When people think they have a dry scalp it’s usually because they see white flakes. But did you know there’s virtually no such thing as a dry scalp? Let me tell you what it really is and how to fix it.
In the DermTV episode on dry facial skin, I explained that flaking on the face, which can look like dry skin, is often dandruff. Sure, the skin on your face can be dry and therefore flaky, especially on your cheeks, but in other places it’s often actually dandruff. But what about flaking on your scalp? Is that a dry scalp, or is it dandruff again?
This one’s easy, because 99% of the time it’s not dry skin on your scalp… it’s almost ALWAYS dandruff. You see, if you’re not bald… if you have hair on your scalp… it’s almost impossible to have dry skin there. So if you see flaking on your scalp, it’s actually dandruff even if you see flaking that looks just like the flaking from dry skin. Here, it’s the result of excess oil, not on the surface of the scalp, but underneath it. That excess oil causes inflammation which results in a little bit of redness, a little bit of swelling, and then causes the skin to be shed prematurely... while on the other hand, normal skin cells fall off on time and invisibly. But when the skin cells fall off early, they don’t have a chance to separate from each other completely so they fall off in tiny mini sheets which are the flakes that you see.
Well that’s really good news, because if it were dry skin, how could you ever apply a moisturizer to your scalp without really messing up your hair?
Fortunately, the treatment of dandruff-induced scalp flaking is easily accomplished with shampoos, so we usually don’t need to apply lotions or creams to your scalp. Instead, buy an over-the-counter shampoo whose active ingredient is either tar, salicylic acid, zinc, or selenium… and use it daily for 5-7 days. To use it, lather it up for a minute, then rinse out, and then lather up again for a half a minute before rinsing a final time.
That will usually control the dandruff so you can then use the shampoo less frequently. And since the flaking isn’t dry skin, you don’t have to worry about drying out your scalp from shampooing every day!