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When your head is itchy and scratching that itch forces you to notice all the tiny, white flakes around the roots of your hair and flaking off onto your shoulders, don’t panic. It could just be a nasty case of dry scalp.
If you haven’t experienced dry scalp before your first time is going to be a little bit of a scary, frustrating time. But we’ve got the best treatments to get you through and make sure you come out on the other side with a revitalized scalp and beautiful, shiny hair.
Read on to understand what dry scalp is, how it’s caused and most importantly – how to treat it easily and effectively with the best dry scalp shampoos on the market.
What is dry scalp?
Dry scalp is a frustrating, common and harmless condition where your scalp doesn’t produce enough natural oil and therefore dries out. Your scalp will feel tight, dry and itchy with some flaking occuring at the roots of your hair.
These flakes will be extremely dry and very easy to dislodge, usually white or grey in colour and very tiny. You’ll also probably notice your hair getting more brittle and often being more prone to shedding and breakage.
If left untreated, dry scalp can worsen and result in thinning or balding hair due to your follicles drying up and their grip on your hair strands weakening. Generally, if you have dry scalp you will also experience dry patches on other parts of your body that can be associated with eczema.
Dry scalp can be caused by a number of things:
- Older age
- Shampooing and conditioning excessively
- Diet problems (high in sugar, fat and starch)
- Skin conditions such as eczema
- Harsh hair products containing ingredients like alcohol and sulfates that can cause contact dermatitis
- Harsh weather, either cold or hot
- Hormonal imbalance/lack of sleep
You may be thinking that this condition sounds a lot like dandruff, are they the same thing? The answer is a definite no.
They’re caused by completely opposite issues and must be identified and treated correctly to avoid treating your condition for the incorrect one and making it worse.
Read on to figure out how to tell the difference between the two scalp conditions.
Dandruff or dry scalp?
To be absolutely positive what condition you have so you can start treating it correctly, make sure to go to your local doctor and have them take a look at your scalp.
Before you do that though, have a read of the below differences between dry scalp and dandruff so you’re armed with a bit of background knowledge first.
So why is it important to know the difference between dry scalp and dandruff? Unfortunately, if you think you have one condition and you start treating yourself for that, but it actually turns out you have the other condition, your scalp is going to suffer.
Your flakes and irritation will become worse as each condition is caused by completely different factors and need to be treated completely differently.
The easiest way to tell what you have is by checking if you have oily or dry hair. It’s a common misconception that dandruff is caused by a dry scalp – it’s quite the opposite.
Dandruff is an overproduction of the sebum on your scalp, so if your scalp and hair are oily it’s most likely you’ve got dandruff.
If your hair and scalp is on the drier side of matters, then it’s most likely you have dry scalp. You’ll also notice that your hair is brittle and sheds or breaks a lot easier than normal. You will also probably notice dry patches of skin on other parts of your body, it’s all related.
Dry scalp and dandruff both produce flakes in your hair. However, dandruff flakes are bigger, oilier and white or yellow in colour whereas dry scalp flakes are smaller, very dry and grey or white.
If you ruffle your hair and the flakes fall out easily, that’s dry scalp. If they won’t budge, it’s dandruff.
Dandruff is a condition that needs to be treated in the long term, it requires a lot of effort and persistence and generally cannot be cured completely.
However, the good news is that dry scalp can be treated very easily in most cases and there are loads more options to choose from when it comes to picking a treatment that works for you.
Here’s the main differences between dry scalp and dandruff:
- Hair and scalp will be oily
- Flakes will be larger and oilier, will cling to the hair when trying to dislodge them
- Itchy scalp
- Irritated, inflamed skin
- Needs to be treated with long term remedies
- Dry skin on other parts of body
- Brittle hair prone to breakage and shedding
- Flakes will be small and dry, shaken out of the hair easily
- Itchy scalp
- Can be treated within a few days to a week in optimal conditions
What is dandruff shampoo?
There are so many excellent dandruff shampoos on the market that it’s super easy to pick one that will suit your scalp, preferences and hair needs – as long as you know what you’re looking for.
The ingredients will generally be a bit harsher and more focused on killing fungus than shampoos for dry scalp will be, so it’s imperative you don’t confuse the two conditions.
When looking for a dandruff shampoo you’ll want to look out for these ingredients:
- Salicylic Acid – Strips scalp of top layer of dead cells
- Selenium Sulfide – Limits cell production on the scalp
- Ketoconazole – Treats severe cases of dermatitis, quite harsh
- Zinc Pyrithione – Antifungal to combat fungus long term
- Coal Tar – Forces scalp to shed top layer of cells, slows future cell production
If it’s actually dandruff that you have, you can have a look at the best dandruff shampoos here.
Types of dry scalp shampoos
If you’ve identified that you have dry scalp there are some very effective ways to treat it. There’s only a few categories of dry scalp shampoos as the condition is quite a simple one to treat. Here’s how we break it down:
- Natural – Best for mild to moderate dry scalp, these shampoos will contain majority natural ingredients and are very gentle on the skin. Due to this they can be used daily and are best used regularly to see great results. Perfect if you have skin that’s prone to sensitivity and hates chemicals.
- Moisturizing – Normal dry scalp shampoos that you can get over the counter at grocery stores, chemists and online. Great for mild to severe dry scalp, super easy to purchase and can be used in the place of your regular shampoo.
- Medicated – Shampoo that’s best used for severe cases of dry scalp, only for a short period of time and generally as prescribed by your doctor. Not to be overused as it can definitely make the condition worse if precautions are ignored.
The 7 Best Dry Scalp Shampoos
We know that finding an excellent shampoo whilst you’re in the midst of worrying about your flakey scalp is the last thing you want to do.
So we’ve taken the hard work out of it and listed some of the best dry scalp shampoos you can buy right now.
#7 Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo
This shampoo has a whole lot more than just tea tree oil in it, don’t let the name fool you. It’s got argan oil to calm frizzy, brittle hair, lavender oil to promote circulation in your scalp to prevent hair loss, tea tree oil to give your scalp a deep clean, and more!
- Natural ingredients
- No parabens or sulphates
- Prevents hair loss
- Safe to use on coloured hair
- Fresh and natural tea tree oil scent
- Can be used daily
- Antifungal and antibacterial properties
- Works on both dandruff and dry scalp
- Tea tree scent can be quite strong
- Best results when used long term
Our Rating: 3 stars
Price: $9.95 for 8 Fl oz on Amazon
#6 AVEDA Invati Exfoliating Shampoo
This shampoo has already been clinically proven to eliminate sebum build up from the scalp to freshen up your pores and strengthen your hair. But it also has a heap of herbs such as turmeric and ginseng to stimulate your scalp, moisturizing it with milk thistle extract.
- Thickens and strengthens hair
- Clinically proven to be effective at treating dandruff and dry scalp
- Sulphate free
- Uses milk thistle extract to relieve tightness/dryness
- Has scalp stimulating ingredients like turmeric and ginseng
- Quite expensive
- Reported to string severely if you get it in your eyes
Our Rating: 3 stars
Price: $34.65 for 6.7 FL oz
#5 Head & Shoulders Dry Scalp Care
The Dry Scalp Care with Almond Oil Shampoo is a great, budget friendly shampoo that’s designed to do what you need most. It will give your scalp and hair a deep clean whilst locking in the moisture you need to thrive.
- Balances pH on the scalp
- Moisturizes and replenishes scalp with almond oil
- Can be used on colour treated hair
- No parabens
- Thousands of reviews, trusted brand
- Made with sulphates, alcohol and fragrances that can irritate the scalp
- Not cruelty free
Our Rating: 4 stars
#4 PHYTO Phytheol Dry Hair Moisturizing Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo
This shampoo is a great everyday treatment that fights dry scalp and dandruff. It gently exfoliates your hair and then moisturizes your hair fibres to leave the scalp and hair replenished and hydrated. Black pepper and Guyana wood are included to help soothe the scalp whilst sophora japonica restores and consolidates the scalps natural barrier preventing further damage.
- Gentle enough to use daily
- Sulphate free
- Leaves hair soft and shiny
- Works against both dandruff and dry scalp
- Lots of great botanical ingredients such as Sophora Japonica flower extract and Guyana wood
- More expensive than some others in the market
Our Rating: 4 stars
#3 PURA D’OR Scalp Therapy Shampoo
This awesome natural shampoo contains peppermint oil, lavender oil, aloe vera, argan oil, zinc and more to clean and moisturize your scalp without exposing it to harsh chemicals.
- Natural ingredients
- No sulfates, parabens or chemicals
- Cruelty free
- Contains natural preservatives
- Can be used on all hair types including coloured hair
- Calming ingredients such as zinc to combat flaking and itching
- Fresh, natural smell
- Doesn’t lather well
#2 Yes To Naturals Calming Scalp Relief Shampoo
This shampoo is an excellent budget friendly option that has sweet potato extract, carrot seed oil and kuki seed oil to replenish the moisture in your scalp and hair whilst using tea tree oil and lemon to reduce irritation.
It’s already been clinically proven to soothe a dry scalp within 8 days so you know you’re making the right decision if you purchase this shampoo. With 95% natural ingredients and phthalate free, this is an excellent everyday shampoo to kick-off your dry scalp fighting journey with!
- Widely available, easy to purchase
- Clinically proven to soothe dry scalp within 8 days
- 95% natural ingredients
- Suitable for all hair types including coloured hair
- Phthalate free
- Makes hair soft and shiny
- Salicylic acid to clean scalp effectively
- Great smell
- Won’t work on severe dry scalp, best for mild to moderate conditions
Our Rating: 4 stars
Price: $7.95 for 12 Fl oz on Amazon
#1 Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Shampoo
This interesting shampoo contains binchotan charcoal to suck all the impurities out of your scalp and hair follicles. Paired with micro-exfoliation that gently scrubs away the top layer of your skin to reveal a fresh scalp underneath that will be able to breathe and recover without all those flakes everywhere.
Also contains a bunch of natural ingredients like coconut oil for intense moisturization, tea tree oil for antibacterial goodness, spearmint oil and peppermint oil to refresh and cool your scalp.
- Good for all hair types, even coloured hair
- No sulphates, synthetic fragrances, parabens or silicones
- Prevents dryness and flakes
- Contains vitamin panthenol to strengthen hair
- Cooling peppermint and spearmint oils
- Contains tea tree oil for fighting bacteria
- Coconut oil for extra moisture
- Has vegetable-derived micro-exfoliation beads
- Contains charcoal to draw out impurities in scalp
- Cruelty-free, vegan, gluten-free
- 98 percent natural ingredients
- Product comes in a jar which can be inconvenient
Our Rating: 5 stars
Price: $42 for 8 Ounces