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The ultimate 2020 guide to relieving a dry, itchy scalp

Written by Robbie Salter

Reviewed by Julie Karen, M.D.

Dealing with a dry, itchy scalp is just about the least fun thing one could imagine. And it’s adding insult to injury when that turns into visible flaking on your brand new black sweater.

Embarrassing? Maybe a touch. But it’s more in your head than what’s on your head.  Dandruff and itchy scalp are incredibly common issues, and contrary to popular belief, dandruff is not generally driven by poor personal hygiene. 

While it can’t be cured, there are simple and convenient ways to manage it. Here’s what you need to know…

What is dandruff?

First off, what is dandruff? In short, dandruff is the flaking that results from the irritation of your scalp - this flaking is often triggered by dry scalp, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis and other skin conditions. It’s an incredibly common condition that affects at least 50% of the population, and is universally loathed.

Those pesky white flakes that show up on your dark clothing? Those are simply dead skin cells flaking off your scalp (or pulled off by itching one’s scalp).

Conditions that cause dandruff

A whole host of conditions (both personal and environmental) can cause the irritation that leads to flaking and itching.  Below are some of the most common conditions you should know about - however, a general rule of thumb is that if you have other symptoms in addition to a flaky scalp, it’s probably a good idea to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. Without further ado:

Dry Scalp

Typically, the skin of the scalp is lubricated by natural oils. When these oils are inadequate - due to weather fluctuations, changes in a person’s diet or haircare routine, or otherwise - the scalp dries out. When the scalp is dry, it can become itchy, red, and inflamed. It might even start to flake.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis mostly affects your scalp, typically causing severe dandruff (although sometimes might involve only minor flaking), but it can also cause scaly and red skin on your face, chest, and back. Anywhere your skin contains sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands), cell buildup can cause flaking and itching.

The underlying cause is thought to be a fungus that feeds off the oil produced by your se baceous glands called Malassezia.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that impacts a variety of biological systems in your body, including the musculoskeletal system (which supports/controls your body’s stability and movement) and the immune system (which protects your body against infection). Psoriasis is often identified by irritated patches of scaly skin. And scalp psoriasis, in particular, often causes your hair and scalp to flake and produces irritable, oily skin. If you notice a dandruff shampoo isn't helping with your flakes, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist to understand if scalp psoriasis is at play.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a blanket term for the itchy rash that results when you come into contact with something that you’re allergic to. And while rashes typically crop up in the form of conditions like eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) or psoriasis, all kinds of products and fungi can cause allergic reactions.

Especially for people with sensitive skin, an irritated scalp could be the result of an allergy. If you use hair dye, cosmetic scalp treatments, shampoo with a fragrance, and other skin and hair products, these could be to blame for your itchiness. 

Scalp Pruritus

The term scalp pruritus simply refers to an itchy scalp. It can happen as a result of scalp psoriasis and other dandruff conditions, or in response to ingredients in your shampoo or haircare products. It may accompany other ailments like alopecia areata, which is a type of hair loss. 

Tinea Capitis

Tinea capitis, commonly known as ‘ringworm of the scalp,’ is another fungal condition that causes flaking and scalp itch. Unlike other skin reactions, ringworm is highly contagious and is more commonly experienced by children. It also involves other symptoms, and is perhaps most recognizable by smooth patterns/sections of hair loss, damaged hair, black dots near the follicle, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.

Can I cure my dandruff?

There’s no true cure for dandruff, but proactive scalp care can help. Finding itch relief is usually a priority, but you’ll want a solution that gets rid of those flakes, too. That’s why a medicated dandruff shampoo containing Zinc Pyrithione (ZPT) is the way to go to treat symptoms associated with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.  They’re proven to be effective, safe, and fast-acting. Jupiter’s Balancing Shampoo and Restoring Serum are both formulated with Zinc Pyrithione to cleanse your scalp and contain beautiful ingredients and a spa-like natural scent. For those who have scalp psoriasis, OTC shampoos containing coal tar or salicylic acid can help to manage the flaking associated with psoriasis.

A whole host of conditions (both personal and environmental) can cause the irritation that leads to flaking and itching.

Other best practices for eliminating dandruff

While using topical products can help relieve dandruff, severe cases often require additional lifestyle changes. Here are proactive ways to help prevent and reduce scalp problems through your daily habits.

Use cool water in the shower

Heat dries out your skin and hair. It might feel good, but a hot shower may make your dandruff worse. Use lukewarm water or do a cold water rinse on your scalp to help avoid further itchiness and flaking.

Don’t scratch!

Understandably, you might feel like itching all over. But the more you scrape your scalp, the worse you’ll ultimately feel. Scratching the skin causes more damage, which could lead to burning, bleeding, and scabs if you keep at it. The best rule for scalp recovery is hands off.

Don’t skip moisturizing

There’s a reason why so many skin creams for eczema and similar conditions involve moisturizing ingredients. Flaky skin might have underlying causes, but dryness is one complicating factor. Even if your hair feels greasy because of overactive sebum glands, don’t skip moisturizing after thoroughly cleansing your scalp. 

Continue to shampoo often

Though those telltale white flakes might suggest that your scalp is dry, the opposite tends to be true. Overactive oil glands attract dandruff-creating fungus - so establishing and sticking with a regular shampooing routine will keep flakes away. We recommend shampooing at least 3-4 times a week with an effective dandruff shampoo.

Change your diet

Because your sebaceous glands are responsible for pumping out the oil that results in dandruff, dietary changes to cut down on oil production might help. Eating less saturated and trans fats can help, as can consuming more zinc and B vitamins. It’s also never a bad idea to drink more water - at least 8 cups a day is the rule of thumb we tend to follow.

See a dermatologist for help

While moderate itchiness and skin flakes are often fully treatable at home with OTC treatments, we also recommend seeing a dermatologist in cases of more severe skin allergies or reactions, or if you’re noticing that your condition is worsening over time.

The most convenient way to treat dandruff

So, in summary, there are a host of reasons why you may be experiencing flaking from a dry, itchy scalp. Using a shampoo formulated with Zinc Pyrithione is the easiest and fastest way to treat your dandruff. Best of all, our scientifically-formulated and dermatologically-tested dandruff and scalp care products are shipped directly to your doorstep. Learn more about what we do and how we do it here.

Restoring Serum

Your scalp savior outside of the shower. Our Restoring Serum is best for those with oily scalps, more severe flaking or wash their hair less frequently. Apply this medicated leave-in (active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione) directly to the scalp in between washes to relieve and control itching, flaking, and redness.

See Details

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.

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