How To Treat Dry Scalp

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You may be surprised to know that dry scalp is the number one cause of a flaky scalp.

You may be more surprised to know that these flakes aren’t technically dandruff at all.

Confused?

Well you’re not alone.

The shampoo industry is too. The pictures you see on the shampoo commercials are almost always dry scalp rather than “dandruff”.

Whatever it is and whatever it’s called, treating a dry scalp is extremely straightforward.

You’ve come to the right place…

What causes a dry scalp

Dry scalp is your scalp feeling dehydrated and in need of some moisture. The root cause may be in the way you are washing or treating your hair.  There are many ways you can do this.  These include:

  • Washing your hair too much
  • Using a harsh shampoo that is stripping your hair of it’s natural oils
  • Using a shampoo you that irritates you or you’re even allergic to
  • Washing with water that’s too hot
  • Overusing the blow dryer
  • Overdoing the hair products
  • Improper use of hair-coloring products
  • Excessive use of your curling irons
  • Not rinsing well enough
  • Your bathing is too hard

If none of these seem familar there are other factors that can cause your scalp to dry out too:

  • Overexposure to sunlight
  • A sudden change in temperature, in particular cold, dry weather
  • Hormonal changes
  • A poor diet
  • Dehydration
  • Stress or anxiety

What are the symptoms of a dry scalp?

If you suffer from a dry scalp your scalp will feel tight and itchy.  Your hair will feel dry, lifeless and brittle. The dry scalp may be a symptom of some other chronic condition such as psoriasis but in the majority of cases your scalp simply needs moisture. You can tell if you have a dry scalp as your dandruff will be loose, small, white and grainy.  Remember the dandruff they show in the commercials is almost always dry scalp.  Dandruff from scalp psoriasis is typically large brittle silver flakes as opposed to small grains.  Dandruff from Serborrhoeic Dermatitis is typically yellow in color.  It also often feels oily and crusty.

How to treat dry scalp

Treating dry scalp is a very distinct process from treating regular dandruff and a few lifestyle changes will help alleviate the problem. Keeping yourself hydrated is the number one priority.  Drink plenty of water.

If you’re like my girlfriend then turning down the temperature gauge of your shower from “not fit for human” scalding to warm will also help.

Try to loosen the dead cells from your scalp prior to shampooing using a soft (preferably boar) bristle brush. Something like this is ideal.

You can always try to moisturize your scalp. There are a few treatments and approaches to this. Shea butter is one such approach and can be applied to the scalp and has been used for centuries as a natural moisturizer and medicine.  Use the unrefined Shea Butter for maximum effect. However, if you have seb derm I would avoid this completely – it is high in oleic acid which can trigger a seb derm outbreak.

Some people also find an oily diet helps. Try eating oily fish, walnuts and flax for omega-3s and liver, yeast, fortified grains and eggs for vitamin B7.

Finally, the choice of shampoo is absolutely key. Using a regular anti-dandruff shampoo to treat a dry scalp isn’t a good idea. Anti-dandruff shampoos are typically designed to control fungus on your scalp or inhibit the rate your skin regenerates.   If you have dandruff from a dry scalp these medicated shampoos will do no good at all.

Instead, you should start with a very gentle shampoo.  The shampoo should not contain harsh chemicals which either dry your scalp or cause contact dermatitis.  This is a where most people go wrong.  Most people aren’t aware what goes in their shampoos or what effect these chemicals can have on our scalps.

We monitor all our shampoos for over 90 harsh chemicals commonly found in shampoos.  Ideally, the shampoo should be specifically designed to moisturize your scalp. This will, in turn, relieve the itching and tightness in your head.

Luckily there are a number of great products on the market these days.

The best shampoos to treat a dry scalp

These shampoos are excellent starting points to control your dry scalp. They are much gentler than traditional shampoos and are far less likely to strip your scalp of its natural oils.

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Pharmaceutical Specialties formed in 1974 to “start a company to make better products than were commercially available for people with sensitive skin”. And boy, have they achieved it with this Free and Clear shampoo.

What is perhaps surprising on a website dedicated to dandruff treatments is that this isn’t a dandruff shampoo at all.

It’s rather a "a non-medicated, mild shampoo for sensitive skin and scalp.”

That said, we can’t use a medicated shampoo all the time, and this is my go to shampoo for those “between” washes.

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BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil is now part of my daily skin care routine. It’s as simple as that. I have lost count of the number of products I’ve reviewed over the years and I can count on one hand the number of products that have impacted me on this level.

If you suffer from dry skin, facial seb derm or rosacea I simply can’t recommend this product highly enough.

It even makes a good beard oil!

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Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo has been superbly formulated to soothe and moisturize the scalp and hair. The ingredients have been carefully selected to decrease the chance that the product will irritate the skin. Using multiple low dose surfactants is a stroke of genius and only the fact the shampoo contains only one potential contact allergen says it all.

This is as close to perfection as you get in the commercial shampoo world.

I simply can't recommend this highly enough.

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Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance Free Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance-Free Shampoo is an excellent gentle option for sufferers of a dry irritated scalp. The absence of any noteworthy irritants or allergens combined with the expert formulation of anti-inflammatory moisturizing ingredients makes an excellent change from the usual harsh surfactants and other toxins that lead to a vicious cycle of irritation and inflammation.

They've managed all of this in a shampoo that foams and washes well.

It's not particularly cheap, but this is simply one of the finest dry scalp shampoos out there.

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Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo is a combination shampoo containing both salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione.  The thinking behind this shampoo is that the salicylic acid will soften and exfoliate existing build up and the zinc pyrithione will help prevent new build up from forming.

I’m generally a big fan of combination shampoos and this is no exception.  The shampoo feels great, has a nice light smell and leaves the hair feeling extremely soft.  It only contains one known contact allergen too - cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seb derm I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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Tru Moroccan Repair Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

An impressive dry scalp treatment shampoo with an innovative formulation.

I have to applaud any company that can formulate a shampoo with so few allergens. The fact that it washes so well is marvelous. For those not sensitive to Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Phenoxyethanol or fragrances - this is an excellent shampoo.

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Eucerin Dermocapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

This dry scalp treatment isn’t a shampoo at all, but rather a leave on moisturizer that you apply to your hair after washing.

The advantage of this approach is that, while shampoos are designed to clean (and all the sensitizing issues that come with that) this treatment is designed to moisturize and nothing else.

You’re free to use the shampoo of your choice and us this treatment in combination.

It’s an excellent approach that I hope other manufacturers take notice of.

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Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo is an outstanding Tea Tree shampoo for treating Dry Scalp or Seb Derm. It doesn’t contain any artificial coloring or fragrance, sulfates, parabens, or carcinogens. It contains only three potential contact allergens, with two of the three being tea tree and rosemary essential oils.

The combination of cleansing agents used are gentle, effective and innovative while the shampoo smells ace and washes even better.

If you're looking for a tea tree shampoo, I can't recommend this highly enough.

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Cleure Volumizing Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Cleure Volumizing uses only a handful of skin conditioning agents and gentle cleansers to treat a dry scalp.

It contains only two potential irritants that should be considered low to moderate concerns, compared to other much harsher alternatives. This shampoo doesn’t use any sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, dyes, alcohol, salicylates, formaldehyde, or SLS, making it a good option for those with sensitive scalps who typically react to less gentle, conventional shampoo and other personal care products.

Unless you have severely sensitive skin and are highly reactive to any potential irritants, we suggest trying this shampoo from Cleure and seeing if it calms your sensitive skin, and helps to clear up any dryness and itchiness on your scalp.

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E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

E45 is a brand synonymous with dry skin care.

If you frequently get dry scalps after washing then this shampoo could be an excellent choice.

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La Roche-Posay Kerium Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

La Roche Posay is a combination shampoo, combining both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid. The Salicylic Acid will help exfoliate existing dandruff build up while the Piroctone Olamine is designed to prevent any new outbreaks. It’s a match made in heaven.

I can’t let a mention of a review pass without commenting on how luxurious this shampoo feels and smells when washing – better than any medicated shampoo I have ever tried. And I’ve tried lots!

There are a couple of harsh ingredients but compared to the majority of the shampoos on the market, this is a first class Piroctone Olamine shampoo.

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Pura Dor Argan Oil Scalp & Dandruff Treatment

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Pura's D'or Argan Oil shampoo features an interesting formula that combines traditional therapy and herbalism.

It wears a premium price tag, but it is truly a premium product.

The active ingredient in Pura's product is the familiar zinc pyrithione. It also includes aloe vera and grapefruit seed extract, which have antifungal and antioxidant properties, and a number of fragrant essential oils.

Normally, shampoos containing argan oil send up a red flag for people with seborrheic dermatitis. The oleic acid content can exacerbate the condition. However, the amount present determines the sensitivity level, and a little should have no impact.

After using the shampoo, we found that it delivered a great performance without producing adverse reactions.

If you're sensitive to fragrance, cocamidopropyl betaine or phenooxyethanol, you may want to steer clear of this shampoo, but for many dandruff sufferers, it can achieve complete control of symptoms while providing a pleasant and surprisingly sudsy washing experience along with reliable treatment results.

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Maple Holistics Sage Shampoo for Heavy Dandruff

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics has created an innovative and gentle shampoo using essential oils rather than traditional active ingredients to control dandruff. Despite being marketed as a sage shampoo, it actually contains a number of essential oils including tea tree, jojoba, sage, tea tree, rosemary, peach kernel and spikenard oils. The thick, white, pearly shampoo smells like tea tree oil mixed with other herbal notes. Considering its lack of sulfates, its foaming abilities are impressive, and it provides an excellent washing experience. Due to the inclusion of panthenol, it leaves your hair feeling extremely soft. Although older formulations contained undesirable ingredients, the only contact allergen listed in the current formula is cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seborrheic dermatitis or dry scalp, and you’re not sensitive to the fragrances in essential oils, this is a gentle, well-formulated shampoo that we highly recommend.

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Sebamed Everyday Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Sebamed is one of our favorite manufacturers and they've largely done it again.

All in all we recommend this shampoo, with reservations, for everyday use for normal skin, dry scalps, and sensitive skin. The reservations are the addition of 3 known contact allergens; Fragrance, Propylene Glycol and Phenoxyethanol.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many shampoos out there that gently clean the hair effectively and add shine and softness, without including a handful of potential irritants.

Compared to most on the market, Sebamed has done a good job.

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DHS Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

DHS Clear Shampoo is a decent shampoo to use between medicated shampoo washes, or if you are suffering from a dry scalp.

We say decent and not great because, although it has only a few ingredients, a significant portion are mild to medium contact allergens.

As such, we can't help but be mildly disappointed given the company's previous track record of producing the gentlest shampoos on the market.

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You can’t go wrong with any of our staff picks but we have plenty of other Dry Scalp treatment reviews for you to take a look at.

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