Dandruff vs Dry Scalp - Difference, Symptoms, & How to deal with it

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp - Difference, Symptoms, & How to deal with it

Dandruff and Dry scalp, two of the most common conditions that are often considered as the same thing; but in reality, are quite the opposite. Dandruff is a scalp condition that we recognize by flakes on the scalp.

It is the same thing we used to enjoy, scratching our head from time to time and end up covering our shoulders with white particles.

Definitely, not the proudest of moments one can imagine!

But what if we told you, the itchiness you have on your scalp isn't necessarily dandruff? It could be because of dry scalp, which in this case, follows the same symptoms. A dry scalp, by contrast, occurs when your scalp does not hold or produce the required moisture.

Understanding the difference between dandruff and dry scalp can help with choosing the right treatment.

To discover what is the difference, keep reading as in this post, we have shared everything you need to know about dry scalp and dandruff, their difference, and how to best move forward with your scalp in mind.

What is dandruff and why it does not go, for good?

dandruff on shoulder

Dandruff is an uncommon condition, caused by a microbe, a form of fungal infection, that can be found on almost all types of scalps of the global population. But before you freak out, 50% of the population has a reaction to this fungus.

But what does this reaction do? To answer this, we might have to get a bit technical. Dandruff is a form of seborrheic dermatitis, a common noncontagious condition, that just like we said, can be found on almost all types of scalps. But seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff are two different things.

Seborrheic dermatitis occurs when there is inflammation, dryness, flakiness, greasy scales on the scalp - Which can be itchy. Dandruff, which we often see flake off from our scalp, is an excess pressing of these greasy lipids and oils, trap on the scalp skin layer forming a sort of fungus.

Read More: How to get rid of dry, dead skin on feet?

Therefore, if you have an oily scalp and have a very large area of yellowish or white flakes surrounding the scalp area, then you might have dandruff. But it doesn't have to be always caused by your genetics or some sort of fungus, dandruff can also happen because of stress and most of the time, irritation from hair care products.

What is a dry scalp, and how is it different from dandruff?

As the name suggests, a dry scalp occurs when your scalp skin doesn't get enough oil to make it feel lubricated. Like other forms, this can result in flaking, irritation, and itching. Furthermore, it can also make your hair look dry, as there is no oil present to condition the hair.

However, unlike dandruff, dry scalp isn't associated with all the folks in the world. The main reason why it happens is for two reasons:

  • People with dry skin often have dry scalp
  • Usage of unnecessary or chemically mixed haircare products

When it comes to moisturizing your hair, remember, the ongoing cycle of washing your scalp drains down the natural hydration. What's more, the shampoo you use also plays a vital role here - Sulfates being the top of the ingredient can cause damage to your hair, make it itchy, and develop signs of dandruff.

Symptom chart of dandruff vs dry scalp

Following is a comparison of each condition:



Dry Scalp

oily, scaly, red skin



oily, large flakes that are white or yellow



itchy scalp



dry skin



dry, smaller flakes




How to best deal with Dandruff vs Dry scalp?

dandruff and dry scalp

Now that we know what is the main difference between both terms, it is recommended to follow the right treatment for each, as alternate results might happen if you’re not careful.

However, if you've gotten this far and know what type of condition you have on your scalp, here are some tips that you can follow to get over these.


  1. Use a Sulfate-free Shampoo

Sulfates, if you don't know about these are chemical ingredients used in products like shampoo, soap, and toothpaste. It is made of surfactants and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), a common ingredient made of water and oil to create a "foam-based". Now the reason why we don't recommend you to use a sulfate product is that they are too effective at removing dirt from your hair.

Also Read: Sulfate in Shampoo - Why you should avoid it?

Remember the greasy hair we talked about? Your scalp needs moisturization to survive. And if you wash it too often with a product that contains sulfates, it can cause dryness and make your scalp itchy and ruff. Sulfate-free products, on the other hand, are free from SLS and are often made of natural ingredients like essential oils to provide maximum benefits to your scalp.

  1. Use natural hair dye

Synthetic hair dyes are made with chemical ingredients like PPD and ammonia that, on paper are used to make your hair shiny and last longer, but in reality, do more damage to your hair than any good.

Natural hair dye, such as henna, on the other hand, is made with plant-based ingredients that are free from harmful chemicals and contain many hair care benefits.

  1. Use essential oils

There are a lot of essential oils such as tea tree, argan oil, marula oil, and jojoba oil that contain anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. These oils can be directly applied to your scalp and can help rebalance the lost shine and moisturization. Furthermore, you can also mix these oils with your regular hair treatment, conditioner, shampoos, and hair masks.

  1. Exfoliate your scalp before wash, especially in winters

In winter, when there’s less moisture in the air, our scalp becomes dry. One of the best and easiest ways to help with this is to exfoliate your scalp. But how can one do this? Well, exfoliation falls into a lot of categories; herbal hair mask, use of essential oil, hairbrush, or a spa treatment. Just detangle your hair before going to shower and wash it.

  1. Don't take too much stress

Seriously though, sometimes the only thing you can do is to not stress out. Try to be relaxed, listen to your favorite music, spend some time on entertainment and start the exercise. Just remember: The calmer you are, the less you have hair or skin problems.

Dry Scalp

dry scalp
  1. Again, switch to sulfate-free shampoo

Sulfate-free shampoo is a mixture of natural ingredients that are safe for your regular hair usage. Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo & conditioner will result in fewer hair problems and overall improved hair condition.

  1. Use a gentle conditioner

Since a dry scalp is due to irritation, the use of harsh shampoo and conditioner can further damage it. When looking for a gentle shampoo or conditioner, make sure it's sulfate-free and doesn't contain any harmful chemicals.

  1. Wash less often

The more you wash your hair, the more the scalp's natural oils will drain out. That said, try to wash your hair less often to let your natural scalp hair oil work its magic. Only wash your hair daily, if it's dirty or if you live in a humid environment. When going out, make sure to cover your hair with a scarf.

  1. Visit your healthcare professional

Sometimes, all you need is your dermatologist to figure out what is wrong with your scalp. Your doctor can best diagnose your scalp and tell you the symptoms why it happened. Upon careful analysis, they can pinpoint the right products for your need.

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Good to know!


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