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Dandruff vs Dry Scalp: What's The Difference + Natural Solutions

The next time you reach for the dandruff shampoo to treat a flaky scalp, first consider whether it’s actually dandruff or just a dry scalp. We tend to use the term ‘dandruff’ generally to include all symptoms that include a flaky, dry and itchy sca
Apr 28, 2018 | Seanna Cohen

The next time you reach for the dandruff shampoo to treat a flaky scalp, first consider whether it’s actually dandruff or just a dry scalp.

We tend to use the term ‘dandruff’ generally to include all symptoms that include a flaky, dry and itchy scalp (you can thank popular shampoo commercials for this!). When it comes down to it, dandruff and the related condition of seborrheic dermatitis, have very unique characteristics including dry skin and require different treatment.

Dry Scalp

What is it?

Small, white flakes of dead skin is often the first symptom of a dry scalp, which can also tingle and feel itchy.

Causes of Dry Scalp

• Washing your hair too often and stripping the scalp of natural oils

• Using a shampoo that contains sodium laureth sulphate or sodium lauryl sulphate (SLES/SLS)

• Using baking soda as a hair wash (the ‘no poo’ hair washing method may have many benefits for certain hair types, but baking soda is very alkaline and can cause skin irritation for most people)

• Weather changes and humidity levels

Sun burn

Natural Solutions for Dry Scalp 

• Wash your hair less often and use a SLS-free shampoo

• Wet your hair and scalp and massage in a nourishing oil like argan, letting it fully absorb overnight. Follow up by washing your hair in the morning.

• Once a week, rinse your scalp with a diluted apple cider vinegar solution (2 parts water, 1 part vinegar). Dry skin is alkaline, meaning it has a high pH (normal skin has a pH around 5.5). Apple cider vinegar can help to decrease the scalp’s pH level and balance the alkalinity of dry skin.

• Exfoliate your scalp. We often neglect the scalp but just like your face, it can benefit from regular exfoliation.

Exfoliation treatment

Apply full fat Greek yogurt to your scalp using a large makeup brush (do this in the same way a hair stylist applies hair dye to your roots). Cover your hair with a cap and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. The lactic acid in the yogurt will help to gently break down dead skin cells, leaving your scalp flake free.



What is it?

Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis (SD) are related conditions that affect the scalp and sometimes the body (in the case of SD). Dandruff looks very similar to a dry scalp but flakes may be larger and more widespread. SD also causes a flaky scalp, but flakes may look yellowish and sometimes waxy because it’s an inflammatory skin disorder generally found in areas where oil glands are most prevalent. For babies, SD is known as “cradle cap”.

Causes of Dandruff

Some people may be more prone to dandruff and SD than others and is generally associated with bacterial or fungal growth, overproduction of skin cells, and overactive oil glands (which is why you see cradle cap in infants because their oil glands have not yet regulated production).

Natural Solutions For Dandruff

•Anti-fungals such as tea tree oil

• For a natural solution, apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil used in a shampoo or hair rinse can help relieve symptoms

• For severe cases, consult a naturopathic doctor for a natural treatment plan

• Infant cradle cap is best left alone. For a temporary solution, you can massage the scalp with coconut oil or olive oil and gently removed the crusts using a soft bristled brush. There’s no permanent solution to cradle cap except to wait it out until your infant outgrows the condition (often around 8-12 months of age).


The next time your scalp is dry and itchy, hold up on buying those dandruff shampoos! You may just need to switch up your shampoo and give your scalp a good exfoliating or moisturizing treatment.

Have you experienced dandruff? What solutions have you used that work?

Nicky   •   May 1, 2018

I learned something new today. Thanks for this post.

Rachel Molenda   •   May 2, 2018

Hollie   •   May 3, 2018

My hair is very oily, but it still have flakes. What do you think it is and/or what do you recommend?

Seanna   •   July 3, 2018

Mohit C.   •   May 30, 2018

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Jen   •   July 2, 2018

What if you have dry and itchy scalp because of eczema? What is the best oil to use to moisturize. I’ve tried coconut oil especially overnight but when I wake up it gets all dried up and flaky.

Rachel Molenda   •   July 5, 2018

Jen W.   •   September 10, 2018

I have a question about the exfoliating treatment. Can I still use Greek yogurt if I have an intolerance to dairy since it’s just going on my scalp and since I’m not ingesting it? Or should I use non dairy yogurt?

Rachel Molenda   •   September 11, 2018

Jen W.   •   September 13, 2018

Hi Rachel, sorry for asking this again.. but I get confused between allergy vs. intolerance. I guess I have an allergy since I had blood work done and I can't have dairy. Since this is the case, would I still be able to use the yogurt treatment?

Rachel Molenda   •   September 13, 2018

Cloudia   •   March 6, 2019

Thanks alot for the information! Im only 14 and I’ve been having what i thought was “dandruff” for years, and I’ve tried the advertised “stop dandruff shampoo” but it never works. Now i know why; because I actually have dry scalp! I’ll try the oil and see if it works. Also i may start washing my hair every other day, insted of every day.

Joy McCarthy   •   March 7, 2019

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