Discover the Difference between Dandruff and Dry Scalp

April 17, 2022


Verna Meachum

Learn the difference between dandruff and dry scalp.

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If you are experiencing an itchy scalp, you may be wondering what is causing the problem. Is it dandruff, or is it dry scalp?

In this blog post, we will discuss the difference between dandruff and dry scalp, and we will provide tips on how to treat each condition.


Dandruff is a problem that many people have to deal with at some point in their lives. While it is not a serious medical condition, dandruff can be annoying and embarrassing.

Scratching your scalp and itching continuously can be quite embarrassing in public. It may appear that you have poor hygiene, when in reality, you may just be suffering from a common scalp condition.

Before we delve into how to treat itchy scalp, let’s first understand the difference between dry scalp vs dandruff.

It is essential to understand the difference so that you can get the right treatment for your condition and know how to manage them effectively.

What is Dandruff?

Discover the difference between dandruff and dry hair.

Dandruff is one of the most common scalp conditions, and it is characterized by flaking skin.

Dandruff is caused by a fungus called malassezia, which is present on the scalp of most people.

However, some people are more prone to developing dandruff due to various factors, such as genetics, stress, and certain skin conditions.

Dandruff can also be aggravated by certain hair care products, such as those that contain alcohol or are harsh on the scalp.

Symptoms of dandruff

– Flakes of skin on the scalp

– Itchy scalp

– Greasy and oily hair

– Red, inflamed skin

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you may have dandruff.

The good news is that dandruff is relatively easy to treat, and there are many over-the-counter products that can effectively control the condition.

Some other symptoms can include:

  • Eyebrow dandruff
  • Red patches on the scalp skin
  • Hair loss

Cause of dandruff

Although dandruff is often thought to be caused by a dry scalp, the real culprit is usually an overgrowth of a fungus known as malassezia.

This fungus is normally present on the scalps of most people, but it can proliferate in certain conditions, such as when the scalp is greasy or when there is irritation.

In addition, dandruff can also be triggered by certain medical conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis.

Dandruff is caused by a variety of factors working together, which makes it difficult to identify the specific cause of your dandruff-ridden scalp.

Here are some of the factors at play:

  • Sebaceous secretion from glands on the scalp
  • Fungal infestation on the skin surface
  • Not washing hair enough leads to the accumulation of dead skin cells. This contributes to the itchiness and flaking of the scalp. The same can result from over-washing the scalp and rendering it dry.
  • Malassezia, yeast that causes excess skin growth on the scalp’s surface by aggravating it
  • Due to several different hair care product ingredients, contact dermatitis might lead to a red itchy scalp.
  • Damage is done by sunlight.
  • Wearing tight hats or headscarves
  • Diet
  • Environmental aggressors

Some people, for unknown reasons, have a greater propensity to form dandruff than others. Similarly, men are more likely to suffer from this issue than women.

What is a Dry Scalp?

As the name suggests, a dry scalp is a condition in which the skin of the scalp gets dried out.

It can often be mistaken for dandruff due to similarities in how both manifest.

Symptoms of dry scalp

The symptoms of dry scalp are almost the same as dandruff. These are:

  • Itchy skin
  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Patches of dry skin
  • Flaky skin with uneven texture
  • Tight feeling scalp

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have a dry scalp.

Dry scalp can often be treated with over-the-counter products, such as moisturizing shampoos and conditioners.

If the condition is severe, you may need to see a board certified dermatologist for prescription-strength treatments.

Causes of dry scalp

A dry scalp can be caused by several factors that strip the skin of its moisture.

Dry scalp is caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Weather changes
  • Harsh hair care products
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Old age
  • A dry, low humid environment
  • Certain prescription drugs
  • Genetics
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis

What’s the Difference Between Dry Scalp and Dandruff

They are very similar and hence it is hard to tell the difference between dandruff and dry scalp conditions.

Both present with the same symptoms of a flaky scalp that is itchy and irritated. But the causes of both conditions differ and can help you distinguish one from the other.

Dandruff is usually caused by an overgrowth of fungus, while dry scalp is often the result of loss of moisture from the scalp skin, weather changes, harsh hair care products, or certain medical conditions.

Dry scalp affects the scalp alone, but dandruff can also manifest in other areas of the skin.

However, it’s possible that your scalp feels dry because of some hair care products you’re applying to it that are robbing your scalp of its natural oils.

If you live in a cold, dry climate, you may be more prone to have a dry scalp. It’s also possible to suffer from both at the same time.

In conclusion, flakes are identified as dandruff when:

  • The scalp is oily and sometimes red
  • The scalp is incredibly itchy, even if it is not dry
  • The flakes are more prominent and slightly yellow-tinged

Prevention of dandruff

If you follow the following steps, you may minimize dandruff to a greater extent and improve the symptoms:

1.    Good hygiene is key

Resist scratching your scalp as it might worsen the condition by introducing more contaminants into the mix, not to mention, the excessive scratching is damaging for the scalp.

2.    Look for suitable hair products

Use products that help make your hair less oily and sebum free. But keep in mind, too much washing can also lead to drying out of the scalp.

3.    Relieve stress. Stress plays a crucial role in aggravating the issue at hand. Although it does not cause dandruff directly, it affects your immune system and lowers it enough so fungal aggressors like Malassezia can thrive and worsen the condition.

4.    Go out in fresh air. Studies have shown that going out in the fresh air daily and increasing your exposure to the environment help reduce the formation of excess oil on the scalp. This also helps you to relax and control stress.

5.    Massage the scalp. Doing this increases the blood flow to the scalp. It helps lessen the symptoms of dandruff by rejuvenating and replenishing the skin.

6.    Brush your hair gently. Try to limit friction while brushing hair, so the integrity of scalp skin is maintained.

Treatment of dandruff

Treatments for dandruff typically involve using medicated dandruff shampoos to control the growth of the fungus.

In some cases, additional therapies, such as corticosteroid injections or light therapy, may also be necessary.

The treatment includes following these steps:

  • Follow instructions. There are many different types of products on the market that cater to different types of problems and different reasons. It is important to follow the instructions given by the manufacturer before using the product. Understand how you have to use the product. Following instructions is vital as it can affect the outcome of the treatment.
  • Every scalp requires a different type of treatment. If one method does not work, do not get discouraged. Before you start your treatment, consult with a certified professional dermatologist who can assess your scalp needs and customize the treatment plan accordingly. Also discuss other options that are available and figure out which treatment is best for you.
  • There are medicated shampoos available in the market that treats conditions like dandruff. They are still prescription medications, and your doctor must give you a prescription. These treatments not only attempt to get rid of the flakes from the scalp, but they also work to fight against Malassezia fungal development. Hence, resolving the root cause of the issue.

Ingredients to look out for in medicated products:

Anti-dandruff or anti-fungal formulas contain at least one or more of the following ingredients:

1.    With its anti-fungal effects, Ketoconazole can be helpful for people of all ages and skin types. It kills the fungus that causes the dandruff.

2.   Zinc pyrithione helps to slow down the formation of yeast on the scalp.

3.   Selenium sulfide this component exhibits anti-fungal properties that help eliminate the root cause of the problem and reduce the production of excess oil or sebum from our glands, which has two advantages for the scalp.

4.   Coal tar is also one of the products used to fight dandruff. It does so by exerting its anti-fungal effects and minimizing excess cell production on the scalp surface.

However, the one adverse effect is that it may stain color-treated hair and make the scalp more sensitive to the damage done by the sun. It should be used with dermatologists’ recommendation as it might be carcinogenic in large quantities.

5.   Due to its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, tea-tree oil is one of the most commonly used ingredients in products that claim to resolve dandruff issues. However, it is very potent and might cause an allergic reaction, so it is advised to do a patch test before applying it to your scalp. Essential oils should also be used with a carrier oil.

6.   Salicylic acid is another frequently used ingredient that helps excess cell production on the scalp surface.

Prevention of Dry Scalp

We all know the importance of keeping our skin healthy by using creams, lotions, and potions, but what many people don’t realize is that the scalp needs just as much love and attention.

Dry scalp can lead to a number of problems. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to help prevent dry scalp from happening in the first place.

Following these steps greatly help in this regard:

  • Use a gentle, non-medicated shampoo
  • Avoid long showers
  • Try and control the humidification indoors. You can use a humidifier for this purpose.
  • Avoid hot water while taking a shower as it strips moisture from the scalp
  • Apply the doctor’s prescribed ointments to the scalp
  • Resist itching or scratching the scalp
  • Stay hydrated

Treatment of dry scalp

Treatment of dry scalp might be different depending on the root cause of the problem.

Switching to gentle, hydrating hair products in more than half of the situations has resulted in quick and significant results.

If switching products does not seem to help, you can use the following prescription drugs to treat the condition:

  • Medicated shampoos
  • Light therapy
  • Medicated ointments and creams
  • Scale softeners

When Should You See a Doctor?

Although home remedies and over-the-counter treatments can be a very effective way to treat dandruff effectively, an itchy scalp is not just because of this issue.

There might be underlying problems like eczema, psoriasis, or fungal infection if the dandruff is stubborn or itchiness is unbearable.

If the itching worsens and hair loss and redness progress, it is time to see your doctor.

Sometimes, the symptoms might indicate more severe issues, like actinic keratosis or tinea capitis.

Patients suffering from chronic illness and autoimmune disorders should consult their doctor before trying out any treatment for scalp-related issues.

Generally, if you are encountering the following symptoms, go to your doctor for a consultation immediately:

  • Red or swollen scalp
  • Consistently progressing symptoms
  • An open wound or the formation of sores
  • Rashes
  • Extreme hair loss
  • No result after using OTC medication or anti-dandruff shampoo

Final Word

Dandruff is yet being studied as its causes are still unknown, as the same yeast that might cause infection in one person might not affect the next one.

It can be embarrassing and frustrating, but it is not contagious or dangerous. Although the treatments are available for dandruff, they don’t cure it permanently.

Dry scalp, on the other hand, is not a medical condition but can lead to dandruff if not taken care of.

Although, dandruff and dry scalp are uncomfortable and inconvenient research is being done to better understand why people are prone to this problem.

Usually, scalp conditions respond to at-home treatment and management and seldom progress to worst-case scenarios and become harmful.

If your scalp issues persist despite using OTC medication, see a doctor to find out the underlying cause.

We hope this article helped you learned the difference between dandruff and dry scalp.

Thanks for reading!


What’s the difference between dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis?

Dandruff is a condition of the scalp that causes flakes of skin to fall off. It can be due to a number of factors, including dry skin, oily skin, and fungal infections.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that causes redness, itchiness, and flaking of the skin. It is often caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin.

While dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis share some symptoms, they are two distinct conditions.

Dandruff can usually be treated with over-the-counter products, while seborrheic dermatitis may require prescription medication.

What is the difference between dandruff and build up?

While dandruff and build up may seem similar, there are actually a few key difference between the two.

Dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus on the scalp, which leads to the formation of small, dry flakes.
Build up, on the other hand, is caused by a accumulation of products, such as hair spray or gel.

In addition, dandruff is typically treated with anti-dandruff shampoo, while build up is usually removed with clarifying shampoo.

Is dandruff and dry scalp the same thing?

While dandruff and dry scalp are both common conditions that can cause itching and flaking, they are actually two different things.

Dandruff is a condition that is caused by an overgrowth of a type of fungus called malassezia. This fungus is found on the scalps of most people, but it can cause problems for some.

Dry scalp, on the other hand, is usually caused by a lack of moisture. It can be caused by items such as harsh detergents, shampoos, and soaps that strip away natural oils.

Dry scalp can also be a side effect of certain medical conditions. If you are unsure whether you have dandruff or dry scalp, it is best to consult with a dermatologist.

Signs of dandruff or dry scalp?

Dandruff is a condition of the scalp that causes flakes of skin to appear. The exact cause of dandruff is unknown, but it is thought to be related to a combination of factors, including dry skin, oily skin, and sensitivity to certain hair care products.

Dandruff is relatively common, and it can affect people of all ages. Signs and symptoms of dandruff include itchiness, redness, and flaking of the skin.

While dandruff is not usually a serious condition, it can be bothersome and difficult to treat. If you think you may have dandruff, talk to your doctor or dermatologist for advice on how to manage the condition.


1. Dandruff. (2016, August 31)
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, July 14). Dandruff: Symptoms and Causes.
3. Dandruff: How to Treat. (n.d.)
4. Dry skin: Who gets and causes. (n.d.)
5. Gonzalez, M. E. (2017, March). Seborrheic dermatitis.
6. Satchell, A. C., Saurajen, A., Bell, C., & Barnetson, R. S. (2002, December). Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo [Abstract]. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 47(6).
7. Scalp psoriasis. (n.d.)
8. Xu, Z., Wang, Z., Yuan, C., Liu, X., Yang, F., Wang, T., Zhang, M. (2016, May 12). Dandruff is associated with the conjoined interactions between host and microorganisms. Scientific Reports, 6(24877).

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