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Dry Scalp Causes: 5 Causes You Should Know

Written by Ross Goodhart
Dry Scalp Causes: 5 Causes You Should Know

What works for your friend may cause you damage. What worked for you in the summer may fall short in the winter. Long story short, keeping your scalp healthy is an ongoing process that most of us will recalibrate throughout our lives.

The good news? There are lots of solutions for even the most frustrating issues. Today, let’s talk about dry scalp.

While most cases of dry scalp are nothing to worry about, those who have struggled with chronic dryness know how frustrating and irritating it can be. A dry scalp can put a damper on your whole day, from the itching to the flaking to the irritation.

But why does it happen? And what can we do to help alleviate it?

We’re here to help answer your questions and offer some tips and tricks on rehydrating your scalp.

A Reminder on Dandruff and Dry Scalp

Before we get into the details of dry scalp, let’s talk about what makes it distinct from dandruff because they sometimes have similar symptoms, like white flakes and an itchy scalp.

Dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a scalp condition in which oily build-up of skin cells flakes off. If you’re wearing dark colors or have dark hair, these flakes are usually visible.

Scientists are still not really sure why dandruff happens, but we know that when it does, it’s usually accompanied by an overgrowth of the fungus Malassezia on your scalp’s sebaceous glands.

Malassezia is supposed to be on your skin — it’s an important and natural part of your scalp’s microbiome — but when there’s too much of it, it leads to a feeding frenzy for the fungus.

Contrastingly, dry scalp simply describes a lack of moisture in the skin on your head. This can and does lead to flaking, but the flakes tend to be lighter and less oily.

If you’ve ever scraped your skin while it’s dry and seen small flakes rise off the surface, then you can recognize a dry scalp.

Both conditions can be irritating, but the treatment avenues are fairly different. Make sure you’re aware of what’s causing your itching before trying to alleviate it.

Trust us, it’ll save you a lot of trial and error.

What Causes a Dry Scalp?

So, if you’ve concluded that you have a dry and flaking scalp on your hands, let’s talk about why that might be happening.

1. Dehydration

The term dry scalp inherently describes the issue. A dry scalp is, simply put, deprived of moisture. The top layers of our skin act as a natural border that helps protect it from external factors.

When that border is weakened or damaged, it’s less effective in sealing in moisture. As a result, we’ll start to see skin crack up and flake. The scalp is no exception.

Dehydration of the scalp is generally related to the hair care products you’re using and the ingredients they contain.

Hair products that contain sulfates are generally effective at cleansing your scalp. However, they often go too far in the cleansing process and actually strip your hair and scalp of the natural oils that help maintain balance and moisture, leading to scalp dryness. Most mass-produced shampoos contain sulfates, it’s worth taking a look at the ingredients on your shampoo bottle before your next wash.

2. Overwashing

Everyone’s hair is different, so it’s no wonder that hair care is not one-size-fits-all. If your scalp is naturally oily, you may need to wash your hair more regularly to keep it looking and feeling clean. If your scalp is naturally drier, you should work more time between washes, so your hair’s natural oils are given time to come through.

If you overwash your hair, especially with products that do more harm than good, you risk dehydrating the scalp and consequently suffering from dryness.

3. Weather Changes

If you live in a climate that experiences seasons, this next cause will be no surprise to you. Changes of weather can have a massive impact on the quality and health of our scalp.

In the summer, the air is more humid and carries more moisture. As a result, so does your skin. When the air turns arid and cold with low humidity in the winter, your skin takes a similar trajectory. This in turn can impact your scalp, causing it to feel dry, itchy, and flaky.

4. Diet

We know, we know, you’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. Drink more water!

Not drinking enough H2O is a classic cause of dry skin. There’s even more to it than that, though. Your diet also significantly impacts the health of your skin. You really are what you eat.

Some foods will make your skin very happy. Others, not so much. Sugar, alcohol, and common allergens like gluten and dairy can be triggers that dry out your skin and lead to serious flaking.

5. Skin Conditions

More often than not, a dry scalp is a simple issue that can be solved with a few changes. Sometimes though, it’s a symptom of a larger issue, which is the case with certain skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis.

If you’ve ever scraped your skin while it’s dry and seen small flakes rise off the surface, then you can recognize a dry scalp.

How to Treat Your Dry Scalp

We hope that outline was useful in helping you understand what’s going with your scalp and what might be causing any irritation. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t give you the causes without offering some solutions. That’s not how we do things around here.

1. Dehydration

Simply put, the best solution for dealing with dehydration is to, well, rehydrate!

Go through the products in your hair care routine and make sure they’re all sulfate-free — our Nourishing Conditioner doesn’t have any of that junk, and in addition to bringing moisture back to your scalp, it also leaves your hair looking silky smooth.

You can even take it one step further and do a deep-conditioning treatment to pay extra attention to restoring moisture on the scalp.

2. Overwashing

To know your hair is to love your hair, so start taking steps to understand your natural skin and hair type. Our quiz can help you determine your hair type and scalp condition, and point you in the right direction for products to help remedy a dry scalp.

Once you have a working knowledge of your specific hair needs, you can build a routine of washing that won’t dry out your scalp.

3. Weather Changes

We can’t exactly prevent seasons from changing, but we can better prepare for those changes.

In the winter, try placing a humidifier in your bedroom so you can spend at least those precious eight hours in an environment that more closely mirrors the summer months. Set it to around 60% moisture to help restore your skin’s top layers.

Otherwise, accessories are your friends. In the summer, protect your scalp from sunburn with SPF and sun hats. In the winter, tuck your hair into woolen hats and regularly moisturize to avoid frizz.

4. Diet

In addition to limiting the foods we mentioned above — everything in moderation — there are a number of foods you can introduce to your diet to keep your scalp happy and healthy. Foods rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids are great for your skin. Fish, flaxseed, yogurt, and nuts will all help keep your skin strong.

On the topic of diet, we also want to advise against crash diets as they can cause your body stress, which is the ultimate enemy when it comes to the health of our entire body, not just our skin. You only get one body. Treat it kindly.

5. Skin Conditions

If you suspect you’re experiencing psoriasis or eczema, the first step towards a solution is to talk to your dermatologist. They can help you develop a treatment plan that will reduce the number of flare-ups and rough patches you’re seeing.

It can be tempting to seek out home remedies and DIY scalp treatment methods, but we always recommend trusting the experts when it comes to something as crucial as your scalp.

Restore Your Hair’s Moisture

Dry scalp is the worst. Okay, maybe not the worst, but it’s up there.

It’s only made better by how treatable it is. With the right conditioner, preventative steps, overhauled washing routines, and a few fish dinners a week, your scalp can be back to normal in no time.

As always, find what works for you.

Nourishing Conditioner
Nourishing Conditioner

All scalps can use a little TLC. Our daily conditioner is packed with luxe ingredients that’ll leave your hair feeling silky fresh, while working behind the scenes to soothe and moisturize. With notes of mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender, it’s a conditioner not of this world. Use after washing with our Balancing Shampoo.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.