have defining differences when it comes to the symptoms.

Dry scalp

Similarly to other types of dry skin, dry scalp can also lead to itching, irritation, and flaking. However, the flakes which are a result of dry skin are smaller in size and whiter than dandruff flakes, because they are not built up by oils.

Another symptom of dry scalp is dry-looking hair. That’s because the oils in your scalp nourish and keep your hair shiny, and when those are stripped off, the hair also appears dry and dull.

And finally, if you have dry scalp, then you most likely will have dry skin in general as well, which is something that doesn’t occur if it’s dandruff.


Dandruff flakes are usually larger and yellow, unlike the ones caused by dry scalp, and they look oily. Just like with dry scalp, however, dandruff may also cause itchiness, but unlike dry scalp, it could be accompanied by oily, red, and/or scaly skin.

For more, see also: What Is Dandruff? Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments.


Dry scalp and dandruff are caused by different reasons, though they do have some common factors.

Dry scalp

Just like dry skin in general, dry scalp is a result of a lack of oils in the skin. The causes include being exposed to dry, cold, or air-conditioned environments, but your natural oils may also be stripped if you wash your hair excessively or with products which have harsh chemicals.

Dehydration, your diet, and stress and anxiety can also contribute to dry scalp.

For more, see: What Causes Scalp Dryness And Flaking?


Dandruff is caused when the dead skin cells in our scalp shed at a more accelerated rate than normal, and mix with the natural occurring oils in our hair, creating the yellow or white-looking flakes. It can be a result of both genetic and environmental factors, as well as a number of skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, tinea capitis, or scalp psoriasis among others.

For more, see: Here Are Some Of The Most Common Dandruff Causes



Since they’re caused by different things, you need to take different approaches to treating these two conditions:

Dry scalp

Dry scalp is easily treated with proper moisturizing, and less-frequent washing. When you shower, use warm water, (never hot) and a mild shampoo. Also, include a moisturizing conditioner or moisturizing hair masks.

Apply oils to your scalp, or do a hot oil treatment. Argan oil, for example, works wonders in fighting dry skin (and scalp). Just heat up the oil, massage it into your scalp, wrap it up with a towel and leave it on for about an hour before rinsing it off and shampooing (with warm water and a mild shampoo!).

Since improper eating habits can lead to dry scalp, try to consume more vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains and healthy fats. Try to take in more Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6 and B12, as well as zinc and selenium.

And last but not least, drink more water!

See also: The Best Hair Masks For Dry And Damaged Hair


Dandruff is generally harmless and easily treated with over-the-counter shampoos which contain ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithoine, salicylic acids, or coal tar, as well as a number of home remedies.

Taking care of your stress levels, and eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in zinc, B vitamins, proteins, iron, Omega-3 fatty acids, and other healthy fats is also essential.

For more, see: Dandruff Treatment: Effective Shampoo Ingredients And Home Remedies

Should I see a doctor?

Both these conditions are relatively easy to treat at home. However, you should seek medical assistance if you have any of the following:

  • additional symptoms like redness and/or sores.
  • it doesn’t clear up with home treatment after a few weeks have passed
  • if you notice any open wounds
  • if you notice an allergic reaction like hives, rashes, or difficulty breathing after using dandruff treatment


See also: Is Dandruff Contagious? And Other Dandruff Questions You May Be Having


Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition. 


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