Is Your Scalp Oily, Dry, or Balanced? Here's How to Know—and the Best Way to Take Care of Your Scalp Type

Because a healthy scalp is the first step toward healthy hair.

When it comes to beauty, there is no one-size-fits-all formula. A lipstick that may look great on your friend may not appear as bright on you because of your differing skin tones. Similarly, a serum that helped with your co-worker's dark spots may not have the same effect on your pigmentation. Our needs and beauty concerns are unique to us.

This idea extends to your hair as well. "Just like there are different skin types, there are different scalp types," says Adriana Lombardi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Cancer & Cosmetic Surgery Center of New Jersey. "The amount of sebum production typically dictates what type of scalp you will have."

When it comes to scalp types, there are three major categories: dry, oily, and balanced. In addition to sebum production, "most common scalp issues stem from an imbalance in the pH of the skin on the scalp," says Gretchen Friese, an Element 5 Stylist and Hiring Director at Foushee SalonSpa. "Depending on the number the pH is, it can result in a dry or oily scalp, etc."

Then, there are scalp conditions that you can experience due to your scalp type. We spoke with dermatologists and trichologists to learn more about the different scalp types, what concerns can arise with each, and the best way to care for them—because a healthy scalp is the first step to healthy hair.

How to Determine Your Scalp Type

To figure out your scalp type, you have to take a closer look at your hair. "Most people will know if their hair is oily or not based on the frequency they must wash," says Dr. Lombardi. "An oily hair type may have to wash every one to two days to avoid looking greasy, while a normal hair type may be able to go about three days without starting to feel greasy." Those with a dry scalp may be able to wash their hair about once a week before noticing oil. Your hair thickness can also help indicate your scalp type as well. Dr. Lombardi says thicker hairs absorb oil and will make the scalp less greasy.

In addition to your hair, you can also use the tissue paper test to help determine your scalp type. "If you blot tissue paper on the scalp of a normal hair type two days after washing, it will leave a small translucent area," says Dr. Lombardi. "An oily scalp type will be more saturated, and the hairs will clump, and dry scalp type you may not see anything on the tissue paper."

How to Care for a Dry Scalp

According to Friese, a dry scalp has skin that is irritated and flakes off. The skin can be slightly red, and concerns with this scalp type are itchiness, tightness, and even burning sensations. "Eczema can occur in the scalp as well, and people with dry scalp are more prone to it," says Dr. Lombardi.

To care for dry scalp, Dr. Lombardi says you should wash the hair once to twice a week, and apply oils to help soothe, hydrate, and decrease inflammation. One to try is the Ouidad Bye-Bye Dry! Soothing + Moisturizing Serum ($30; because it conditions and rebalances the scalp, while fighting against flaking and irritation.

If you're someone with a dry scalp with flakes, Penny James, a certified trichologist and founder of Penny James Salon, recommends using a medicated over-the-counter shampoo with zinc, salicylic acid, or magnesium in its formula. Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($46; is formulated with salicylic acid to soothe itchiness and flakes caused by dryness and dandruff. "Use it at least four times a week for two months," she says. "If there is no improvement, that's when it's time to see a dermatologist or trichologist." If you have thinning hair, one of the best hair-thickening shampoos to try is Kérastase Densifique Thickening Shampoo with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and gluco-peptides to gently cleanse the scalp and remove buildup.

How to Care for an Oily Scalp

An oily scalp is caused by the overproduction of sebum (oil) from the oil glands. Signs of an oily scalp are the hair getting oily quickly after washing it, dead skin cell buildup, acne, and dandruff, says Friese. Despite common belief, dandruff happens when too much oil is on the scalp causing skin cells to build up and shed. A good way to help relieve itchy, tight, and oily scalps is to use a scalp massager, which can remove buildup and stimulate blood flow.

You can tell the difference between flakes from dryness and dandruff flakes by size and feel. Dr. Lombardi says dandruff flakes are larger and will feel oily, while flakes from dryness may feel itchy and appear smaller.

To care for an oily scalp, try washing your hair every other day or every two days to prevent oil from clogging the hair follicles, says James. Headquarters Oil-Away Cleansing Shampoo ($8; is great for this. For those looking for an antibacterial shampoo to fight dandruff, disinfect the scalp, and moisturize hair, try Biosilk.

Dr. Lombardi also recommends staying clear of any leave-in conditioners or thick formulas that may weigh the hair down and contribute to a greasy, oily scalp. Instead, opt for lightweight conditioners made for your scalp type, like Headquarters Oil-Away Conditioner ($8;

If you experience dandruff, James says to opt for a zinc-based shampoo, like DHS Zinc Shampoo ($21;, and wash at the same frequency as you would with an oily scalp. "The key is to keep the scalp in a very healthy, clean environment," she says.

How to Care for a Normal Scalp

A normal scalp has a balanced amount of oil production. You won't experience any concerns with this scalp type. To care for it, Dr. Lombardi says to wash the hair every three to four days, and use formulas for your hair type.

Friese recommends BosleyMD Defense Shampoo and Conditioner to help create and maintain a clean, healthy scalp regularly.

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