Dry, Flaky & Itchy Scalp | What Causes Dandruff, What Is It, How to Remedy It


Dry, Flaky & Itchy Scalp | What Causes Dandruff, What Is It, How to Remedy It

Many think that a dry, flaky and itchy scalp are all the same thing. In reality they are all different conditions with varying symptoms and causes. If we can get a better understanding of how they are different and how they relate to one another, it means you can find a remedy for the one that’s affecting you.

Do you find yourself constantly itching your head because of an irritating scalp? Or have those Dandruff affects around half of the adult population. Many people, men and women alike, experience a dry, itchy or flaky scalp.  Equipped with the right knowledge and the right remedies you can relieve your scalp and say goodbye to unsightly dandruff. 

How do I know if I have dandruff?

  • Your scalp is flaking
  • You are seeing white, oily flakes on your hair and your shoulders
  • Your scalp is itchy

What is dandruff?

Dandruff refers to the dead skin cells that flake off your scalp and appear around your scalp and on your clothes as white flakes.  This usually happens when your scalp is irritated or you are suffering from a skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis.  It may sound gross and make you feel less than confident, but in reality all of your skin sheds dead cells, so why would your scalp be any different?  

What is dry scalp?

Dry occurs due to a lack of oil and/or moisture.  The oils on our scalp usually help to condition hair and skin, but when it’s dry the skin tends to flake off and, in many cases, cause dandruff.  Dry skin, wherever it is, is known for flaking, and a dry scalp is no different.  

What is itchy scalp?

Also known as scalp pruritus is a common condition where your scalp gets incredibly itchy.  It’s typically the result of dandruff and skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis (an inflammatory skin condition.)

What’s the difference between dry scalp and dandruff?

While dry scalp happens when your scalp lacks moisture, dandruff refers to the actual dead skin cells that flake off your scalp because of infection, irritation or other skin conditions.  Men are actually more prone to this than women.  

What causes dry scalp?

  • If you imagine using a variety of heavy products and leaving a residue of them on the skin on your face, it’s easy to see how doing this to your head can result in irritation.   
  • As you get older the skin becomes drier, meaning that dry scalp is common among older people.   
  • The weather can also have an impact.  The winter is the worst time for skin all over, including your scalp, as the cold air dries it out.    
  • It could also be due to a skin condition like eczema.    
  • Finally, over washing your hair can actually strip it of the vital moisture your scalp needs to keep it hydrated and cause your scalp and your hair to dry out.  

What causes dandruff?

  • Malassezia is a fungus that grows on the skin surfaces of animals and humans.  Gross, we know, but it happens, and it irritates the scalp and causes dandruff.  
  • Whereas dry scalp occurs due to lack of oils, dandruff is caused by oils and irritation.  
  • Skin conditions can also cause dandruff.  Seborrheic Dermatitis affects many areas of the skin including the scalp and causes skin to flake off (dandruff). Eczema and psoriasis can also cause dandruff and should be remedied by a doctor.  
  • Not washing your hair often enough can cause increased oil production and in some cases irritate your scalp and cause dandruff.  
  • If none of these apply to you but you still suffer with dandruff, have a look at the hair products you use.  Some contain ingredients that can lead to an inflamed, itchy scalp.  We would always recommend Kevin Murphy products as they are sulphate and paraben free.  If you struggle to go more than a day or so without washing your hair, opt for dry shampoo instead of hitting the shower to soak up excess oils in your hair.  
  • When you regularly brush your hair you increase blood flow to the scalp and help in the normal shedding of skin cells.  This not only reduces the risk of dandruff, it feels so good!  

What causes itchy scalp?

  • Dandruff is the main cause of an itchy scalp as it causes dry and flaky skin cells which lead to irritation.
  • If you have sensitive skin you are more prone to itchy scalp because it will become easily irritated by products.  
  • Your mental health plays a big part in your physical health.  Extreme anxiety can lead to itchy skin, including your scalp.  
  • Head lice – do these two words make you itch straight away?!  They are small bugs which lay eggs in hair and bite to cause itchiness.  They are incredibly easy to catch, meaning that if you have small children you are probably already very familiar with them.

What can I do if I’m having these issues?

Please don’t despair if you are suffering from any of the above.  There are many things you can do to treat it.  

  1. Choose the right shampoo.  Shampoos and hair products can irritate your scalp and cause it to be dry, itchy, and in some cases flaky. If you have dandruff, look for shampoos with coal tar, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione or  selenium sulphide.  It’s also a good idea to opt for one with moisturising properties to hydrate your scalp. 
  2. Drink more water.  If your body and skin are lacking hydration, you may feel the effects on your scalp.  8 glasses a day is the recommended amount and you should soon start to see an overall improvement in your general wellbeing as well as your scalp health. 
  3. Use a humidifier.  The dry air in your home or your office (air con is a nightmare for your scalp health) can contribute to your dry head and hair.  Using a humidifier can help restore some moisture to your hair and scalp.   
  4. Improve your diet.  The reality is that your diet will affect your hair health.  Your body getting the nutrients it needs will make sure it’s healthy and able to withstand environmental factors.  Zinc, Vitamin B and certain fats are great for your hair and will better protect you from dandruff.   A high carb diet will increase the amount of yeast on your scalp, which is another leading cause of flaking.  Cut down on sugar and carbs and see if this makes an improvement.  

There are many home remedies and treatments for a dry, itchy or flaky scalp like coconut oil and baking soda.  Just make sure that after you effectively reduce your symptoms you continue your good habits to avoid having to start all over again.  

Every scalp, like the skin everywhere else, needs different things, so make sure you ask your stylist what would be best for your hair and scalp type.  Everyone also needs a different hair washing schedule, so try out different things until you find one that works for you.  

At the end of the day, it’s important to get to know and understand your own hair and skin and what it needs, because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.  

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