A healthy scalp is the key to healthy hair, but a dry, itchy scalp usually means something is amiss. How do you know if the itching and subsequent flakes on your shirt are more than just a minor nuisance?
We’re breaking down what can contribute to an itchy scalp, which products can help relieve symptoms and when to know if it’s time to visit a board-certified dermatologist for professional treatment.
What causes dry, itchy scalp?
Itchy, dry scalps are a complex issue and can be caused by a host of things, ranging from not washing out your shampoo thoroughly, to allergic reactions to styling products. Here are just a few things that could be contributing to dryness, itchiness and non-dandruff skin flakes:
If you experience burning or peeling of the scalp, the issue may be caused by an allergic skin reaction called contact dermatitis. In some cases, harsh ingredients in your styling products can irritate and inflame the scalp, which leads to excessive dryness and itchiness. If you suspect this is the case, discontinue using your styling products until you pinpoint which one is giving you trouble.
Styling Product Residue
Failure to thoroughly rinse out your shampoo or overuse of styling products can also cause a buildup on your scalp, causing it to itch and flake. Hair will feel lifeless, appear dull and there will be flakes near the shaft of the hair follicle. Try using a scalp exfoliator and always be sure to take the time to thoroughly rinse out your shampoo and daily styling products.
Increased exposure to the cold, winter elements can wreak havoc on our skin and our scalp. Frigid temperatures, chilly wind and indoor heating decreases skin’s natural moisture levels, which can make the scalp feel itchy, dry and tight. Make sure to wear a hat to protect your scalp when you venture outside during chilly, winter months.
To remedy your symptoms, choose shampoos, conditioners and hair treatments that exfoliate the scalp and infuse it with moisture. Look for ingredients like argan oil or avocado oil to provide moisture and search for calming ingredients like aloe vera and eucalyptus to cool and soothe itching.
Products to Try:
Choose this scalp treatment if you deal with mild itching, dryness and minimal flaking. It’s formulated with argan oil to moisturize dry skin as well as lavender and geranium essential oils to encourage healthy circulation.
This nourishing shampoo helps restore optimal moisture to a dry, itchy scalp with black pepper, Guyana wood and comfrey extracts. It also contains tea tree oil, which prevents further scalp infections.
How do I know if it’s seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis on the scalp?
It’s important to understand that the symptoms of a dry, itchy scalp is not the same as dandruff. Dandruff has become a universal term for any flaking of the scalp, but in fact, it’s a condition all it’s own. If a few simple changes in your hair care routine don’t relieve your symptoms or if you are noticing your scalp is oily with yellow-colored flakes or silver-looking scaling, you may be dealing with additional skin conditions and not just a dry, itchy scalp. Here’s a breakdown:
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that is better known as dandruff. It causes redness, itching and yellow-ish flaking of the scalp. A scalp with seborrheic dermatitis is often oily, as opposed to being dry. We consulted with our resident expert, board-certified dermatologist and LovelySkin CEO Dr. Joel Schlessinger, to get the facts:
“Dandruff is thought to be primarily caused by a very common yeast-like fungus on the scalp called malassezia. Additionally, men are more likely to have dandruff due to certain male hormones and those that don’t shampoo their hair enough can also experience dandruff.”
To control dandruff, look for hair care products that contain zinc pyrithione. Zinc pyrithione is an anti-fungal ingredient that helps control the growth of malassezia and also helps effectively remove buildup on the scalp and unclog hair follicles.
Products to Try:
Try this anti-dandruff shampoo formulated with zinc pyrithione to control fungal growth responsible for dandruff. This hypoallergenic formula also contains peptides and essential oils to provide the scalp with a cooling, calming sensation, helping to control itchiness.
If the flakes coming from your scalp appear powdery and silver in color, you may have scalp psoriasis. Psoriasis is a hereditary autoimmune condition that typically presents on the scalp, elbows, knees and lower back. These itchy, scaly patches on the skin can be triggered by stress, poor diet, allergies, medications or even injuries to the skin. Those with psoriasis on the scalp are often more prone to dandruff, but the dandruff isn’t caused by the psoriasis itself. Dr. Schlessinger says:
“Treating psoriasis on the scalp is tricky because people react differently to treatments and psoriasis symptoms can range from mild to more severe. Mild psoriasis symptoms can come and go and often respond to shampoos and treatments that contain ingredients like coal tar and salicylic acid. If you are experiencing more severe psoriasis symptoms, it’s important to talk to a board-certified dermatologist who can provide more intensive treatment recommendations like steroid injections, prescription topical treatments and in some cases, antibiotics.”
To help control the symptoms of scalp psoriasis, look for shampoos and treatments with coal tar. This tried and true ingredient works by slowing down the growth of skin cells while simultaneously facilitating the shedding of the top layer of skin, making plaques and scales easier to remove. It also helps control itchiness. Salicylic acid can also help as it works as a chemical exfoliator that dissolves the bonds that bind dead skin cells and psoriasis plaques to the surface of the skin.
Product to Try:
This medicated gel is ideal for anyone dealing with symptoms of scalp psoriasis or dandruff. It’s formulated with 2% coal tar to help diminish scaling and flaking and salicylic acid to help control oiliness. Additionally, it can be tailor-made to your specific scalp issues because it can be used like a regular shampoo or can be applied onto a dry scalp for up to an hour before shampooing for a more intense treatment.
Improve symptoms of scalp psoriasis with this 5% salicylic acid shampoo that safely removes dry patches and scaling on the scalp. Additionally, this shampoo can help if you deal with breakouts on the scalp.
Pro Tip: Salicylic acid can be drying, so follow up this medicated shampoo with a moisturizing conditioner.
Want to hear more from our resident expert, Dr. Joel Schlessinger? Let us know in the comments below!