Including DIY remedies you can do at home.
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woman scratching dry, itchy scalp
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For those with a dry scalp, then you know that no matter how many times you scratch the itch, you can't seem to get rid of your itchy scalp. It's a common issue that's often neglected since it's not as visible as other parts of our body. But this thin strip of sensitive skin needs TLC just like any other area, and if we don't give it the hydration it needs, it could cause uncomfortable and annoying symptoms.

Just like a sunburned scalp can feel more troublesome than a sunburned arm, having this scalp type can feel worse than dry skin anywhere else. That's why we're breaking down what causes the dry scalp to home remedies for how to treat dry scalp and more with the help of experts. Here's what you need to know about this surprisingly common condition.

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1 What is dry scalp?

A dry scalp is simply the flaking of the scalp skin caused by irritation, according to celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean. This is caused by the scalp's inability to produce enough sebum and natural oils to keep the skin moisturized. Without enough moisture to keep it healthy, Dean says the scalp becomes excessively dry, leading to flaking and shedding.

Believe it or not, this is a fairly common complaint, since there are many elements that can cause dry scalp, Dean explains. These include internal, external, environmental, and other factors.

2 What's the difference between dry scalp and dandruff?

While a dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture, dandruff is the opposite, caused by excess oil production or an overgrowth of harmless yeast. The flakes also have different appearances: With dry scalp, flakes are small, white specks, while dandruff causes large, yellow-tinted output. Angela Phipps, DO, ABHRS, the medical advisor for Hair Club, says people often use dry scalp and dandruff interchangeably because they both have the same main symptoms. However, they are two different conditions that have varied treatment plans.

3 What causes dry scalp?

From what you put in your lovely locks to where you are located, several factors impact the likelihood of having a dry scalp.

Excessive washing

Has your stylist ever scolded you for washing your hair too often? This can hurt color treatments, of course, but it can also cause dry scalp issues. As Brendan Camp, MD, FAAD, a double board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist, explains, our bodies create oil—also known as sebum—that helps the top layer of our skin retain moisture and lubricates the scalp skin and hair. When we scrub with hot water and shampoo daily, we strip our scalp of the oil that's ultimately meant to prevent our scalp from overdrying. Combine this with aging, which naturally leads to oil loss, and you could get an itchy scalp quickly.

Psoriasis

If you are among the estimated 8 million Americans who suffer from psoriasis, you're more likely to develop dry scalp than others. With psoriasis, your immune system gets angry at your skin, causing red plaques, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital. If you have a family history of psoriasis, or you have it elsewhere in your body, it's likely you will develop a spot on your head, too.

The environment

Two seasons are trickiest for folks who suffer from dry scalp: the hot, steamy days of summer and the cold, brittle days of winter. As Anabel Kingsley, a consultant trichologist and brand president of the Philip Kingsley Clinics and product ranges, explains, when the temperature is sky-high, we are more likely to experience UV-ray exposure. Like any other skin, our scalp can get sunburned, causing dryness that leads to flaking and peeling.

"Prolonged sun exposure, even if it doesn't burn your scalp, can also dry it out. This is because the sun causes water evaporation from the epidermis, our superficial layer of skin," she says.

In the winter, we typically don't experience as much humidity, which adds moisture to our air. Low humidity paired with dry, blustery winds and freezing weather conditions can cause or worsen a dry scalp.

Genetics

You can blame your mom or dad for a dry scalp, Dr. Zeichner says, especially since eczema and dry skin can be passed down through generations. "People with these conditions have a skin barrier that is not functioning optimally, leading to microscopic cracks, loss of hydration, and inflammation," he says. So if your parents or grandparents often complain about flakes, you may soon suffer with age, as well.

Poor nutrition

Everything comes back to diet, since what we eat creates health success or health complaints. As Alan J. Bauman, MD, ABHRS, a board-certified hair restoration specialist, explains, our scalp, just like our skin, is a barrier that contains lipids, including phospholipids, free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides. "When you don't have enough fat in your skin or produced by sebaceous glands, water can escape and dehydration can occur," he says.

Hair care products

Since hair care products soak through our strands and into our scalp, any ingredients that cause sensitivity will cause flare-ups like dry scalp. Dr. Zeichner says if you use any chemical hair treatments or dyes, be careful to keep them away from your scalp. "If they come in contact with scalp skin, they can cause what is known as an irritant contact dermatitis leading to itching, redness, and flakes," he says.

4 How to treat dry scalp

It can be cumbersome—and embarrassing—to have flakes falling from your strands, but fortunately there are many non-invasive treatments that solve the issue for most people. Try these simple treatments for dry scalp—if they don't work, you can always try a scalp brush or other store-bought dry scalp remedies.

Use a gentle shampoo and moisturizing conditioner

The first step to cure dry scalp is to be super-selective with your shampoo and conditioner combo, Dr. Phipps says. In fact, she says pairing together a gentle shampoo and a moisturizing conditioner will help stop the scalp from drying out. And though it may not be your first preference, going for a warm but not scorching hot temperature in the shower can also help.

Not sure what ingredients to look for? Dr. Phipps says to ensure your cleansing and softening hair products include all-stars like aloe, chamomile, sage, and panthenol. "Products with added hair moisturizers like baobab and other essential oils help to maintain hair and scalp health and hydration. Look for products with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic botanicals such as rosemary and lavender to maintain a healthy scalp environment," she says.

Try a hot oil treatment

In the winter—or any time you notice dry scalp symptoms—hairstylist Jana Rago suggests trying a hot oil treatment. There are many ways to do this at home or in the salon, but the goal is to supercharge your locks (and head!) with the moisture it's lacking. After you wash your hair, Rago says to lather on the hot oil treatment and let it sit overnight. Then, in the morning, wash it out and you'll have soft strands—and a less itchy scalp.

Drink more water

When we are drinking enough water to sustain our body's functioning and maintain skin hydration, it's less likely that we'll develop a condition like dry scalp. When in doubt, drink more water, recommends Zain Husain, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. His best advice is to consume six to eight glasses daily to help the scalp retain moisture. Though it is technically more helpful during the summer, when the top of your head sees more sunlight, it's never a bad idea to drink plenty of water.

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Buy some defensive products

In the summer, a hat and sunblock can go a long way in preventing dry scalp, Kingsley says. If the air in your space feels dry, consider investing in a humidifier that will add moisture to the air.

5 DIY remedies to treat dry scalp

In addition to the above, there are many DIY natural remedies for dry scalp that can alleviate symptoms.

According to Gretchen Friese, a certified trichologist of BosleyMD, coconut oil can work wonders. "Apply a small amount of melted coconut oil directly to your scalp, massage it into the skin, and leave it on for at least 10 minutes before washing your hair as you normally would," she says. 

Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist of Riverchase Dermatology says, "as an all-natural ingredient, coconut oil can help your hair grow longer, thicker, and faster." 

You can also add tea tree oil to the coconut oil for added benefits. "Tea tree oil has strong antiseptic, antifungal, and antibiotic properties that can help relieve a dry, itchy scalp," says Friese.

A mixture of essential oils can also help target itchy, dry scalp, says Penny James, a certified trichologist and founder of Penny James Salon. She recommends using pure rosemary oil, lavender oil, juniper oil, and jojoba oil. "Mix all the ingredients, apply the oil directly onto the scalp on unwashed hair and massage it hair using your fingertips or a brush," says James. "Wait or sit under a steamer for 20 minutes, then shampoo the hair and scalp." This combination of oils can help soothe and hydrate the scalp. 

Aloe vera is another soothing ingredient that has beneficial properties that can help. "It is anti-inflammatory, can help reduce skin irritation, and it's also an effective moisturizing agent," says Friese. To use it, apply it topically to your scalp, either straight from the plant or an aloe vera gel, and let it sit for 10 minutes before washing it out.

Apple cider vinegar is another ingredient that you can find in your cupboards that can also ease dry scalp. "By combining half a cup of water and apple cider vinegar, you can massage it onto your scalp and leave it in for about 15 minutes," says Dr. Chen. 

"Apple cider vinegar is antimicrobial, so it can eliminate the bacteria or fungi that may be causing itchiness," affirms Friese. It can also help exfoliate the scalp, just like baking soda—another at-home remedy. 

"Baking soda exfoliates and prevents dandruff," says Dr. Chen. To use, you combine 2 tablespoons of baking soda with water to create a thick paste. Then, part your hair and apply a few drops of olive oil followed by the paste. Leave it on for about 10 to 15 minutes before washing your hair with shampoo and conditioner.  

If these treatments don't work, Dr. Bauman says seeking treatment from a trichologist can be beneficial. This licensed cosmetologist specializes in hair and scalp disorders and can work with a doctor to evaluate symptoms and design an appropriate regimen. Though this is typically only needed in extreme cases, you don't want to let the itching go on for too long without treatment, as there could be other underlying issues at play.

By Lindsay Tigar and Genesis Rivas