Dry scalp or dandruff: 4 ways to tell the difference

If it’s not oily hair, women tend to complain a lot about dandruff and dry scalp. These are common skin problems that many women experience. Although dry scalp and dandruff may seem similar, they are different problems because of how they look and feel. So how can you know the difference between them? Read on to find out the difference between dandruff and dry scalp.

What causes dry scalp

When there is a lack of moisture, often due to harsh weather conditions such as cold, dry air, your scalp can become dry, says Dr Vijay Singhal, senior dermatologist at Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, Delhi .

Is it dry scalp or dandruff? Image provided by: Shutterstock

Here are some additional reasons:

• Excessive washing with hot water and strong shampoos can strip the scalp of its natural oils, leading to dryness.
• Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also contribute to a dry scalp because they disrupt the skin’s natural barrier function.
• A poor diet lacking essential nutrients can play a role in the development of dry scalp.

What causes dandruff?

Dry scalp is more of a hydration issue, while dandruff is mainly caused by the overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia on the scalp. This overgrowth can result from an oily scalp, which provides an ideal environment for Malassezia to develop, explains the expert.

Other factors that can contribute to dandruff include:

• Sensitivity to hair care products
• Infrequent shampooing
• Skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis.

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Dry scalp vs. dandruff

To identify if you have dry scalp or dandruff, you can look for the following:

1. Scalp Flakes

Examine the dandruff carefully and if it appears small, white and dry, it is probably dandruff. If the flakes are larger and more like dry skin, it may be a dry scalp problem.

2. Scalp moisture

Touch the scalp and see how it feels. A dry scalp is often tight and lacking in moisture, while dandruff is associated with excess oiliness and oiliness, says Dr. Singhal.

3. Itching

Do you scratch your head or feel an itchy scalp? Persistent itching is often a symptom of dandruff, while a dry scalp may or may not itch.

4. Adhesion of flakes

Check how well the flakes adhere to the scalp. Dandruff tends to stick to the hair shafts, while dry scalp dandruff is looser and falls off easily.

The woman's hair
There are differences between dry scalp and dandruff. Image provided by: Shutterstock

If in doubt, consult a dermatologist who can examine the scalp and tell you whether it is dry scalp or dandruff.

How to treat dandruff and dry scalp?

Treating dry scalp and dandruff also requires different approaches. For dry scalp, focus on increasing hydration. Use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, avoid hot water, and reduce the frequency of shampooing. So if you wash your hair every day, you need to stop doing it. Applying natural oils like coconut or jojoba to the scalp can also help moisturize it. If you suffer from skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, you should also work on treating them to avoid dry scalp as well.

As for dandruff, it can be treated with medicated shampoos containing ingredients like zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, selenium sulfide or salicylic acid. This type of shampoos can help control the overgrowth of Malassezia. Regular shampooing, but not every day, and good scalp hygiene are also essential.

The common point in both cases is that you must follow a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals.

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