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A comprehensive guide to effective dry scalp treatment

Get expert advice on how to soothe irritation and reduce flakiness.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
Dry Scalp
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of hair loss, acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes.

The redness, flaky skin, and itching that come with a dry scalp can make your life very uncomfortable.¹ If you’re battling this type of dryness, don’t worry! We asked Curology’s licensed dermatology providers to unpack the research to bring you the crux of what you need to know so your scalp can get the relief it needs.

Ready to learn how you can treat your dry scalp? Let’s dive in!

What causes dry scalp?

Are you confused about what’s causing that persistent scalp dryness? Let’s get to the root of it.

There can be a myriad of reasons behind dry scalp. For some, it’s skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis vulgaris.² Winter’s low humidity can also be the culprit. And, if you’re basking in the glory of heating during winter or chilling with the AC on blast, that sealed environment might just be drying out your scalp. Also, using too much detergent in your skincare products might be causing this dryness.³

The science behind it is pretty simple. Simply put, a lack of hydration in our skin can lead to a dehydrated scalp. Studies show that when our skin has altered levels of components like lactate, urea, and specific lipids, it’s a recipe for dryness.⁴ And while we’re here, let’s bust a myth: Dandruff isn’t just dry scalp gone rogue. The itch and flakes might seem similar, but dandruff is thought to be caused, in part, by too much sebum, not dryness.⁵

How to treat a dry scalp

Does your dry, itchy scalp have you scratching your head, literally and figuratively? 

Whether it’s the environment, daily habits, or those oh-so-convenient products with sneaky ingredients, a dry scalp can be an issue for many. But the good news? Relief is within reach. 

Let’s delve into some tried and tested treatments to help improve a dry scalp.

Moisturize right

Naturally, a dry scalp will need proper moisture to help alleviate its symptoms. 

A study found that using a special scalp moisturizing lotion and a gentle shampoo and conditioner significantly improved dry scalp symptoms in patients. This treatment also enhanced the patient’s overall well-being and reduced harmful scalp bacteria.⁶

Proper hair care can lead to better scalp health and happiness—hydration is key! Look for scalp moisturizers with hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and tocopherol. And a little insider tip: Steer clear of fragrances and synthetic coloring.⁷ Your scalp will thank you! 

The power of natural ingredients

Here’s a secret: Natural serums can be a game-changer. They’re not just for your face! Research shows that ingredients like castor oil, vitamin E, and hibiscus are excellent for treating dry and damaged hair and provide essential hydration to your scalp.⁸

Other ingredients can also help your dry scalp. Probiotics, honey, turmeric, and B12—especially combined—offer potential benefits that may help control your dry scalp.⁹ A treatment that included these ingredients significantly improved patients’ overall scalp condition. After applying the ointment daily for two weeks, the average overall disease severity score dropped, and symptoms like redness, scaling, and itchiness decreased considerably.¹⁰

Specialized scalp treatments

For an extra boost of hydration, consider a tonic that boasts ingredients like urea, lactate, and the uniquely named Glycyrrhiza inflata root extract. A study tested a new tonic with these ingredients to see if it helps treat dry scalp;¹¹ 30 people with dry, itchy scalps used the tonic on half their scalp for four weeks. Results showed the tonic improved scalp moisture and reduced itching. It also helped balance scalp oils and reduced signs of inflammation.¹²

Choose gentle products

Being gentle is vital—opt for products without harsh disinfectant agents or cooling ingredients.¹³ Don’t forget that haircare products with too much detergent can also cause more dryness, so they should be avoided.¹⁴

Caring for your scalp isn't just about looking good, it's about feeling good. Every strand of hair begins at the scalp, so giving it the TLC it deserves can lead to healthier hair and a happier you. With the right tailored treatments, you can finally say goodbye to dryness and hello to a rejuvenated, flake-free scalp. 

Hair styling tips to help manage a dry scalp 

When managing a dry scalp, consider how you style and care for your hair. Start by brushing gently. This not only prevents breakage but also helps reduce irritation.

It's also wise to steer clear of chemical treatments. Coloring, perming, or relaxing your hair can intensify dryness and irritation on the scalp. Lastly, while it's tempting to sport tight hairstyles like ponytails or braids, they can stress your scalp, exacerbate dryness, or even lead to hair breakage. Instead, choose looser hairstyles to give your scalp some relief.¹⁵ 

If you have any questions regarding your dry scalp and to investigate the cause, contact a dermatology provider for personalized advice.

Get custom skincare with Curology today

Navigating dry scalp issues can be challenging, but with proper hydration and the right treatments, you can get the relief you seek. Curology doesn't target dry scalp, but we specialize in tailored skincare and hair loss treatment.

Curology Hair Care Rx formula

Ask us about our custom formulas, Hair Formulaᴿˣ for hair loss Future-Proofᴿˣ for anti-aging* or Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne,* to help meet your skincare and hair care goals.

FAQs

How do you treat dry scalp?

To treat dry scalp, it’s essential to moisturize correctly. A special scalp moisturizing lotion along with a gentle shampoo and conditioner can significantly improve dry scalp symptoms.¹⁶ It’s also beneficial to consider natural serums and specialized scalp treatments that boost hydration. Ingredients like castor oil, vitamin E, hibiscus, urea, lactate, and Glycyrrhiza inflata root extract have been found to be effective.¹⁷ ¹⁸ Moreover, an ointment containing probiotics, honey, turmeric, and B12 may help reduce symptoms like redness, scaling, and itchiness.¹⁹ Always choose gentle haircare products and avoid those with too much detergent.²⁰

How do you hydrate your scalp?

Hydrating your scalp involves using moisturizers rich in hyaluronic acid and antioxidative components like tocophenol.²¹ Natural serums containing ingredients like castor oil, vitamin E, and hibiscus may also provide essential hydration.²² Moreover, consider using a tonic that contains urea, lactate, and Glycyrrhiza inflata root extract to boost your scalp’s hydration levels.²³

What does it mean when your scalp gets dry?

A dry scalp results from a lack of hydration in the skin, leading to symptoms like redness, flaky skin, and itching. Causes can include skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis vulgaris.²⁴ Factors like winter’s low humidity, excessive heating or air conditioning, and using skincare products with too much detergent can also contribute.

What is dandruff vs dry scalp?

While dandruff and dry scalp might present similar symptoms like itching and flakes, their causes differ. A lack of hydration and moisture in the skin causes a dry scalp.²⁵ On the other hand, dandruff is thought to be caused, in part, by too much sebum, not dryness.²⁶

Does dry scalp cause hair loss?

Caring for your scalp is crucial because every strand of hair begins at the scalp. Giving it the care it needs can lead to healthier hair. Chemical treatments and tight hairstyles can exacerbate dryness or even lead to hair breakage.²⁷ Always consult a dermatology provider for specific concerns.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Xiao, A., et al. Novel Topical Treatment for Dandruff & Dry Scalp Through Sustained Balance in Skin Microbiome. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2021, July 24).

  2. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. (2014, n.d.).

  3. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  4. Amin, R., et al. Molecular characterization of xerosis cutis: A systematic review. PLoS One. (2021, December 16).

  5. Sahraie-Rad, M., et al. Preparation of Strong Antidandruff Shampoo Using Medicinal Plant Extracts: A Clinical Trial and Chronic Dandruff Treatment. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. (2015, October 26).

  6. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  7. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  8. Penkar, G.M., et al. Formulation and Evaluation of Herbal Hair Serum in Treatment of Various Hair- Related Problems. Research Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. (April-June 2023).

  9. Xiao, A., et al. Novel Topical Treatment for Dandruff & Dry Scalp Through Sustained Balance in Skin Microbiome. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  10. Xiao, A., et al. Novel Topical Treatment for Dandruff & Dry Scalp Through Sustained Balance in Skin Microbiome. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  11. Schweiger, D., et al. Efficacy of a New Tonic Containing Urea, Lactate, Polidocanol, and Glycyrrhiza inflata Root Extract in the Treatment of a Dry, Itchy, and Subclinically Inflamed Scalp. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (2013, March 21).

  12. Schweiger, D., et al. Efficacy of a New Tonic Containing Urea, Lactate, Polidocanol, and Glycyrrhiza inflata Root Extract in the Treatment of a Dry, Itchy, and Subclinically Inflamed Scalp. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  13. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  14. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair Styling Tips That Can Reduce Flares of Scalp Psoriasis(n.d.).

  16. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  17. Penkar, G.M., et al. Formulation and Evaluation of Herbal Hair Serum in Treatment of Various Hair- Related Problems. Research Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. Ibid.

  18. Schweiger, D., et al. Efficacy of a New Tonic Containing Urea, Lactate, Polidocanol, and Glycyrrhiza inflata Root Extract in the Treatment of a Dry, Itchy, and Subclinically Inflamed Scalp. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  19. Xiao, A., et al. Novel Topical Treatment for Dandruff & Dry Scalp Through Sustained Balance in Skin Microbiome. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  20. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  21. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  22. Penkar, G.M., et al. Formulation and Evaluation of Herbal Hair Serum in Treatment of Various Hair- Related Problems. Research Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. Ibid.

  23. Schweiger, D., et al. Efficacy of a New Tonic Containing Urea, Lactate, Polidocanol, and Glycyrrhiza inflata Root Extract in the Treatment of a Dry, Itchy, and Subclinically Inflamed Scalp. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  24. Oshima, M., et al. Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. Ibid.

  25. Amin, R., et al. Molecular characterization of xerosis cutis: A systematic review. PLoS One. Ibid.

  26. Sahraie-Rad, M., et al. Preparation of Strong Antidandruff Shampoo Using Medicinal Plant Extracts: A Clinical Trial and Chronic Dandruff Treatment. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. Ibid.

  27. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair Styling Tips That Can Reduce Flares of Scalp Psoriasis. Ibid.

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

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Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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