What’s the Difference between Dandruff and Dry Scalp?

No one wants an irritating scalp condition that causes itching and flaking. Unfortunately, that’s a common symptom for a few different conditions that affect the scalp. When we see white flakes on our scalp, most people automatically assume it’s dandruff. But, that isn’t always the case.

There are vital differences between dandruff and dry scalp. On top of that, there’s a difference between these conditions and other scalp problems, such as psoriasis. So, why is it so important to know what’s causing your scalp to flake?

The more you know about the condition, the easier it will be to treat or manage. Dandruff and dry scalp are two different things and need to be handled differently. If you think you have one and have the other, you could be making it worse by choosing the wrong treatment.

You don’t have to deal with an itchy scalp caused by either condition. Flaking from your scalp can be embarrassing and annoying. To get the white flakes under control, you have to treat the condition correctly. Knowing the symptoms can make it easier to do.

Table of Contents:

How to Tell Dry Scalp and Dandruff Apart

We will focus on the main differences between dry scalp and dandruff. We’ll also cover dry scalp symptoms and what causes dandruff. Finally, this guide will explain how to treat dry scalp and dandruff, depending on what is wrong.

It’s also important to make sure you don’t have a different underlying scalp condition. Many skin conditions could contribute to flaking. Psoriasis is one of the most common, so knowing the symptoms can make it easier to manage. Psoriasis can’t be cured, but it can be managed. Let’s dive into the symptoms of each, and what you can do to stop dry scalp flakes or dandruff flakes.

Dry Scalp

Dry Scalp Symptoms

Dry scalp happens when your skin isn’t getting enough moisture. You can get dry skin anywhere on your body because of this. But, when it affects the scalp, it can cause quite a bit of flaking. A quick way to recognize that your scalp might be dry is to look at other areas of your body. If you have flaking of the scalp and your skin is also dry elsewhere, you probably have dry scalp and not dandruff.

Dry scalp can be triggered by a variety of things. Some people just have naturally dry skin. Other common triggers include:

Dry scalp flakes have certain characteristics. These characteristics make it easier to recognize the condition for what it is. Simply put, the white flakes in your hair aren’t always dandruff.

Some of the most notable symptoms of dry scalp include:

  • Small, dry flakes
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry skin elsewhere on the body

The flakes from a dry scalp are usually lightweight and smaller. They will also appear to have a white color, and won’t be tinted or look dirty.

How to Treat Dry Scalp

If you want to know how to cure dry scalp, take a look at the triggers that can cause it. Obviously, cold weather and dry conditions can be hard to avoid. But, if you have a dry scalp, adding moisture can help.

Using a gentle shampoo that won’t dry out the scalp, even more, can help. Using shampoos with natural ingredients may help to solve the problem. Shampoos that are full of preservatives and chemicals can dry out your hair and scalp, causing it to itch and flake. Era Organics Moisturizing Shampoo is an excellent product for dry scalp. It will help to add moisture back to your hair without using harmful ingredients.

If shampoo alone doesn’t help your dry scalp, a leave-in moisturizer or deep conditioning treatment may do the trick.

Dry Scalp Home Remedies

Some people feel better about using home remedies, or ingredients they already have on hand. If you don’t want an over-the-counter solution for your dry scalp, some popular home remedies that can stop flaking include:

  • Tea tree oil – This is a natural moisturizer. It also contains antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. The easiest way to use it for a dry scalp is to add a few drops of tea tree oil into your regular shampoo. Its healing properties will reduce flaking and leave your hair and scalp looking and feeling hydrated.
  • Apple cider vinegar – This works as an astringent. You can apply it directly to your scalp using a cotton ball. It will help to balance out the pH of your scalp, encouraging glands to produce more oil. This will help to soothe the dry skin of your scalp.
  • Aloe vera – Using aloe vera juice on your scalp can help it to feel and look better. Aloe is a natural cooling agent and helps to heal inflammation. It also nourishes your skin with natural amino acids, vitamins, and fatty acids. If your dry scalp has come with irritating itching, this is a great way to reduce the need to scratch.

As you can see, most home remedies are completely natural. They don’t often take more than one or two ingredients and can be effective. If you need relief from a dry scalp now, try to find a solution you may already have on hand.

How to Prevent Dry Scalp

Dry scalp is usually caused by many external factors. So, it’s not always easy to prevent it because many of these factors are out of our control.

Some things you can do to lower your risk of a dry scalp include:

  • Avoid using hair products with a lot of chemicals or preservatives. Bleach and alcohol can dry out your scalp quickly. If you’re prone to dry skin, choose a natural shampoo and make sure your other hair products aren’t harming your skin.
  • Hydrate from the inside out. A dry scalp likely means other areas of your skin are dried out, too. Adding moisturizing agents on the outside is great. But, you can also make a difference by adding moisture from the inside out. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This can help your body to stay hydrated and refreshed, even in dry conditions.
  • Avoid styling your hair with heat. Using too many heated styling tools can not only damage your hair but dry out your scalp, too. Try to let your hair air dry whenever possible. Use a heat protectant spray before using a straightener or iron of any kind.


Dandruff Symptoms

Now that you know the causes and symptoms of dry scalp, how will you be able to tell if you’re experiencing flaking from dry skin or if it’s dandruff? Dandruff is caused by its own set of situations and triggers.

Dandruff is the shedding of skin cells from your scalp. When you have dandruff, these cells shed faster than they usually would. The condition that usually causes dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. It is an overproduction of oil and can be found almost anywhere on the body. But, when you have it on your scalp, it can create oily patches of skin that itch. When you scratch at these areas, the flakes that come off are considered dandruff flakes.

Another cause of dandruff is a fungus called Malassezia. People who have too much of this fungus have to deal with an excess of skin cells on their scalp. When too many cells are produced, they shed off more quickly.

People often associate dandruff with dirty hair. This isn’t necessarily true. But, it can be caused by a buildup of oils, which can leave your hair looking and feeling greasy. Some people produce more oils than other. Even if you wash your hair every day, there is no guarantee you won’t get dandruff if your body is producing too much oil.

Symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Bigger flakes from the scalp
  • Oily or yellow-looking flakes
  • Oily or scaly skin
  • Redness on the scalp
  • Itchy scalp

As you can see, there are notable differences between dandruff and flakes from dry scalp. Their appearance is heavier and possibly more discolored than flakes from a dry scalp.

How to Treat Dandruff

Because dandruff is such a common problem, there are many over-the-counter products designed to get rid of it. A dandruff shampoo like Nizoral usually clears up the problem in a month or so. Look for over-the-counter products that contain ingredients designed to kill the fungus.

For example, Nizoral contains ketoconazole. This anti-fungal ingredient works by binding to the natural proteins in your hair and killing fungus at its core. It can reduce the general buildup of skin cells, so there is less flaking to worry about.

Other ingredients commonly found in dandruff shampoos include:

  • Pyrithione zinc
  • Selenium sulfide
  • Coal tar
  • Salicylic acid

difference between dandruff and dry scalp

Dandruff Home Remedies

Again, if you’re not keen on over-the-counter products, you can try treating your dandruff using ingredients from home. Home remedies for dandruff have to get rid of a buildup of oils and fungus. They also can’t dry out the scalp, or you may experience a different kind of flaking.

Some of the best home remedies for dandruff include:

  • Coconut oil – You might think adding oil to your scalp will make the problem worse. But, coconut oil has natural antifungal properties. It can also help to prevent itching and keep your skin moisturized. You can massage warmed coconut oil onto your scalp several times a week, letting it sit for 20 minutes or so before rinsing away.
  • Apple cider vinegar – This works just as well for dandruff as it does for a dry scalp. It balances out the pH of your scalp in the other direction, so it helps to stop the growth of fungus. It will also help to clean out your hair follicles and any pores that are clogged. That will reduce the buildup of dead skin cells on your head.
  • Baking soda – Because dandruff is caused by a buildup of oils, something to soak up all those oils can make a big difference. Baking soda is a natural way to do just that. Like apple cider vinegar, it also helps to balance out the pH of your scalp. It will help to remove dead skin cells and any excessive amounts of oil. To use it properly, sprinkle baking soda into wet hair and leave for 20-30 minutes. Then, simply rinse away. You can do this several times a week until you start to see the results you want.

How to Prevent Dandruff

Dealing with dandruff can be embarrassing. Even though it doesn’t necessarily mean your scalp is dirty, there are plenty of stereotypes that go along with it. Plus, no one wants to have to walk around with thick, heavy flakes falling on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, there is no way to 100% dandruff. Some people simply produce more oil than others. Dandruff is manageable, and you don’t have to go through your life dealing with it every day when you treat it properly. Washing your hair frequently with an anti-dandruff shampoo is the best way to get rid of it and reduce the frequency of flare-ups.

It’s also important to practice good hair and scalp hygiene. By taking care of your body from the inside out and properly managing your hair, you may be less likely to experience a buildup of oils on the scalp.

One interesting way health experts suggest preventing or lessening dandruff is to lower your stress levels. Stress is often associated with a trigger for oil overproduction. Like most health conditions, stress tends to make it worse. Find ways to de-stress and relax as much as possible. This is especially important if you’re prone to a lot of flaking from dandruff.


Other scalp conditions can cause flaking and itching. One of the more common conditions is scalp psoriasis. No one officially knows what causes psoriasis. But, it is believed that it has something to do with a weakened immune system. You can’t catch this condition from other people, but it also isn’t treatable. Most people with the condition can manage it reasonably easily throughout their lives.

What’s the difference between psoriasis, dandruff, and dry scalp? For starters, the cause. Once you know what might be causing your scalp to itch and flake, you’ll have a better idea of how to manage it. If it’s not an external element like the weather, hair products, or an oil buildup, it could be that you have psoriasis.

Psoriasis can range from mild to severe. The symptoms can be intense for some people, and others may not be bothered as much. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Scaly patches
  • Red patches
  • Hair loss
  • Itching
  • Flaking that looks like dandruff
  • Burning sensation

The flakes that come from psoriasis may look more like dandruff flakes. This is because they are scaly and thick. They might look heavier than flaking caused by dry skin.

Psoriasis is a condition that can’t be cured. Like dandruff, it must be managed over time. There is no permanent fix for the problem, though most people with the condition can manage it well and only experience the occasional flare up.

One of the most significant problems with psoriasis is it causes your scalp to become itchy. It’s an itching sensation that some people simply can’t ignore. The sensation might be more intense than when you have dandruff or a dry scalp. The problem with that is the fact that too much scratching at the scalp can lead to big problems. Psoriasis can cause hair loss. It can also lead to infection if you accidentally cut your scalp open.

Conditions that cause the scalp to flake



The best way to treat or manage a scalp condition is to have a full understanding of what it is. It’s easy to assume any flaking coming from the scalp is dandruff. But, that’s not always the case. If you have a dry scalp that’s causing flaking, it needs to be treated differently than dandruff.

Additionally, you could have a skin condition that requires even more treatment. Things like psoriasis or eczema of the scalp aren’t uncommon. Their symptoms should stand out, so you know how to manage them and stop experiencing annoying itching.

We hope this guide has helped you to appreciate the differences between dandruff and dry scalp. While both can cause flakes, the flakes themselves have different qualities. Thankfully, both can be managed relatively easily. With a few simple changes in your lifestyle or in the products you use, the problem will likely become much less severe.

If you’re worried you may have a skin condition of the scalp, medical attention is sometimes needed. A dermatologist can help to determine if you have a condition like psoriasis. They may also be able to provide a solution if you’re experiencing extreme pain. For the most part, though, all these conditions can be taken care of at home.

Copyright 2018 by DryScalpGone.