Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: What’s the Difference and How to Treat Them

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Dandruff vs Dry Scalp

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp

So you scratched an itch on your scalp the other day and noticed  that you’ve been doing that quite frequently in the last couple days.

You thought it was head lice until you examined your scalp and found some flakes in your roots. So what’s going on? Well, it could be dandruff or dry scalp.

Now, you might be thinking that these conditions are the same, but they’re not! And they both require completely different treatment.

Dandruff and dry scalp have very similar symptoms which makes it difficult to tell them apart, so we’ve written up this guide on what each condition is and the best treatments available to give you the know-how on becoming flake free once again.

What is dandruff?

What is dandruffDandruff is a very common and frustrating condition where your scalp flakes and itches due to an overproduction of sebum.

Dandruff flakes are generally quite oily and white or yellow in colour, they can be frustrating to dislodge from the hair but a blow dryer or fine toothed comb should do the trick.

Washing your hair thoroughly will also help to relieve your scalp of flakes for a few hours, but you’ll need to treat dandruff long-term to be completely flake free.

Around half of the population will suffer from dandruff at some point in their lives, but in spite of this fact the sole cause of the condition has not yet been discovered.

Instead, dandruff is made up of a medley of biological and environmental factors that work together to determine the severity of your condition.

One of the main causes of dandruff is a little fungus called Malassezia globosa. This little guy feeds on the sebum on your scalp and breaks it down into oleic acid, if you’re sensitive to the acid then this is where it gets a little messy.

Your body will try to rid itself of Malassezia and the acid by renewing skin cells at a rapid rate. Due to the overproduction of cells, they will die off a lot faster, clump together and cause dandruff flakes in the roots of your hair.

Here is a list of factors that can make your dandruff worse:

  • Too much shampooing and/conditioning
  • Naturally oily or dry skin
  • Too much yeast on the scalp
  • Stress and/or hormones
  • Poor diet or a diet high in bad fats
  • Lack of hygiene/not brushing hair
  • Age –  adolescence to middle age are most susceptible

We’ve created an article on how to effectively get rid of dandruff, click here to check it out.

What is Dry Scalp?

Dry scalp is a completely different condition, although the symptoms of flaking and itching are similar to dandruff, the causes are the opposite. Dry scalp simply means that your skin is not producing enough oil to maintain a healthy environment.

Along with being irritating, it can also affect how your hair looks. Those with dry scalp will also have dry, brittle hair that is prone to breakage and shedding.

This is because the hair follicle dries out which weakens and loosens it’s hold on the strands of hair. Due to this, if not treated correctly, severe cases of prolonged dry scalp can cause balding or thinning of the hair.

Dry scalp can be caused by a number of things:

  • Older age
  • Excessive shampooing/conditioning
  • Poor diet or dietary intolerances
  • Eczema or naturally dry skin
  • Contact dermatitis caused by products containing alcohol such as hair sprays
  • Dry weather, both hot and cold

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp

If you’re looking for a diagnosis between the two conditions, it’s always best to consult a doctor for a definitive answer.

When it comes to treatment you need to know exactly what you have, because if you do start treating yourself for the wrong condition you will end up making yours much, much worse.

We’ve made a list of the differences between dry scalp and dandruff so you have a good starting point.


  • Oily scalp and hair
  • Larger, oily flakes that will cling to the hair
  • Itchy scalp
  • Irritated, inflamed skin
  • Won’t respond to short term treatment, MUST be treated long term

Dry Scalp

  • Dry patches of skin on other parts of the body
  • Dry, brittle hair that shed easily
  • Smaller, dry flakes that can fall from the hair quite easily
  • Itchy scalp
  • Responds well to treatment and can often be cured within a few days to couple weeks

Best Dandruff Treatment

Some people are more prone to dandruff than others and if you have the condition you will most likely experience it on and off during your life, however, there’s lots of easy and effective ways of managing it – you just have to find what works best for yourself and your skin.

A good place to start is getting to the doctor and getting a prescription for a medicated shampoo if your dandruff is severe. This will help to get it under control for the time being so you can de-stress and focus on finding a long term solution.

Here’s some quick tips and tricks you can try to lessen the severity of your dandruff:

  • Avoid sulfates in hair products to avoid possible excess irritation (SLS)
  • Switch to a mildly medicated shampoo and conditioner that’s designed to help treat dandruff
  • Make sure to wash your hair thoroughly and regularly
  • Try natural remedies on your scalp, experiment to see what works best for you
  • Don’t scratch your itchy scalp – this will avoid excess irritation
  • Avoid stress
  • Get lots of sleep and rest
  • Make sure to get lots of sun to decrease fungus growth

Dandruff Shampoos

Dandruff shampoos are an excellent option when you’re looking to treat your condition easily. All you do is buy one specifically for managing the symptoms of dandruff, switch it with your normal shampoo and you should start seeing results soon. Buy the matching conditioner if you can as this will boost your results!

Look out for these ingredients in your dandruff shampoo as they’re all excellent at fighting the irritation on your scalp:

  • Salicylic Acid
  • Selenium Sulfide
  • Ketoconazole
  • Zinc pyrithione
  • Coal Tar

Natural Treatments

Another great option when considering treatments – taking the natural route means it’s going to be budget-friendly, simple and gentle on your skin. Plus, the ingredients may even be in your pantry or fridge already!

Always do a spot test before trying a new natural remedy, put a dab of it on your inner arm overnight and if you have no bad reaction by morning then you’re all good to go!

Natural remedies will work best on mild to moderate dandruff. Severe dandruff will require something stronger and harsher that your doctor will be able to help prescribe.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This miracle liquid basically does almost everything; weight loss, house cleaning, acne treatments and even helps with dandruff.

Apple cider vinegar is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory so it’s going to soothe the irritation on your scalp and eradicate the fungus there as well.

Always purchase a natural variety of apple cider vinegar which contains ‘The Mother’, which is a complex strain of good bacteria and enzymes – a bottle only costs a few dollars and it’s a great staple to have in the house anyway.

To treat your dandruff with apple cider vinegar:

  1. Wash your hair thoroughly to remove excess oils from the scalp
  2. Mix half a cup of apple cider vinegar with a splash of warm water
  3. Apply the mixture to your scalp by sectioning your hair and dabbing it on with a cotton ball
  4. Massage your scalp for a few minutes.
  5. Leave this in for an hour, then rinse it out with warm water
  6. Don’t use shampoo afterwards – your hair will be clean enough already

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a potent antibacterial and antifungal essential oil. It’s also going to be one of the most effective treatments as it contains anti-inflammatory properties, so say goodbye to your irritated scalp!

All you need to do is put 10-15 drops of tea tree oil into your normal shampoo and you should see results within a week.

If you’ve had a bad dandruff outbreak though, mix half a cup of olive oil with 10 drops of tea tree oil and massage the mixture into your scalp.

Leave this overnight with a shower cap over your hair and wash the mixture out in the morning. You should see an almost immediate improvement.

Best Dry Scalp Treatment

When treating dry scalp, your options are very similar to dandruff treatments. You have your shampoos and your natural remedies, but you’ve also got a few more options.

Because dry scalp is easier to treat you’re most likely going to be able to find a remedy quite quickly.

It may even be a quick trip to the hairdresser every couple weeks to get a moisturizing or steaming treatment, or an easy at-home moisture mask every few days.

Add an awesome, moisture replenishing dry scalp shampoo and conditioner to the mix and you’ll be irritation-free in no time.

Here’s some tips and tricks to ease your dry scalp:

  • Use heat sparingly on your hair and only ever style hair using low heat
  • Avoid shampoos with alcohol, sulfates, parabens, preservatives and artificial perfumes
  • Avoid stress
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use a soft brush that won’t scratch your scalp
  • Wear hats and beanies to keep harsh weather away from your scalp
  • Avoid high pressure shower streams

Dry Scalp Home Remedies

So you’ve switched up your shampoo and you’re wanting a little extra moisture to help deal with your dry scalp, well look no further than your kitchen cupboard!

Here’s the best ways to get rid of your dry scalp by using ingredients from your pantry that will only cost

a few dollars but be super effective in the long run:

Essential Oils

Essential oils are great at so many things due to their antibacterial and antifungal nature. These will come in handy when treating your dry scalp as they’re going to completely clean your scalp and then soothe your irritation by replenishing oil on your skin and promoting the production of your natural oils. Give one of these a try:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Lemongrass oil

Once you’ve picked your favourite oil, simply add 5 drops to your dry scalp shampoo and shake thoroughly to mix the oil through every time you use it. Incorporating this into your normal routine, you should see results within the week.

If you don’t get enough relief, simply put a few more drops in and see how that goes – it may take a little experimenting to find the exact dosage that works for you.

But don’t overdo it as essential oils are generally very potent and you won’t need much, just be patient!

Coconut Oil

When your scalp is dry the issue is that you’re not producing enough of your own oils to keep it healthy. Coconut oil will be able to replenish the moisture on your scalp and stimulate the production of your natural oils.

To use coconut oil to mend your scalp, heat up a few tablespoons of it then massage it into your head thoroughly paying extra attention to any super dry areas.

Then simply leave it in overnight for best results and wash it out in the morning with your dry scalp shampoo. Your hair will thank you for this, a moisturized scalp and shiny, healthy hair – what more could you want?

You can also use the above method with olive oil, almond oil or argan oil for similar results, or even a mixture of your favourite ones!


Raw honey had powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that will work to soothe your suffering, dry scalp.

To use it, simply mix 9 parts honey with one part of warm water. Then, massage the mixture into your scalp as thoroughly as possible just before you hop in the shower.

You’ll only need to leave this in for a few minutes before rinsing out with your shampoo. This remedy is mild enough to use everyday but you should see results very quickly.

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: What’s the Difference and How to Treat Them
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