Dandruff or Dry Scalp?

By Steve Watson
September 20, 2020

In a few weeks the weather will change, bringing colder temperatures and drier air resulting in what many believe is dandruff. But is it dandruff or dry scalp?

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is an umbrella word used to describe skin flakes in the hair that can be caused by a number of conditions. Dandruff is often accompanied by itching of the scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis, ringworm, eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis and cradle cap are all causes of dandruff.

The Uniqueness of Dandruff

Dandruff is an overproduction of skin cells, which can result from a number of causes. Those causes can be due to the body’s own immune systems, such as psoriasis, or external causes such as the fungus, malassezia, that is present on most scalps. Where dandruff is caused by malassezia the by-product of the fungus reacting with the skin’s oil (sebum) irritates the scalp, causing an overproduction of skin cells. This type of dandruff is usually indicated by large, thick, yellowish, oily flakes.

This post isn’t to discuss the subject of dandruff so much as to raise awareness that, often, a flakey scalp due to dry skin is often confused for dandruff. The difference between dandruff and dry scalp is the rate at which the body produces skin cells. With dry scalp the skin cells are produced at a normal rate resulting in smaller, lighter and whiter flakes.

Confusing Dry Scalp for Dandruff

Before reaching for the Head & Shoulders or other dandruff shampoos it’s worth considering other options first.

A dandruff shampoo might provide a solution to skin flakes caused by a dry scalp but doing so is like treating a headache caused by sinus congestion with paracetamol. It’s better to treat the congestion than the headache.

Causes of Dry Scalp

Dry scalp is common during the winter months when the humidity in the air is low. Cold air can’t suspend the same amount of moisture as warm air, drawing the moisture from the skin, causing dryness. The air in colder seasons feels damp because the moisture condenses and drops out, however, the actual humidity levels are lower than warmer seasons.

Aggressive shampoos or hair products – particularly products containing alcohol such as hair spray or cheap gels – can also strip the natural oils from the scalp. Failing to rinse shampoo or conditioner from the hair will leave a residue on the scalp that can also exacerbate dry scalp.

Treating Dry Scalp

Keep hydrated. This is surely the first action to be addressed. If your water intake is low then other remedies aren’t going to be as effective as they could be. Drink the recommended amount of water (1.5 to 2 litres per day) to maintain a healthy balance.

Use a mild shampoo. Choose a shampoo with added oil such as coconut oil or shampoos excluding parabens and sulphites. The ManCave shampoo (sold in my salon) “hydrates and moisturises the hair and scalp with Vitamin E and Shea Butter while preventing dryness and itchiness with soothing Panthenol”.

The ManCave Caffeine Shampoo is a modern formula shampoo that gently cleanses and helps to strengthen hair with natural active ingredients.

The natural formula gel helps to encourage hair stimulation with Caffeine whilst cleansing and revitalising hair and scalp with L’Arginine and Shea Butter leaving roots stronger.

Rinse out shampoo well. No more to say.

Use warm water. Turn the temperature down a little. Water which is too hot will strip the oils from the scalp.

Hair products containing alcohol. Avoid hair products with alcohol content such as hair spray or cheap gels.

If Flakes Continue to Appear

If flakes continue to appear and are accompanied with itching then consider using an anti-dandruff shampoo.

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Steve Watson
Author and founder of Watson's barber's
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