Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: What’s The Difference?

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp

Both dandruff and dry scalp have the same main symptoms, which are falling flakes and itchy scalp. But you will be surprised to know that both are different conditions. In many cases when we have a dry, flaking scalp we suspect dandruff. But you should notice that it could be a dry scalp. Dandruff vs dry scalp usually come together because of their similar symptoms. 

In this article, I will give you an overview of dandruff vs dry scalp so that you will be able to distinguish both of them. In the case of dry scalp, the skin gets irritated and flakes off. But in the case of dandruff, the main cause is too much oil on the scalp. This excess oil causes the skin cells to build and then shred. After identifying the condition which you are facing, you can get proper treatment. 

Causes and Symptoms

You can get a dry scalp if your skin has too little moisture. Due to this skin on your scalp becomes irritated and flakes off. If your scalp is dry, the skin on other parts of your body like arms, legs could be dry too. 

Dry scalp is caused due to the following factors. 

  1. Cold, dry air
  2. Older age
  3. Contact dermatitis- that is caused by a reaction to products, which you have applied on the scalp like shampoo, hairspray, or styling gel.

The skin cells on your scalp and body normally multiply when you need more. Then, they die and shred. In the condition of dandruff, skin cells on your scalp shred more quickly than usual. 

The main cause of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. It is the condition that turns the skin oily, red, and scaly. The white and yellow scales, flakes off, creating dandruff. You can get this condition anywhere you have oil glands, including eyebrows, groin, and armpits. In babies, this is called cradle cap

Often, a fungus called Malassezia causes dandruff. This fungus lives in your scalp. Some factors are the cause of the multiplication of fungus.

  1. Age
  2. Hormone
  3. Stress

Some people assume that dirty hair can cause dandruff but this is not the case. But if you don’t wash your hair often, the oily buildup can be the cause of flakes.

 In the case of dandruff VS dry scalp, you can distinguish dry scalp from flakes of dandruff by appearance. Dandruff flakes are bigger and they look oily. Both dry scalp and dandruff can make your scalp itchy. 


 Symptoms of dandruff vs dry scalp

 Let’s have a look at the main symptoms of each condition. 

  Dandruff Dry scalp
Oily, large flakes that may be yellow or white Yes
Smaller dry flakes
Itchy scalp Yes
Oily, red scaly skin Yes
Dry skin on other parts of your body


Seeing a doctor 

Initially, you can treat dandruff by yourself. Using an over the counter shampoo or dandruff shampoos. But if you have tried a dandruff shampoo for at least a month but the flakes haven’t improved, even they are getting worse. And you feel your skin on the scalp becomes red and swollen then you should immediately see a doctor. 

Your doctor will identify whether you have dandruff by observing your scalp and hair. 


You can prevent dandruff and dry scalp by following tips. 

  1. If you have dandruff, wash your hair often with an antidandruff shampoo. Make sure that to rinse out all the shampoo. 
  2. You should avoid using hair products that contain strong chemicals, like bleach and alcohol. These chemicals can dry out your scalp.
  3. You should also avoid using oily products that can build up on your scalp.
  4. You should expose your body and hair to the sun because shreds of evidence have revealed that ultraviolet light can control dandruff. 
  5. You should manage your stress with exercise, yoga, meditation, deep breathing. 

Treatment of Dandruff vs Dry Scalp 

For a dry scalp, you should wash with a gentle shampoo and then apply a moisturizing conditioner. There is one other way by which you can identify whether you have dry scalp or dandruff. Apply a light moisturizer to your scalp before going to bed. If the cause is dry scalp, the flakes will disappear once you shower the next morning. Hairstylists perform a scalp treatment in which they use steam as a source of moisturizer to your scalp.

Dandruff is not curable. Most people have to manage symptoms over the long term. Usually, the flakes come and go. However, treating dandruff with special shampoo can manage the situation. And they will prevent itching and flakiness. 

Mild dandruff 

If you have mild dandruff, you should wash your hair every day using a gentle shampoo. It will reduce the amount of oil on the scalp. But if your dandruff is severe and the regular shampoo doesn’t work, try a dandruff shampoo. This dandruff shampoo contains medicine that will kill fungus on your scalp and remove flakes. Here are some examples 

Pyrithione zinc ( Head and shoulders, Jason Dandruff Relief 2 in 1 )

It is an anti-fungal drug. It will kill the fungus on your scalp that causes flaking. It is a very gentle shampoo and can be used every day.

Selenium sulfide (Selsun blue)

It can reduce fungus and prevent skin cells from dying off. If you have blonde hair or you dye your hair then you should inform your doctor before using the Selsun blue because it will change the color of your hair. 

Ketoconazole (Nizoral)

It will kill the fungus that causes dandruff. 

Salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal)

it is very helpful in removing scales from your scalp before it makes flakes. In some people, salicylic acid can dry out the skin that will cause more flakes.

Coal tar (Neutrogena T/Sal)

It will slow the growth as well as shredding of skin cells on the scalp. Tar-based shampoo can also change your hair color if you have blonde hair.

Tea tree oil

It is an alternative remedy for dandruff. This is a natural ingredient having anti-fungal properties. An older study showed that 5% tea tree oil shampoo can reduce scaling without any side effects. You should consult the doctor before using this shampoo. And stop using the product if you have any redness or swelling. 


  1. People have no knowledge of the fact that fast hair growth shampoos (of course with no sulfates, no parabens and no DEA) are a thing. People now may have longer hair and achieve more options. Certainly worth searching.

    When you’re going over alopecia, damaged hair, preventing hair disorders, fast hair growth, hair health generally, almost the same thoughts become relevant.

    Generally, you want to avoid hair products and treatments that contain chemicals such as parabens, DEA or sulfates.

    What is healthy for your hair is healthy for your skin as well.

    Obviously your content above is spot on for various reasons. It avoids the usual mistakes and mistakes most fall into- using defective alternatives. Keep it up!


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