Dandruff Vs Dry Scalp – What’s The Difference?

Dandruff Vs Dry Scalp – What’s The Difference?

Every day we go through a lot of hair and skin problem. Some of these are common and obvious like getting acne, dandruff, and dry scalp. Most of the people probably think that dandruff and dry scalp are the same things.

The skin on our scalp rejuvenates like the rest of the skin. We do not notice this because the skin is all covered with hair. They rejuvenate every 24 days but if we are unable to remove the dead skin properly then there is a chance that they may become flaky and itchy.

But dandruff and dry scalp are two very different things often confused as one similar condition. The main behind this confusion is we assume the reason behind dandruff is a dry scalp. But it’s time now to unfold the myth of dandruff and dry scalp being same.

It is important to understand the difference between these two so that you can get treatment accordingly. Let’s see the difference between Dandruff and Dry scalp, their possible causes, and treatments.

What Is Dandruff?

What is dandruff
What is dandruff

Dandruff is usually characterised by larger, greasy or clumpy flakes found in the scalp area. They can be clusters of skin cells which are usually yellowish or grey in colour. They are somewhat similar to dry skin but the difference is that the waxy flakes are bought up by too much oil.

Sometimes dandruff can also be formed when yeast grows on the scalp. And since the yeast feeds upon the oil, therefore, they can grow and multiply. This feeding up of oil by yeast can dry up the scalp. That is why people assume that dandruff and dry scalp is the same thing.

Dandruff may come off in your hair brush or may stick to your scalp or hair which can cause severe itching, bleeding, or oozing. Dandruff is usually visible and frequent shredding of large clumpy flakes.

What Is Dry Scalp?

Dry scalp
Dry scalp

Dry scalp is caused due to loss of moisture of the skin in the scalp. Dry scalp does not necessarily become itchy every day. They may only become itchy when there is a change in weather or when you travel to a new place where the season is completely different. And during rest of the year, you may experience dry scalp at all.

Having a dry scalp can also be characterised by shredding of white flakes when you scratch. Dry scalp is mainly caused by the application of soap, strong detergents, hard water, and cold weather. Dehydration, environmental effects, and poor diet can also cause dry scalp.

Symptoms Of Dandruff

Symptoms of Dandruff are the flakes that you acquire from your scalp are yellowish white in colour, flakes are usually small, whiter, and dry skin flakes.

Sometimes it can be really big that they are harder to remove from the scalp. They may appear on hair and shoulders and are usually itchy and scaly scalp. Dandruff has a certain smell, so if you have scratched your scalp, try to smell your fingers.

Symptoms Of Dry Scalp

Symptoms of Dry Scalp are flakes of dead skin cells, redness of the scalp, and irritation and itching.  Dry Scalp may not be itchy every day.

They can only be itchy when there is a change in weather. Small white flakes can fall off when you scratch a dry scalp.

Possible Causes Of Dandruff

There can be many possible causes of Dandruff. Let’s see the causes behind dandruff in detail –

1. Lack Of Nutrition

If the type of diet which you are following right now is unable to give you required amount of nutrients which you need, then this can cause Dandruff to occur.

2. Heredity

If someone in your family has dandruff then, there is a chance for you to acquire this condition too.

3. Hormonal Imbalance

Yes, hormonal imbalance can also cause Dandruff to occur. Some people might take pills to control their hormones in order to stop dandruff from forming on their scalp.

4. Lack Of Rest

Lack of rest or improper sleep can also be a possible reason behind dandruff. So it is advised to have enough sleep and to take rest every single day.

5. Stress

Being stressed out from work or life can also cause Dandruff. So, try to relax in order to avoid dandruff from forming.

6. Poor Health

If you are suffering from poor health then, dandruff is likely to occur.

7. Improper Use Of Shampoo

If you don’t use your hair products properly or if you don’t remove the residue properly from your hair then, there is a high chance for Dandruff.

To avoid this, make sure you don’t leave residue behind after shampooing and conditioning your hair.

8. Not Shampooing Enough

If you wash your hair infrequent then skin cells and oils can build up on the scalp causing oily flakes to appear in the hair. Dandruff is likely to appear during the winter season because you do not wash your hair as frequent as in another season.

9. Skin Condition

Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, thick scales formed by a rapid build-up of dead and rough skin cells, and a chronic inflammatory skin condition can sometimes produce symptoms similar to dandruff.

Yeast like a fungus that lives on the scalp called ‘Malassezia’ can cause irritation and an increase in the production of skin cells. These extra cells fall off and can appear as white flakes.

10. Excessive Use Of Hair Styling Products

If you use hair styling products like dry shampoo daily then there is a chance for dandruff to form up on your scalp. Lessen the use of hair products and try to make your hair healthier as it will make a lot of difference.

11. Contact Dermatitis

If your skin is sensitive to certain hair products such as dyes and shampoos then it causes an itchy, scaly, and red scalp.

12. Seborrheic Dermatitis

Oily skin is one of the most common causes of dandruff for this condition of irritation. It can cause greasy, red skin covered with yellow or white flaky scales. It can also affect your eyebrows, sides of your nose, armpits, back of your ears and groin.

Since you got a clear idea of all the possible causes of dandruff then you can try to do the things to prevent dandruff from forming up.

Possible Causes Of Dry Scalp

There can be many possible causes of Dry Scalp. Let’s see the causes behind dry scalp in detail –

1. Change In Weather

If there is a sudden change in weather then you may experience dry scalp.

2. Change In Season

Dry scalp can also be caused when there is a change in season.

3. Change In Temperature

Sometimes your scalp may turn dry when you are exposed to two different temperatures simultaneously.

For example, if it is hot outside and your scalp has produced too much oil then if you suddenly go inside an air conditioned room then your scalp may dry out completely.

4. Shampooing Too Often

Washing your hair too frequent can remove the natural oils that keep the scalp hydrated. These will lead to a dry scalp causing the skin to flake off.

5. Skin Condition

Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can damage the skin’s ability to regulate cell turnover. It can also alter the health of the moisture barrier which keeps the scalp hydrated.

6. Exposure To Excessive Heat Or Cold

The air is very dry during excessive heat or cold weather. This affects the scalp and can cause the scalp to dry out.

7. Using Harsh Hair Products

Use of chemical dyes or hair styling products can also damage the scalp and can cause dry, red, and flaky skin.

Treatment Of Dandruff

The most common treatment for dandruff is using anti-dandruff shampoos. The anti-dandruff shampoos use a combination of ingredients to control dandruff. And these anti-dandruff shampoos are easily available in the market.

The ingredients used in shampoos are responsible for treating dandruff. Salicylic acid removes dead skin cells from the scalp and also decreases the rate of the formation of these skins. Zinc pyrithione kills the fungus which is responsible for dandruff. Selenium sulphide is responsible for the same results as seen in Salicylic acid and Zinc pyrithione.

Treatment Of Dry Scalp

The most effective and easiest way to treat dry scalp is by having lots of water to rehydrate your scalp. Add moisture to your scalp instead of using drugs or anti-dandruff shampoos.

Avoid regular hair wash and let the natural hair oil to stay on the scalp to moisturise the skin. Use a natural oil like olive oil and leave it so that it will help to restore the scalp’s natural moisture balance.

Prevention Of Dandruff

There are a number of ways in which you can prevent the issue of dandruff.

  • Wash your hair frequently and make sure to rinse your hair thoroughly.
  • Use anti-dandruff shampoos and other hair products made for oily scalp and hair.
  • Do not use hair styling products frequently. Because these products can dry the scalp and can also cause allergic reactions.
  • Maintain a proper diet and get nutrients richly.
  • Do not take the stress, as stress can decrease the natural body defence.
  • If the condition of dandruff is persistent then consult a dermatologist as it can be caused by different skin conditions.

Prevention Of Dry Scalp

There are a number of ways in which you can prevent the issue of dry scalp.

  • Shampoo less frequently because the detergents and the other ingredients can dry the skin and also strips the scalp of natural oils.
  • Use a shampoo which is designed to treat dry scalp and also will add moisture back to the scalp and hair.
  • Use a deep conditioner which will moisturise and hydrate back the scalp.
  • Massage your hair with natural oils. The natural oils will add moisture to the scalp and also will eliminate the flakes on the scalp. Massaging will also increase the blood flow and allows the scalp to receive necessary nutrients for healthy scalp and hair.
  • Maintain a balanced diet and drink enough liquid to keep your skin hydrated.
  • Do not scratch your scalp as it will damage the skin and can lead to possible skin infections.
  • If the condition of dry scalp is persistent then consult a dermatologist as there may be a sign of other skin conditions.

Natural Remedies For Treating Dandruff

Dandruff is not permanently treatable but you can always minimise its effects. People suffering from dandruff may not always know the reason behind dandruff but they have to deal with it anyway.

Also, people find it embarrassing to suffer from dandruff so they stick with wearing dark coloured clothes rather than light ones.

People want to get rid of dandruff but they are too embarrassed to seek professional help. It is a good thing that there are many natural home remedies to treat dandruff. These remedies may not effect as fast as professional treatments but these can still be more helpful and more effective in the long run.

1. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar

Take a cup and mix warm water and apple cider vinegar. Massage your scalp with this mixture for 5 minutes. Rinse off your hair with mild shampoo after 8 hours.

2. Olive Oil

Olive oil
Olive oil

Massage your hair with olive oil and leave it overnight. Wash your hair with shampoo in the morning. Since olive oil doesn’t have any pungent smell so you don’t have to worry about the smell. Regular use of olive oil can also make dandruff go away effectively.

3. Baking Soda

Baking soda
Baking soda

Mix baking soda with warm water and use this mixture instead of your regular shampoo. It may cause hair to dry out first but your hair will be at full glory afterwards.

4. Fenugreek Plant

Fenugreek plant
Fenugreek plant

Soak fenugreek seed overnight and after they are soft grind them into a thick paste. Apply this paste on your scalp and leave it for 45 minutes. Rinse it off with water or you can also use a mild shampoo.

5. Lemon Juice

Squeeze lemon juice into a cup and you can either add coconut oil or water. Apply the mixture onto your scalp and leave it for few minutes before washing it off.

6. Listerine

Mix one part of Listerine and 2 parts of water in a cup. Leave this mixture on your scalp for 20 or 30 minutes before shampooing.

7. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel

You can apply aloe vera gel directly to your scalp. You need not mix any other ingredients with it. Leave it for 20 minutes and wash it off with cold water or mild shampoo.

8. Eggs

Beat a couple of eggs thoroughly and massage your scalp with it. Leave it for 45 minutes and rinse your hair with mild shampoo. Using eggs on hair can also help to make hair smooth and shiny.

9. Apple Juice

Apple juice
Apple juice

Massage your hair with pure apple juice or you can also mix water with the juice. This mixture can be used after shampooing of the hair.

10. Aspirin

Crush a couple of aspirin tablet into a powder form. Mix it in your shampoo. Leave the mixture (Aspirin + Shampoo) for a couple of minutes before rinsing it off.

11. Tea Tree Oil

tea tree oil
tea tree oil

Mix a teaspoon of tea tree oil with warm water. Shake the mixture well before using it. Spray the mixture on your hair and wait for few minutes for it to get absorbed by the skin. Once it is absorbed by the skin you need not worry to remove it.

12. Change Your Diet

Try eating food which is rich in vitamins and minerals. Avoid eating processed food and try to eat fruits and vegetables.

13. Get Some Sunlight

Go out for sunlight early morning. Because sun rays are not harmful in the morning. Be in sunlight for 10 or 15 minutes because too much sun exposure can cause hair damage.

Choose which home remedy suits you better and try that out regularly to eliminate the formation of dandruff.

Natural Remedies For Treating Dry Scalp

There are several home methods for treating dry scalp. Once the moisture of the scalp is restored you can use these treatments 2-3 times a week.

For your convenience, the natural remedies are listed below –

1. Tea Tree Oil 

Add 6 drops of tea tree oil either into your shampoo or into your conditioner. Use this mixture to rinse your hair and repeat this regularly.

2. Coconut Oil

Massage your scalp and hair with coconut oil. Leave it overnight and use a shampoo to remove it.

3. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel for hair
Witch hazel for hair

Mix one part of the hazel oil with 2 part of water. Massage your scalp and hair for 5 1o 10 minutes with this mixture. Rinse your hair thoroughly afterwards.

4. Mayonnaise

Massage your scalp with a half cup of mayonnaise. Cover your head with a shower cap and leave it for 10-20 minutes. Rinse off with cold water.

5. Beer

Mix 2 cups of beer with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Apply this mixture after shampooing.

6. Neem

Neem juice for hair
Neem juice for hair

Boil neem leaves in water. Strain the leaves from the water and grind them to make a thick paste. Apply the paste to your scalp and leave it for 30 minutes. Rinse with shampoo afterwards.

7. White Gourd

Blend white guard seeds with water to make a thick paste. Apply the paste to your scalp and leave it for 30 minutes. Rinse with shampoo afterwards.

8. Onion Juice

  • Grind 2-3 onions and extract its juice.
  • Mix 3 tablespoon of onion juice and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Apply the mixture onto your scalp. Leave the mixture for 30 minutes.
  • Rinse it off with water afterwards.

9. Oatmeal

Oaatmeal hair mask
Oaatmeal hair mask

Mix 1 tablespoon of oatmeal powder and ½ cup of water. Massage the mixture gently to your scalp. Leave the mixture for 20 and rinse it off with cold water.

10. Sage

Boil sage leaves with water. Let the solution to cool down. Apply this mixture after shampooing.

11. Sugar Scrub

Sugar scrub
Sugar scrub

Mix five tablespoon of sugar with olive oil. Massage the scrub mixture to our scalp in circular motion. Wash your hair with water.

See which home remedy suits you effectively and fastly and stick with it. Use the home remedy regularly to attain your scalp moisture back.


Both dandruff and dry scalp are incurable permanently but you can always treat them by applying the above home remedies. Try to maintain a proper and balanced diet. Add more fruits and vegetables in your regular diet.

Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Always keep your towel and hair brush clean to avoid any kind of infection. Meditate to avoid stress as high stress can lead to high chances for dandruff and dry scalp formation.

Avoid using chemical substances on your hair. If you see no difference even after trying the home remedies then consult a dermatologist, as there might be a chance of other skin conditions.

Don’t be embarrassed in consulting a professional treatment. And try to keep your body as healthy and hygienic as possible.

Dr. Sania Siddiqui is a Unani medicine expert, who has completed her Bachelors in Unani Medicine & Surgery from Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi.She is an experienced Medical Content Writer and has been writing in the online space for the past 7 years. Her areas of expertise range from skin & hair care, women’s health, diet & nutrition, pregnancy, parenting, lifestyle and fitness.