Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: Key Differences & Treatment Options

Dry scalp vs dandruff — which is it? Do you think you might be facing either issue? Do you struggle with knowing how to tell the difference between them?

It is quite easy for one to confuse dandruff and dry scalp as the symptoms can look and feel similar. So, if you wonder about the cause and the best solutions for the pesky flakes getting caught in your hair, we’ve got you covered!

Here is a detailed guide on dandruff vs dry scalp differences and the different treatment options for both.


What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is fairly common. Source: Healthily
Dandruff is fairly common.

Dandruff is a common condition that isn’t serious in most cases; however, it can be quite uncomfortable and annoying. It’s a common scalp disorder that arises when the scalp sheds little fragments of dry skin. You may detect flakes in your hair and on shoulders if you have dark hair or wear dark clothing. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, dandruff is a common scalp condition with small dry bits of skin flaking off the scalp. And, while most people believe that dandruff is caused by poor hygiene, this is not always the case. However, irregular shampooing might make dandruff more noticeable.

Signs and Symptoms of Dandruff

Some of the signs and symptoms associated with dandruff include;

  • An itchy scalp
  • White or grey flakes of dead skin in your hair and shoulders
  • Crusty or raw areas on your scalp

What Causes Dandruff?

Surprisingly, dandruff generally isn’t a result of dry skin. Here are some of its causes:

  • Oily Scalp

Most people with dandruff have higher than normal sebum levels. Sebum is an oily, waxy substance produced by the body’s sebaceous glands. These excess oils on your scalp make it easier for dead cells to build up and create distinctive dandruff flakes.

  • Yeast Overgrowth

Every human has different types of yeast that live in their body and skin. Malassezia (also considered to be a fungus) is a type of yeast that lives on all human’s skin and scalp. Having too much Malassezia or developing a sensitivity to it can result in dandruff. In addition, this yeast can grow rapidly in dandruff-affected areas, especially due to sebum overproduction.

  • Inefficient Rinsing

Dandruff can also occur when one doesn’t wash their hair often enough. Some clean their hair using different shampoos and then fail to rinse it thoroughly, thus causing dandruff. If you don’t wash your hair regularly or use adequate hair care products, oil can build up in your hair and flake off as dandruff.

Risk Factors Associated with Dandruff

Anyone can have dandruff; however certain factors make some people more likely to develop it.

Excess Hair Oil: people with excess oil on their hair and scalp are at risk of developing dandruff.

Age: Most people experience dandruff from young adulthood to middle age, although it can continue into older age.

Gender: Dandruff is more prevalent in males than females. Some researchers think it is more prevalent in males because of their high hormonal levels than in women, which highly contribute to dandruff.

Medical Conditions: some illnesses that affect the nervous system and weaken the immune system seem to increase the risk of dandruff. These disorders include Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDs, acne, psoriasis, epilepsy and other eating disorders.

Dry Scalp

What is Dry Scalp?

A dry scalp is often caused by unbalanced moisture in the scalp. Source. Huffpost
A dry scalp is often caused by unbalanced moisture in the scalp.

When your scalp’s moisture balance is unstable, a dry scalp can be the result. Dry skin occurs when the scalp loses water too fast. Some hair care products and weather conditions like cold climates can dry and irritate the scalp by stripping it off its natural oils from your skin. When you have a dry scalp, you’ll experience itchiness and flake of skin falling off your hair and shoulders. 

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Scalp

  • Itchy and peeling skin
  • Flaky skin with a rough texture
  • Patches of itchy or scaly skin
  • Burning or stinging skin
  • Tight or dry feeling scalp

Causes of Dry Scalp

There are a few different factors that could be causing your scalp to itch. So, what are some of the causes of dry scalp?

  • Over Washing your Hair

How often should you wash your hair? We know that washing your hair frequently can dry it out as well as your scalp. Over-washing your hair daily can strip your scalp of its natural oils needed for it to stay hydrated. If you struggle with a dry scalp, try washing your hair less.

  • Weather Changes

Cold weather dries out your skin all over, including your scalp. If you live in cold areas, temperature drops can cause havoc to both your hair and scalp. This weather strips off your skin moisture and makes your scalp feel dry.

  • Sensitivity to New Hair Care Products

What most people don’t understand is that many hair care products have chemical products that are harmful to your scalp and hair. The toxic chemicals on these products can cause skin issues, dry scalp, asthma, cancer and much more.

  • Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that leaves your skin and scalp dry, red, itchy and cracked. This type of eczema is called scalp eczema and mostly affects the scalp. It leaves your scalp looking and feeling dry, red and itchy. 

  • Dietary Changes

Your diet plays an important role in determining your scalp health. When you eat foods rich in sugar and starch, you promote more inflammation in your body. This encourages people to eat a low-sugar and starch diet and eat meals rich in antioxidants to help control dry scalp flakes.

Risk Factors of Dry Scalp?

Dry scalp can be triggered by factors like:

  • Older age
  • Cold, dry air
  • Contact dermatitis is caused by a reaction of alcohol based-hair care products you apply to the scalp.

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp —  The Differences and Similarities

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp
Dandruff vs Dry Scalp

Dandruff is the first thing that comes to mind when you experience a sudden urge to scratch your scalp and notice flakes falling on your shoulders. It could, however, be a dry scalp. This is due to the similarity in their main sign and symptom, which is falling flakes.


  • Dandruff and dry scalp have flakes falling from your scalp as the common symptom. However, on a closer look, you will notice that the color of flakes for each condition is different.
  • Both dandruff and a dry scalp can irritate and itch your skin’s surface. People suffering from these disorders may often be tempted to scratch their scalp, resulting in redness and pain.


If you have been trying different hair care products with no luck, you need to know the difference between dandruff and dry scalp to understand why the products are not working. 

The differences include:

  • Dandruff occurs when the oil glands in your scalp produce excess sebum oil, whereas dry scalps occur because there is too little moisture left in the scalp.
  • In the case of dandruff, the process of producing sebum oil becomes faster, thus increasing the dead skin on your scalp. On the other hand, in the dry scalp, no oil production happens, and the flakes are part of dry skin only.
  • With dandruff, the person will have oily, large skin flakes that are yellow or white. It also leads to itchy skin and the scalp turning red. However, the skin flakes are smaller, with a dry scalp and the scalp is dry and itchy. The flakes in a dry scalp will disappear once you have applied a moisturizing treatment.
  • Dry scalp flakes don’t shed off easily, but scratching tends to make the scalp redder and more sore. Dandruff, on the other hand, flakes easily shed off when one scratches the scalp.
DandruffDry Scalp
Caused by excess oil Too little moisture in the scalp
Flakes from excessive oil buildupFlakes from mostly dry skin
Yellow or white large flakesSmaller skin flakes
Flakes off easily especially when scratchedHarder to come off, scratching makes scalp sore.

Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp vs. Psoriasis  —  What is Scalp Psoriasis?

Dandruff, dry scalp and scalp psoriasis can look very similar since they all lead to the production and shedding of skin flakes in your hair. However, there is a significant difference between the three conditions.

Scalp psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes red, scaly, thick and flaky skin to fall off the scalp. The condition occurs when your body’s immune system goes into overdrive and revs up the production of skin cells.

Instead of shedding skin like in dandruff and dry scalp, the skin cells in scalp psoriasis build up, forming a raised, reddened, itchy and burning plaque.

Best Practices and Home Remedies to Get Rid of Dandruff

By using the right hair care products to your hair and scalp or making changes in your lifestyle, one can successfully reduce or even eliminate dandruff for good! Here are some of the best practices and home remedies to help you treat dandruff;

  • Use Coconut Oil

For dandruff treatment, the use of coconut oil offers a soothing and enriching experience to your scalp. By using this oil, your scalp is hydrated, helps keep your tresses moisturized and protects the skin from dry air.

  • Manage Stress and Eat a Healthy Diet

Stress affects your overall health, making you susceptible to conditions like dandruff. Therefore you need to learn how to manage stress and look for ways to unwind when feeling stressed. It is also important to incorporate a healthy diet that provides you with enough zinc, Vitamin B and certain types of healthy fats that may help to prevent dandruff.

  • Use Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Himalaya Antidandruff Shampoo. Dandruff vs Dry Scalp - Shop Journey
Himalaya Antidandruff Shampoo.

The easiest solution for all dandruff issues is using an anti-dandruff shampoo. We suggest using Himalaya Anti-dandruff Shampoo for this because it contains all the properties required to help you keep dandruff at bay.

  • Develop a Hair and Scalp Care Routine

Know your type of hair, then learn how to take good care of it. If you have an oily scalp, daily shampooing can prevent dandruff and if it is dry and sensitive, use shampoo less frequently. Take time to understand what your hair and scalp need.

Best Practices that will Help you Get Rid of Dry Scalp

The good news is that you don’t have to live with a dry scalp. Here are some home remedies and best practices to treat dry scalp;

  • Use a Gentle Shampoo and Moisturizing Conditioner
RYO Shampoo Hair Loss Care for Normal and Dry Scalp. Dandruff vs Dry Scalp - Shop Journey
RYO Shampoo Hair Loss Care for Normal and Dry Scalp.

The essential step in treating dry scalp is considering the type of shampoo and moisturizing conditioner you use. Users are encouraged to use RYO Shampoo Hair Loss Care for Normal and Dry Scalp, one of the best products in the market. This shampoo contains added hair moisturizer and other essential oils that help maintain both hair and scalp health and hydration.

  • Try Home Remedies

You can easily use home remedies to treat your dry scalp. Applying products like Aloe Vera, tea tree oil, coconut oil, yogurt and eggs can provide potential benefits to your scalp and hair. These products are readily available at home and may help alleviate the itching associated with the dry scalp as well as moisturize the skin.

  • Try Hot Oil Treatment

Another best practice is to try the hot oil treatment on your dry scalp. After washing your hair, you can lather on the hot oil treatment and let it sit overnight. In the morning, rinse off your hair, and you will notice a less itchy scalp with soft strands.


Are you suffering from dandruff or a dry scalp? We recommend that users try the Himalaya Anti-dandruff Shampoo to treat their dandruff, while those with dry scalps should try the RYO Shampoo Hair Loss Care for Normal and Dry Scalp.

It is clear that as dandruff is caused by excess oil, dry scalps lack moisture. Understanding the symptoms and causes of your scalp irregularities will help you determine whether you are suffering from dandruff or dry scalp. Knowing this will also help you know about the solutions required towards improving and stabilizing the condition.

However, if you’re looking to restore damaged hair or protect if from dryness and damage, try looking for a hair treatment product.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you have questions, comments or your very own hair tips to share!

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What does a dry scalp feel like? 

A dry scalp results from the skin not producing and retaining its natural oils to keep it hydrated. This leads to an overactive production of skin cells which feels dry, cracked and shed as fine flakes.

2. Is it bad to pick dandruff off your scalp?

Occasional scratching of flakes isn’t that bad. However, scraping your scalp can be extremely damaging to the skin with seborrheic dermatitis. It can lead to effects like soreness, red scalp and exposure of the scalp to infections.

3. Should I wash my hair every day if I have dandruff? 

The most effective way to treat dandruff is to use an anti-dandruff shampoo. It is only advisable to wash your hair everyday when you have dandruff, only if you use medicated anti-dandruff shampoo.

About The Author

Picture of Shervon


What's a housewife without her cooking utensils and cleaning tools to keep the house in good order? Happily married with 2 cheeky kids, Mrs Housewife spends nearly 24/7 of her time around her trusty kitchen appliances or cleaning equipment well enough to know the ins and outs of those items (some say she's too obsessed with baking, cooking & cleaning for the family, and wonder if she's married to those appliances instead of her husband).

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