Are Dandruff and Dry Scalp the Same?

If you experience dryness in the scalp, you may presume dandruff. However, it could be just a sign of a dry scalp. It is easily confused as one thing because dandruff and dry scalp have the same main symptoms, such as falling flakes and an itchy scalp. Be mindful that they are two different conditions.

Many people often ask, are dandruff and dry scalp the same? In the case of a dry scalp, the skin gets aggravated and flakes off. However, with dandruff, the cause is excessive oil on the scalp, and it forces skin cells to build up and then shed. Knowing which conditions you have is crucial in getting the right treatment and banishing those flakes for good.

Causes and Symptoms

A dry scalp transpires when your skin has too little moisture, aggravating scalp skin that flakes off. If your scalp is dry, your arms and legs skin may be dry too. 

The following factors can also initiate dry scalp:

  • Cold and dry air
  • Contact dermatitis induced by a reaction to products used on the scalp, such as shampoo, styling gel, and hairspray
  • Aging

The skin cells on the scalp and body usually die and shed off when more is produced. With dandruff, your skin cells on the scalp shed more rapidly than usual.

The leading cause of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis, turning the skin oily, red, and scaly. The white or yellow scales flake off, making dandruff. You can get seborrheic dermatitis anywhere you hold oil glands, such as eyebrows, groin, armpits, and the sides of your nose.

Usually, a fungus called Malassezia activates dandruff, which usually lives on your scalp. Some people have its excessive quantity, and it causes skin cells to multiply more rapidly than usual.

Some factors that can induce Malassezia to multiply are:

  • Age
  • Hormones
  • Stress

Contrary to popular belief, dirty hair does not generate dandruff, but the oily buildup can make flakes if you do not rinse your hair enough.

One way to tell dry scalp and flakes from dandruff apart is appearance. Dandruff flakes are more visible and oily. In comparison, a dry scalp causes the scalp to look scaly or crusty. However, both dryness and dandruff can cause your scalp to be itchy.

Also check out: Best Natural Treatments to Stop Dandruff


You should wash with a gentle shampoo and then use a moisturizing conditioner if you experience a dry scalp. To know whether you have a dry scalp or dandruff, apply a light moisturizer on the scalp before you go to bed. The flakes should vanish once you shower the following day if the cause is dry scalp. 

Some hairstylists do a scalp treatment with steam to deliver more moisture to your scalp.

For mild dandruff, wash your hair daily with a gentle shampoo to lower the oil on your scalp. However, if your dandruff is more severe, a regular shampoo would not work, and you should try a dandruff shampoo.

The following ingredients in most dandruff shampoos help kill the fungus on your scalp or remove flaky skin:

Pyrithione Zinc

It is an antifungal drug, and it kills the fungus that causes flaking on your scalp. The shampoos containing this ingredient are gentle enough for daily use.

Selenium Sulfide 

It diminishes fungus and prevents excessive skin cells from dying and shedding off. People with blond, gray, dyed hair should ask their doctor before using shampoo containing selenium sulfide, as it can alter your hair color.


It kills the fungus that generates dandruff, and you can buy it in OTC or prescription strength.

Salicylic Acid 

It removes excess scale from your scalp before it flakes off. Salicylic acid can dry out your skin and cause more flaking in some people.

Coal Tar 

It delays the growth and shedding of skin cells on the scalp. Such shampoos can also transform your hair color if you have blond or gray hair.

Shampoos with tea tree oil are an alternative therapy for dandruff. It is a natural ingredient having antifungal properties. Some may be allergic to tea tree oil. Thus, it is crucial to ask your doctor before you use it. Discontinue using the product if you see any redness or swelling.

Always read the instructions on the bottle of any new product you use, and follow them carefully. You may also have to try a few brands before you find one that gets rid of your dandruff.


Following are some effective tips to prevent dandruff and dry scalp:

  • If you suffer from dandruff, wash your hair frequently with an antidandruff shampoo, and ensure to wash out all the shampoo.
  • Avoid using hair products with harsh chemicals, like bleach and alcohol, as such ingredients can dry out your scalp. Furthermore, you should avoid oily hair products that build up on your scalp.
  • Spend a few minutes out in the sun daily because there is some proof that ultraviolet light exposure can help control dandruff. However, too much exposure is also harmful, so you should not be spending all your hours soaking up in the sun. 

In general, dandruff is not curable, but its symptoms can be managed long-term. Normally, the flakes will come and go with time. Treating dandruff with a special antidandruff shampoo can effectively manage the condition and prevent itching and flakiness. It is best to keep an expert with you in your journey for better guidance. Book an appointment with the best dermatologist through Marham for more information. 

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