Why Is My Scalp So Dry?Why Is My Scalp So Dry?

Why Is My Scalp So Dry?

Dealing with a dry scalp is one of the most annoying hair care problems. When your scalp has too little moisture, you'll suffer from all kinds of unpleasant symptoms, including flaking skin, and an itchy scalp.

Below, here's a comprehensive guide to solving your dry scalp problems — from the causes of scalp skin dryness to the steps you can take to treat it. Read on to learn everything you need to know about what might be causing your dry scalp, plus the must-have products you really need to help your hair stay healthy and grow stronger from the scalp to the roots.

What Causes Scalp Dryness?

There are many factors that can contribute to having a dry scalp, but according to a certified trichologist and cosmetologist Tosha Holmes, they all share one thing in common: "Scalp dryness occurs when the sebaceous glands of the scalp become inactive," she said.

We tend to think of excess oil buildup as a bad thing, but your hair needs sebum to help the skin cells at the scalp stay healthy. The natural oils produced by your scalp are responsible for keeping the dead skin that creates dandruff at bay, but they're also critical for the overall appearance and softness of your strands, keeping hair hydrated and reducing the appearance of those pesky white flakes. If your sebaceous glands are underperforming, your scalp will be dry.

Holmes said that the causes behind sebaceous gland inactivity could include multiple factors. "It can be due to an autoimmune disorder (i.e. seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis), poor diet or hormonal changes (chemotherapy or major surgery)," she said. "It can also occur with changes in the environment, moving from a humid area to a drier one."

Any underlying skin condition or other health conditions that cause dry skin could be to blame for those dead skin cells, including scalp psoriasis, a fungal infection, a contact dermatitis rash caused by an allergic reaction or even scalp ringworm, otherwise known as tinea capitis. If you spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection, those flakes might even be precancerous cells.

But just because you have a dry scalp doesn't mean that you have one of these disorders. Hair expert Lauren Holland said that there are many environmental factors that can cause dehydration, leading to a flaky scalp. "Scalp dryness can also be caused by environmental factors such as wind or sun exposure, which can cause the scalp to become dried out and irritated," she said. "When the skin is dehydrated, it becomes tight and loses its ability to retain moisture. This can lead to a dry scalp and flaky skin."

Exposure to extremely cold weather, overly warm weather, low humidity and unprotected sun exposure can cause scalp dryness. People who live in cold climates and use indoor heating are more likely to experience a dry scalp, as are those whose scalps are impacted by lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol or using drying heat treatments and hair accessories or harsh shampoos.

Read More: How to Get Rid of Dry Scalp

The Different Types of Scalp Dryness

Because a dry scalp can be caused by so many factors, there are various degrees of dryness that someone dealing with a dry scalp might experience.

"The three most common degrees of scalp dryness are mild, moderate and severe," explained Holland. "Mild scalp dryness is indicated by a feeling of tightness or itchiness in the scalp. There could be a few flakes of skin present, but the overall amount of dandruff is minimal. Moderate scalp dryness is characterized by an increased sense of itchiness and tightness, as well as more flaking skin. In severe cases, the scalp will be extremely itchy and inflamed, and there may be thick patches of scaling skin."

However severe your scalp dryness is, Holmes said that the way dryness impacts the appearance of your hair is universally negative. "Having a dry scalp can cause the hair to be lifeless and lackluster," she said. "In severe cases, with itching, excessive scratching can cause small abrasions on the scalp causing scarring and leading to alopecia. It can also cause hair to thin, break or be shorter in areas from excessive scratching."

When your scalp is dry, your whole head suffers, regardless of your hair type. Treating a dry scalp not only cuts down on embarrassing flakes and uncomfortable itching, but also helps your hair look healthier, happier and fuller.

Read More: Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp: What's the Difference?

How to Care for a Dry Scalp

Because of these various degrees of severity and the many causes behind scalp dryness, no one scalp treatment will be right for everyone suffering from a dry scalp.

Use a Dandruff Shampoo

Those experiencing dryness due to a skin condition should use a dandruff shampoo with active ingredients like salicylic acid, coal tar or selenium sulfide. If your case requires medical intervention, a dermatologist might treat dandruff with topical medications, offer patch testing or even apply liquid nitrogen to eliminate precancerous cells.

Shampoo Less Frequently

However, if your scalp dryness is caused by environmental factors and your product routine, Holmes said that making adjustments can end your dry scalp problems.

"Excessive use of products can cause irritation (contact dermatitis) which can lead to dryness," she explained. "I recommend clients to shampoo no more than twice a month. If they feel as if they have to do it weekly, I recommend rinsing the hair and scalp and using a low to no-sud shampoo just to remove the surface oil and debris."

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Use a Dry Shampoo Between Washes

Using a hair health-supporting dry shampoo between wash days can help you stay fresh without stressing out your strands. And make sure that the water isn't too hot! Extreme temperature variations will further dry out your skin.

Use a Gentle Shampoo and Conditioner

If your scalp tends to be dry, it's a good idea to wash your hair with a moisturizing shampoo a few times a week at most, using a product designed to gently cleanse and nourish your strands. "A general rule of thumb for products is that the first two to three ingredients make up the majority of the product being used," said Holmes. "Products that are moisturizing have water, aloe or glycerin as part of their main ingredients and will prevent dryness."

Treat Your Hair With Care

If you're already using a gentle shampoo and rinsing with warm water, Holmes said that the water itself might be to blame. "Test at-home water pH and whether it is hard or soft. Hard water usually contains excessive minerals that can cause buildup on the scalp and hair, causing blockage to the follicle, which can lead to hair loss as well," she said.

Holland added that making sure your environment is as hair friendly as possible is the best way to make sure your scalp stays healthy. "Use a gentle shampoo and conditioner that are sulfate-free," she said, "And avoid using too many products on your hair. Let your hair air dry whenever possible to avoid heat damage and use a thermal protector when using heat tools on your hair."

If you're in a cold climate, take extra precautions to prevent dryness. "Use a humidifier in the wintertime to add moisture to the air," said Holland. This tip is also great for the overall health of your hair, skin and scalp.

Whatever the causes behind your dry scalp, Holland said it's critical to address them ASAP. "A dry scalp creates a less-optimal environment for hair growth," she said. "Dry hair is often frizzy or curly, as the lack of moisture causes the proteins in the hair shaft to bend and stretch out. Over time, this can lead to permanent damage and even hair loss. The best way to prevent these problems is by using a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner and avoiding excessive heat styling and harsh chemicals."

The Products To Keep a Dry Scalp at Bay

Dealing with a dry scalp can be stressful, especially if you struggle with flakiness or other visible manifestations of your dehydrated skin. By making lifestyle changes and being mindful of how you treat your strands, you'll be able to soothe that stressed-out skin.

Whatever the causes of your dry scalp, switching to a more scalp-supportive hair care routine can be a game changer. Investing in products designed to nourish and soothe your scalp is the best thing you can do to keep a dry scalp at bay, tackling your dry scalp problems and setting you up for better hair days to come.


Photo credit: Ron Lach/Pexels

Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.