Home Remedies for Dry Scalp

woman scratching her head

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Scratching your head could mean you are lost in thought—or it could mean that you are suffering from a dry scalp. A dry scalp is uncomfortable, often leading to itching and flaking, and can also cause embarrassment.

While there are different causes that create a dry scalp, it is a very common affliction. It is estimated that dandruff, one of the leading causes of a dry scalp, affects approximately half of the global adult population.

Reasons for Dry Scalp

Short-term dryness and itchiness can be caused by a variety of reasons. For instance, some people get an itchy dry scalp due to an allergic reaction to things like hair dyes, hair care products, and detergent. Normally, the itchiness goes away on its own once the product is no longer being used. Here are some other common causes of dry scalp.

Dandruff

Dandruff, which is the most common reason for dry scalp, is rarely a serious condition and does not usually need to be treated by a doctor. Caused by irritated, oily, or dry skin, sensitivity to hair care products, or as a symptom of other skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, dandruff produces loose skin flakes on the scalp.

These loose skin flakes cause the scalp to feel itchy. What's more, it tends to flare up during periods of stress and during cold, dry weather.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a more severe form of dandruff that also causes a dry scalp, as well as itchiness, flaking, redness, scaly patches, and soreness. It mainly affects the scalp but can also affect oily areas of the body such as the face, sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears, eyelids, and chest.

Scalp Psoriasis and Eczema

Scalp psoriasis presents similarly to seborrheic dermatitis and also causes a dry scalp. The symptoms can be difficult to discern from seborrheic dermatitis, so you might want to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

Eczema, which ​​causes red, dry, bumpy, and itchy patches of skin, as well as cracking of the skin in more serious cases, can also affect the scalp. While these skin conditions are not pleasant and can make you feel self-conscious, they are manageable and are not contagious. 

Head Lice

Ringworm and head lice are contagious conditions that cause an itchy scalp. Ringworm is a fungal infection that can be treated with topical ointment in most places on the skin but will require an oral medication to treat on the scalp. Contact a healthcare professional if you have an itchy, round, raised rash on your head.

While head lice are more common among children, they can affect anyone. Nits—the eggs of lice—may look like dandruff but they are not easily removed. Avoid close contact or sharing clothes, pillows, towels, and brushes with others if you believe you have either of these conditions.

Home Remedies for Dry Scalp

In many instances, a dry scalp can be treated with home remedies. Some options include over-the-counter (OTC) treatments‚ as well as natural remedies and diet changes. More than $300 million is spent annually on OTC products to treat scalp itching and flaking, so there is a lot to choose from.

Keep in mind that a dry scalp can be treated but, depending on its underlying cause, not necessarily cured. When it comes to dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin conditions, they are intermittent and chronic—meaning the condition comes and goes over long periods of time. However, they can be managed and recurrence can be minimized. Here are some options.

Use Special Shampoo

Anti-itch and anti-dandruff shampoos are frequently-used solutions for dry scalp. While there are prescription-strength options available, there are many available in the shampoo aisle that could work for you. Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis shampoos are classified according to the medication they contain, and each type attacks the problem in a different way.

You might have to try a couple of different kinds to find the one that works best for you or you can alternate between types so one doesn’t lose effectiveness.

Selenium and zinc pyrithione are common ingredients of such shampoos, and they work to control yeast, which is often the cause of dandruff. The body’s inflammatory response to an overgrowth of yeast causes the itching and flaking associated with these conditions. Yeast always lives on the scalp and other hairy areas of the body, but problems arise when there is too much of it.

Another common type of anti-dandruff shampoo is tar-based shampoo. While it might sound weird, coal tar slows how quickly skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. Beware when using this type of shampoo. It may make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight, and it may also cause discoloration in light-colored hair.

Additional types of shampoo include those containing salicylic acid to help eliminate scaling, ketoconazole to kill dandruff-causing fungi that live on your scalp, and a corticosteroid to help control itching, flaking, and irritation.

When using any medicated shampoo follow the directions on the bottle and discontinue use if symptoms worsen or you develop new ones. Speak with a healthcare provider if these shampoos do not work.

Find the Right Hair Care Routine

Special shampoo is not the only way to update your hair routine when soothing a dry scalp. Depending on the cause of your condition, you might be washing too much—or too little. If you have oily skin, the buildup may lead to itchiness and dandruff, and frequent shampooing can help prevent this. However, if you have dry or sensitive skin, using shampoo less often can help prevent a dry scalp.

Avoid hair products that contain alcohol, particularly if your dry scalp is a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis, as it can cause it to flare up. Also limit your hair styling products as well, since the oils in the products can build up, which can actually lead to excessive dryness and itchiness.

Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress affects your overall health, and many skin conditions have a tendency to flare up when your stress level spikes. This is especially the case for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

Flare-ups can be ignited or worsened when you are under stress.

Managing stress also will help stabilize the immune system and keep both flakes and itchiness under control. Methods of controlling and reducing stress levels will differ, but commonly recommended options include meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, or whatever helps you to relax.

Increase Hydration

Hydration is important to achieve healthy skin (and overall health) and it is particularly important to keep up when your skin is dry. Keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, and increase your intake during warmer months and when you are doing activities that make you sweat.

It is possible that your skin is dry because the air around you is dry. This is more common during colder months, but depending on your skin’s sensitivity, it can affect you any time of year. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home to help hydrate your skin.

Smoking can also impact your hydration levels. Although smoking has many negative effects on the entire body, contributing to dry skin is just one more reason to quit if you are a smoker. Nicotine reduces blood flow, which dries out your skin. This applies to both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

Regulate Sun Exposure

Regulating sun exposure can be tricky because there are two sides to the coin. Depending on the cause of your dry skin it might be best to get more sun or less sun.

If you have naturally dry skin, then you will want to minimize sun exposure on your scalp because it can evaporate the moisture and oils that your body naturally produces.

However, if your dry scalp is a result of dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, the sun can actually help control the condition. In fact, the sun’s UV-A and UV-B light have been shown to kill the type of yeast that overgrows on the skin of people who get seborrheic dermatitis.

Time spent in the sun should still be moderate, and sunscreen should be applied on any exposed skin to protect from sunburns. And if you are using a tar-based shampoo to help with the condition remember that it makes your scalp more sensitive to sunlight.

Maintain Nutrient Intake

While research on the relationship between vitamins and minerals and dry scalp is still slim, there are suggestions that being deficient in zinc and B vitamins may lead to dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis in particular. Consuming foods high in zinc and B vitamins can help prevent dry scalp resulting from these conditions.

Omega-3s (fatty acids) also can help regulate the skin’s oil production. A lack of oil because of an omega-3 deficiency can lead to a general dry scalp and dandruff. Fish oil is high in omega-3 and taking supplements can help stimulate oil production to control dandruff and alleviate dry skin.

Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The anti-inflammatory diet is a nutrition plan for a long-term eating pattern to achieve and sustain health and well-being. There are many reasons to consider an anti-inflammatory diet, but it is also considered an effective method for keeping seborrheic dermatitis under control because seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition.

Consequently, your condition may improve when dietary choices include foods that inhibit inflammation rather than promote it.

While there are different approaches, this eating plan typically features a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish, while avoiding inflammatory foods like certain vegetable oils, foods containing trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, processed foods, and added sugar. White and wheat flour should be limited or avoided entirely and caffeine, red wine, and dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

Apply Oils and Gels

Tea tree oil, which comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree, has been a popular alternative medicine. For centuries, it was used as an antiseptic, antibiotic, and antifungal agent. Another use is to alleviate a dry scalp by way of controlling dandruff. More evidence is needed, but some studies have shown that it can be effective.

The oil may cause allergic reactions in some people, so be sure to do a patch test before using it all over your scalp.

Another option is aloe vera gel. Although there is not 100% conclusive evidence that aloe vera can treat dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, the gel does have anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be applied directly to the scalp to soothe dryness, redness, and itchiness.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

There are occasions when dry scalp warrants a visit with a healthcare provider. Here are some reasons to make an appointment:

  • If you have been using over-the-counter shampoos and have not noticed a difference.
  • If the itching keeps you up at night and/or affects your day-to-day functioning.
  • If you see lice or nits in your hair.
  • If the itchy spots are sore to the touch.

Your doctor will also have input for which home remedies may work best depending on the underlying causes of your dry scalp. A dry scalp can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and even embarrassing, but there are many at-home treatments that can control and alleviate your symptoms.

A Word from Verywell

If are plagued with dry scalp, you may want to experiment with changing your diet and your haircare routine. You also want to be sure you are hydrating and eating a nutrient-rich diet. If dry scalp continues to be an issue, talk with a healthcare provider. They can offer suggestions as well as a treatment plan if you have something more than just a run-of-the-mill dry scalp.

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9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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