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Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: Understanding the Difference and Treatment

3 mins

Samina Siddique

The difference between dandruff and dry scalp exists. Knowing about it can help you understand what you’re dealing with and find appropriate treatment.

Ah, dandruff. It's one of the most common hair-related annoyances in the world, given that it affects almost half the adult population. 

However, the same can be said about a dry scalp, which is why the two terms tend to be used interchangeably. 

Both conditions are pretty similar in terms of symptoms as well — flaky, irritated skin that begins to shed.

This article covers the basic differences between dandruff and dry scalp, including causes, symptoms, and products you can use to treat both issues and prevent them in the future.

Table of Contents:

  • Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: How to Tell the Difference
  • Dry Scalp Treatment: Tips and Tricks to Relieve Discomfort
  • Preventing Dandruff and Dry Scalp: Recommended Products and Home Remedies

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: How to Tell the Difference

According to dermatologists, dandruff is a chronic condition of the scalp whose main cause is seborrheic dermatitis, which can reduce the skin to a red, scaly, and greasy mess. 

These scales gradually start flaking off in the form of white particles, known to us as dandruff, visible all over the hair and clothes.

More often than not, the condition is triggered by a fungal growth called Malassezia. While this fungus is found on every scalp, some people might experience overgrowth, and the skin cells might multiply a lot faster than usual due to numerous factors like age, stress levels, and hormonal imbalance. 

In simple terms, dandruff occurs when the scalp starts shedding dead skin cells at a higher-than-average speed.


Fungal infection isn’t the only root cause of dandruff, though. It can also be the result of excess sebaceous secretion, too much stress, or negative reactions to cosmetic products. 

If these factors happen to coincide, it can exacerbate the issue to the extent that it requires medical intervention. 

Therefore, it’s wiser to err on the side of caution and prevent the issue from occurring in the first place—more on that in the next section.

Dry scalp is exactly what it seems like — a deficit of moisture or oil on the skin. Like dry patches on any part of your body, having an unlubricated scalp can lead to constant itching, irritation, and even flaking in ways that make it seem like dandruff. 

dry scalp

Some of the biggest causes of a dry scalp include a lack of moisture in your environment (as experienced in winter months), washing your hair so often that it depletes natural moisture, and skin conditions like eczema. 

If you find your locks too dry and brittle, a dry scalp may be the culprit.

One way to distinguish dandruff from the dry scalp is to notice the flakes. Are they small and white? Then it’s your dry scalp shedding dead skin. 

However, if the flakes are larger with a yellowish tinge or oily texture, it points to a dandruff situation. Your scalp and hair will also feel rather greasy when the issue is dandruff.

Dry Scalp Treatment: Tips and Tricks to Relieve Discomfort

Treating a dry scalp tends to be easier and quicker than dandruff because there’s no fungal infection. Here are some home remedies that are readily available and easy to access:

Moisturize with Coconut Oil

In addition to moisturizing your scalp, coconut oil can also help you prevent itching because of its antifungal and antibacterial properties that keep infections at bay.

Use Topical Aloe Vera

Applying hair serums, oils, and shampoo rich in aloe vera can replenish your scalp’s hydration as well as reduce inflammation, soothing the skin and making your hair softer.

Wash with Apple Cider Vinegar

ACV is an excellent remedy for both treating and preventing dry scalp. Since it has antimicrobial properties, you can remove fungi or bacteria at the root while exfoliating your scalp and reducing inflammation.

apple cider vinegar

Other remedies include tea tree oil, witch hazel, jojoba oil, and products rich in avocados, as these are the most hydrating agents that can moisturize and soothe a dry scalp. 

Coming back to dandruff, it’s important to note that the issue is not completely curable, but it is manageable over the long run. 

Here’s how:

Control Your Stress Levels

Managing stress is essential for keeping dandruff from forming or worsening. Too much stress can seriously impact your scalp and hair health, leading to inflammation, irritation, and breakage. 

Try to keep yourself calm by actively practicing meditation and exercising regularly. Also, make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and hydration.

Opt for Tea Tree Oil

The wonders of tea tree oil don’t end with treating dry scalp. Its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and moisturizing properties stave off dandruff and keep your scalp balanced. 

You can find it as an ingredient in a wide range of serums, hair masks, hair oils, conditioners, and so on.

Use Natural Hair Products

Shampoos containing synthetics like parabens, silicones, and sulfates tend to build up on the scalp and prevent nourishment from flowing in or out, effectively trapping all the moisture. 

Substituting them for organic shampoos with antifungal ingredients can help you reduce greasiness and flakes, thus promoting better hair health.

Preventing Dandruff and Dry Scalp: Recommended Products 

  • WOW’s Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo is packed with the power of raw ACV that eliminates any excess oil and buildup on the scalp, restoring balance and natural shine. The detoxifying formula is free from parabens and sulfates, so your hair gets the kind of organic nourishment it needs.

apple cider vinegar shampoo

  • The Holy Grail in dandruff and dry scalp treatment, this Tea Tree Essential Oil contains medicinal properties that are antimicrobial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammation. You can apply it topically on a daily basis or even use it in a diffuser to release stress and have a soothing, spa-like experience.

Now that you know the difference between dandruff and dry scalp, you’ll be able to recognize their signs and devise a treatment strategy with more accuracy. 

Don’t hesitate to consult a dermatologist if things get out of hand. 

However, if the issue seems manageable at home, you can explore more natural remedies and find a solution that works for you.


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Samina Siddique

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