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Remedies for Dry Scalp

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 19, 2020

Dry scalp is a common medical condition where people experience dryness and itchiness of the scalp. It can cause dandruff or scaly and red patches of skin. Although it is common, doctors do not know the exact cause. However, it could be due to a combination of factors:

Additionally, dry scalp can be caused by a host of other underlying issues that can complicate the diagnosis and treatment.

The terms “dry scalp” and “dandruff” are often used interchangeably. That’s because both conditions cause similar symptoms of skin irritation and flaking skin. However, unlike dry scalp, dandruff can be the result of having too much oil build-up in the skin. Once that happens, the oil stops the normal shedding process of the dead skin cells in your scalp. That causes the cells to become visible, which is why people with dandruff start seeing white flakes crop up. 

Dandruff can also be caused by:

  • Lack of shampooing
  • Hair product sensitivity
  • Malassezia, a yeast-like fungus that feeds on scalp oils in adults

Other medical issues that might cause you to experience dry scalp include:

Scalp Psoriasis 

Scalp psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes inflammation, redness, and flaking in the scalp. It’s caused by the immune system malfunctioning, causing an overproduction of skin cells. These cells can develop over a matter of days or weeks. 

People with scalp psoriasis do not shed the excess skin cells, causing them to pile up on the surface and lead to dry scalp. People with scalp psoriasis also experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Red patches on the scalp
  • Cracking and bleeding dry scalp
  • Temporary hair loss
  • Burning or soreness
  • Itching
  • Flaking skin

Eczema (Atopic dermatitis)

Eczema causes a red, itchy rash to appear on different parts of the body, including the scalp. The condition is tied to a gene variation that interferes with the skin’s ability to protect itself from irritants, bacteria, and allergens. This condition can lead to other symptoms like: 

  • Dry skin
  • Irritated skin
  • Cracking or scaly skin
  • Small bumps on the skin that can leak
  • Patches of red- or brown-colored skin

Remedies and Treatments for Dry Scalp

When it comes to treating dry scalp, the remedies will vary depending on the root cause of the condition. Once you’ve received a diagnosis from a physician, they can determine the best remedy for dry scalp. Below you will find some of the most common dry scalp remedies along with treatments for related conditions. 

Dandruff Treatment

If your suspected dry scalp is actually dandruff, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend using one of the following kinds of medicated shampoo:

  • Pyrithione zinc shampoos — Contains the agent zinc pyrithione, an antifungal and antibacterial agent
  • Salicylic acid shampoos — Helps with healing scales on the scalp
  • Ketoconazole shampoos — Kills fungi that are living on your scalp
  • Tar-based shampoos — Slows the rate at which scalp skin cells start dying and flaking off
  • Selenium sulfide shampoos — Contain antifungal agent to help rid the scalp of fungi 

Let your physician know if you begin experiencing any of the following symptoms after trying a recommended product. They can be a sign that you are experiencing an allergic reaction:

Your doctor should be able to recommend an alternative product with more effectiveness and fewer side effects. They may also recommend that you try out a steroid lotion. 

Scalp Psoriasis Treatment

If scalp psoriasis is causing you to experience dry scalp, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Topical medication
  • Light therapy
  • Oral or injected medication to suppress the immune system

Scalp Eczema Treatment

A doctor or dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following treatments if they diagnose eczema as the cause of your dry scalp: 

  • Corticosteroids that reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics to fight infection on the skin
  • Creams to control itching and repair damage to the skin
  • Wet dressings to resolve severe scalp eczema
  • Light therapy 

When to See a Doctor

You may want to see a doctor if your dry scalp is causing consistent and significant discomfort that interrupts your daily life. Additionally, you might consult a doctor if you find yourself experiencing more severe symptoms of dry scalp like bleeding, cracking, or hair loss. A physician can determine if there is a more serious underlying medical issue present and help aid your discomfort. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Seborrheic Dermatitis.”

Journal of Investigative Dermatology: “Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review.”

Mayo Clinic: “Atopic dermatitis (eczema).”

Mayo Clinic: “Dandruff.”

Mayo Clinic: “Psoriasis - Diagnosis and treatment.”

Mayo Clinic: “Seborrheic dermatitis.”

MedlinePlus: “Seborrheic dermatitis.”

UCLA Health: “Scalp psoriasis.”

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