Dandruff Vs Dry Scalp – What’s The Difference?

Dandruff Vs Dry Scalp – What’s The Difference?

Authored by : Shreya Dalela

  • 25 April 2022
  • 11 mins read

Reviewed by : Kanchan Kachroo

Do you often have a sudden urge to scratch your scalp? Do you sometimes find flakes falling on your shoulders? When you experience these issues, you might wonder if they are a result of dandruff or dry scalp. 

Because the two terms are used interchangeably and share similar conditions and symptoms like white flakes and itchy scalp, many people get confused between dry scalp and dandruff. But when you observe closely, you will notice that dandruff and dry scalp have different characteristics.

In this article, let us discover these differences and discuss everything you need to learn about dandruff and dry scalp in order to provide your hair and scalp with the best care. The next time you have either of these conditions, you will be able to treat them the right way. 

Dandruff Vs Dry Scalp - What’s The Difference?

A dry scalp is caused when your scalp skin becomes dry and cannot produce enough oil to keep it moisturized. Result? You notice dry skin falling off like flakes. On the other side of the coin, dandruff is a condition that is linked to scalp imbalance, which results in the overproduction of skin cells. The shedding of the dead skin cells causes dandruff.

Considering the similar symptoms, it is pretty challenging to tell whether you have a dry scalp or dandruff. Worry not! We are here to help you. Let's get to know what dandruff and dry scalp really are.

So, What Is Dandruff?

It is common for animals and humans to shed skin and hair, known as "dander." When we shed skin, the dead skin cells are usually invisible and vanish into thin air. But, in the case of dandruff, these dead cells build upon the scalp's surface and start clustering. Eventually, the large white flakes accumulated on the scalp skin fall off and settle along the lengths of our hair. If you give the hair a little shake, it will rain the flakes on your shoulders. (1)

Read - How To Get Rid Of Dandruff Naturally – 10 Best Remedies

What Is Dry Scalp?

Dry skin is the culprit of dry scalp. When your scalp skin cannot produce or retain enough sebum or natural oils to keep it moisturized, it causes the top-most layer of the skin to dry out and crack. This eventually shed in the form of fine white flakes. (2)

Are dandruff and dry scalp similar? Now that you know that the answer is a big no, it is time to look at what causes these conditions and the proper ways to prevent and treat them. Learning the differences between dandruff and dry scalp and treating your scalp accordingly will help you manage and nourish your hair. 

Shop Kama Ayurveda Bringadi Oil For Dandruff

Read - Which Is The Best Hair Oil For Dandruff & Dry Scalp?

Dandruff Vs. Dry Scalp - Causes

There might be many causes of dry scalp, but the cause of dandruff is much more straightforward. 

Causes Of Dandruff

The four leading causes of dandruff are - 

  1. Overactive sebaceous glands
  2. Fungal growth
  3. Irritation from hair care products and
  4. Stress

Dandruff is often linked with dirty scalps and poor personal hygiene and can happen to anyone. It is usually caused by excess oil production and an overgrowth of fungus (particularly Malassezia sp) on the scalp. (3)

The abundance of hair follicles with sebaceous glands on the scalp produces large amounts of sebum. Excess sebum becomes an ideal environment for fungi to thrive in. And when this fungus pairs with more sebum, the microscopic ‘dander’ that normally sloughs off unnoticed gets to stick together in clumps. These clumps present themselves as tiny white flakes known as ‘dandruff’.

Some growth of fungi is totally normal and is typically controlled by the immune system. When this fungus starts to truly get out of control (which can happen when there is more oil on the scalp, even more fungi gets formed), it starts accumulating on your scalp. This triggers hypersensitivity leading to itching, further flaking, and even redness. 

When dandruff becomes severe, it can cause skin cells to grow more quickly than usual. This results in persistent itching, heavier flakes, and more noticeable inflammation. 

While the fungi are the main culprit of dandruff, stress can take a significant toll on your scalp health as well. The stress can be psychological (for instance, relationship trouble, work deadlines, etc.) or physical stress (like fighting an illness, having surgery, cold, or being run down).

Causes Of Dry Scalp

Now that you have an idea of how dandruff is caused, you might be questioning whether that is what you are dealing with after all. It is prevalent to consider dandruff as the result of an itchy, dry scalp, but in reality, it can be a different thing. 

This is why it is good to know what causes a dry scalp as well. This way you can evaluate your symptoms and determine which condition you are dealing with before considering the treatment options. The following are the leading causes of dry scalp. (4)

  • Excessive washing
  • Sunburn
  • Irritation from hair care products
  • Inability to retain or produce moisture and
  • Climate
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Prescription drugs
  • Genetics
  • Older age
  • Health conditions like diabetes, kidney issues, etc.
  • Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, etc.
  • Long showers or hot showers, etc.

A dry scalp occurs the same way dry skin appears. When your skin is unable to produce a sufficient amount of oil to keep it moisturized, it leads to drying. Therefore it is vital to use hair care products that hydrate your strands without stripping them off from natural moisture. Climatic conditions, low levels of humidity, and high levels of cold or heat can lead to dry scalp. Excessive sun exposure can also make the scalp dry. 

Shop Kama Ayurveda Neem Oil For Dry Scalp

Dandruff Vs. Dry Scalp - Symptoms

Now you know that the causes of dandruff and dry scalp are pretty different. It is essential to know the signs of each condition to get a proper diagnosis. 

The symptoms and conditions of dry scalp and dandruff are similar. You might experience visible yellow or white flakes falling from the hair onto the shoulders and an itchy scalp. But when you closely observe, you can see the differences. (5)

The symptoms of dandruff include - 

  • Oily skin on the scalp
  • Itchiness without redness or inflammation
  • Yellowish or white flakes on the head and shoulders.

The symptoms of dry scalp are similar to those of dry skin on the body. This means the scalp feels tight and looks ashy. Other symptoms of the dry scalp may also include - 

  • Redness or inflammation
  • Rough skin
  • Itchiness
  • Scaly and rough skin

Note: Both dandruff and dry scalp are non-contagious.

Dandruff Vs. Dry Scalp - Prevention And Treatment

Now that you have diagnosed your condition, it is time to treat and prevent it from occurring again. If you think you have dandruff, then this section is for you. But if you have a dry scalp, feel free to move over to the following section.

Dandruff - Prevention and treatment

Use A Medicated Shampoo

Use an over-the-counter medicated shampoo that is specially made to treat dandruff. These shampoos generally contain salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, or selenium sulfide, which work to decrease fungus and oil accumulated on the scalp.

Increase Omega 3 Intake

The foods rich in Omega 3 help regulate the production of the oil. This, in turn, helps reduce the fungal growth and flaking.

Take Vitamin D Supplements

Did you think Vitamin D can help slow down the rapid skin cell growth rate? Rapid skin cell growth is a factor in more extreme cases of dandruff and psoriasis. Therefore, Vitamin D supplements can help prevent dandruff from occurring. (6)

Use Haircare Products That Contain Tea Tree Oil 

Since Tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, it is a great choice to rebalance the scalp. Thankfully, multiple hair care products contain Tea tree oil as the main ingredient in the market. Choose the best one and use it regularly. 

Read - 8 Simple Ways To Use Tea Tree Oil For Hair

Meditate Or Exercise Regularly

As high levels of stress trigger dandruff and excessive flaking, you always need to find ways to relieve your stress. And the best way to deal with stress is to meditate or exercise regularly. Remember, the calmer you are, the less likely you will have dandruff. 

Dry Scalp - Treatment, And Prevention

If you have a dry scalp, this is your guide to treating and preventing it.

Use A Gentle Moisturizing Natural Shampoo And Conditioner

Swap your harsh shampoos and conditioners for ultra-gentle ones to avoid any kind of irritation and itchiness from a dry scalp. When choosing gentle hair care products, look for those that are free of fragrances and veer towards soothing and hydrating ingredients like oat milk, Aloe Vera, etc.

Never Use Products That Contain Alcohol As The Main Ingredient

There are hundreds of products available in the market that contain alcohol as the main ingredient. Ensure the products you choose for your daily hair care routine do not contain alcohol in the first five to ten elements. Your scalp will thank you later. 

Wash Your Hair Less Often  

If you shampoo more frequently, you will wash away your scalp's natural oils down the drain. You should always wash your hair no more than every other day with lukewarm water and a gentle shampoo. Lukewarm water is a must as it hydrates your scalp. The hotter the water, the drier your scalp becomes, and cold water is not very suitable for removing the hair's dirt and grime. 

Include A Humidifier To Your Room

One of the leading causes of having a dry scalp is the climate you live in. If you live in super dry regions or if it is the driest times of the year (summer or winter), a humidifier will help pump a little moisture back into your environment. 

Best Products To Treat and Prevent Dandruff And Dry Scalp

There are millions of products available on the market claiming to treat and prevent dandruff and dry scalp, but you have to understand that not all of them are worth trying. Always look for products that are natural, don't do any harm to skin, environment, and animals, and are of high quality. 

If you are in a dilemma of what to pick, below are the best products from Kama Ayurveda that can help treat your condition without further damage. All of Kama Ayurveda's hair care products are natural and organic. They contain a rich blend of essential ingredients and follow the 5000-year-old science of Ayurveda.

Best Products For Dandruff From Kama Ayurveda

The following are the best products to treat and prevent dandruff from occurring effectively. 

Kama Ayurveda's Bringadi Intensive Hair Treatment Oil

Bringadi Intensive Hair Treatment Oil is an all-in-one hair treatment oil that helps with dandruff, hair fall, and premature greying. It restores and nurtures your damaged hair back to its health.

The secret to this intensive hair treatment oil is its traditional Ayurvedic recipe that consists of potent herbs extracted into pure milk and sesame oil. The oil also includes hair nourishing ingredients like Eclipta Alba, Gooseberry, and indigo. The oil's antibacterial Balloon Vine and anti-fungal Licorice help prevent scalp infections. 

The earthy scent of this natural conditioner has a calming and meditative effect that helps soothe frayed nerves while lifting the mood and aiding in a good night's sleep.

Benefits Of Bringadi Intensive Hair Treatment Oil

  • Bringadi Intensive Hair Treatment Oil is proven to reduce hair fall by 61% in 94% of the test panel that included men and women with moderate to severe hair fall.
  • It helps in encouraging hair growth and reducing premature greying. 
  • The oil helps prevent dandruff and other scalp infections effectively.
  • It is a natural conditioner. It nourishes damaged, dry, and brittle hair to regain its lost shine and luster.

How To Use

  1. Take a sufficient amount of Bringadi Intensive Hair Treatment Oil into the hands and gently massage it into the hair while ensuring the entire scalp is covered.
  2. Leave it for about 20 minutes to make the treatment work as a natural conditioner.
  3. Later wash off with a mild shampoo and warm water.
  4. If desired, you can also leave it on overnight.

Kama Ayurveda's Bringadi Hair Cleanser

Kama Ayurveda's Bringadi Hair Cleanser is a repairing, nourishing, and volumizing hair cleanser that is clinically proven to reduce dandruff flakes, hair fall, and oily scalp.

Benefits Of Bringadi Hair Cleanser

  • The ayurvedic cleanser is 96% natural. It is sulfate and paraben-free and is suitable for all hair types. 
  • It is clinically proven to reduce dandruff, oily scalp, and hair loss. With all the potent ingredients like Aloma, Liquorice, Bhringraj, etc., the cleanser reduces hair fall by 60% and oily scalp in just 28 days.  
  • The ayurvedic-based formula is free of sulfates and parabens. It is gentle on the hair. Blended with magical extracts like the Indigo, Liquorice, Bhringraj, and Amla, the cleanser helps enhance the natural volume of your hair with every wash.
  • Kama Ayurveda's Bringadi Hair Cleanser both penetrates deep into the scalp and repairs the tips as well; therefore, it is well known as a root-to-tip treatment. 

How To Use

Take a small amount of the Bringadi Hair Cleanser and apply it to your wet scalp and hair. Massage it for a few minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water. 

Best Products For Dry Scalp

Below are the best products from Kama Ayurveda that can help keep dry scalp at bay.

Kama Ayurveda's Lavender Patchouli Hair Cleanser

Kama Ayurveda's Lavender Patchouli Hair Cleanser helps soothe and calm the dry and damaged scalp and hair. It naturally nourishes and protects your manes while cleansing deeply.

The Hibiscus extracts in the herbal formula help nourish the scalp and hair while adding back moisture and replenishing the scalp for a softer and smoother texture. The Lavender essential oil helps in calming and soothing scalp irritations and infections. The Patchouli essential oil in the cleanser acts as a natural antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory agent to repair dry and damaged scalp. 

Benefits Of Lavender Patchouli Hair Cleanser

  • Lavender Patchouli Hair Cleanser effectively soothes dry and damaged scalp and hair. While the Lavender calms and soothes the scalp, patchouli acts as an effective soothing and repairing agent.
  • It helps in treating hair loss and dandruff. 
  • The cleanser reduces stress. It has been proved that the Lavender is a sedative with an abundance of calming and soothing properties. The patchouli, one of the main ingredients of the cleanser, helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

Kama Ayurveda's Lavender Patchouli Hair Conditioner

The Lavender Patchouli Hair Conditioner is a luxurious conditioner that retexturizes and revitalizes dry and damaged scalp & hair. The rich formula helps in transforming the dry and brittle hair by sealing in essential ingredients and lipids that can continually hydrate and nourish your scalp & hair. 

The conditioner is a rich blend of Indian Gooseberry, Almonds, and Soy extracts that helps in both maintaining moisture and protecting your manes from daily stresses and further damage. The Lavender oil soothes and calms the scalp from irritation and infections. The refreshing Patchouli in the conditioner will act as a natural anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antibacterial to actively repair scalp damage. Result - Beautiful, healthy, and shiny hair with no dry scalp, irritation, and white flakes. 

Benefits Of Lavender Patchouli Hair Conditioner

  • Lavender Patchouli Hair Conditioner is 88% natural. It effectively helps reduce frizz you leave you with tangle-free, smooth hair. 
  • It helps in effectively treating hair loss and breakage.
  • While Lavender calms the scalp, patchouli helps repair and soothe the scalp. When combined with soy, Amla, and Almond, the conditioner helps promote hair growth. 

How To use

  1. Take a sufficient quantity of the conditioner and apply it to wet hair. Concentrate on the tips.
  2. Leave it on for about 2 minutes before washing it off with water. 

When To See A Doctor?

You should visit a doctor if the condition persists despite taking precautions and treatments. Suppose your situation doesn't improve and keeps getting worse, or the scalp skin appears swollen and red. In that case, you should immediately visit a dermatologist.

Understanding the differences between dandruff and dry scalp is essential as it helps in finding the right hair care product to give you relief from the frustrating flakes and itching. To nourish and care for your scalp and hair while keeping an eye out for any symptoms of dry flakes and dandruff before they cause any further damage and severe problems.

About the Author

Shreya Dalela

Shreya Dalela

Shreya Dalela is a certified Yoga instructor and a professional dancer trained at The Danceworx. She’s passionate about Ayurveda and holistic living with over 6 years of experience in doing extensive research and content creation in the domain.

About the Reviewer

Kanchan Kachroo

Kanchan Kachroo

Certified Ayurvedic Doctor (Central Council of Indian Medicine) working in Kama Ayurveda as an Assistant Training Manager.

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