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Scalp Health 101: The Difference Between Dandruff and Dry Scalp

Image of Coco & Eve's Deep Clean Scalp Scrub on the left and a girl applying the scalp scrub

Can’t shake your shoulder flakes and assume you have the dreaded d-word: dandruff? Hold your horses a moment before you reach for the Head & Shoulders. Flakes, itching and irritation can actually be caused by dryness which, despite what you might think you know, is a different problem to dandruff altogether.

You’re probably confused (and we don’t blame you) as these two scalp situations share many similar symptoms. However, dandruff is a more serious concern and needs different treatment to give flakes the flick.

It can be tricky to tell the difference but, as always, we’re here to help. In this article, we'll explore the differences between a dry scalp and dandruff, so you can get the relief you need!

Just like the skin on your face and body, your scalp can suffer from good ol’ fashioned dryness or dehydration. This simply means your scalp is lacking in moisture, which may have you scratching your head over tight, itchy and uncomfortable sensations. 

Dryness can be temporary or long-lasting and can be caused by a variety of factors. These include washing with hot water, using harsh shampoos and overwashing, cold, dry weather, artificial heating, a reaction to haircare products and genetics (thanks again, Mum). 

When your scalp is dry, it can become irritated, itchy and flaky which is not a lot of fun. Now let’s take a closer look at dandruff.

The causes of dandruff and dry scalp

On the other hand, dandruff is a scalp condition that is caused by an overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. This fungus is naturally present on the scalp but when it grows out of control, it can cause inflammation and lead to an increase in the production of skin cells, resulting in dandruff.

What makes it really take hold? This yeast tends to thrive in an environment that is moist and oily. So if there’s excess oil on your scalp, it can create a favourable environment for yeast to grow. What’s more, an oily scalp can cause skin cells to stick together, forming larger clumps or scales that are more visible and noticeable as dandruff flakes. 

Stress is another potential factor that can trigger an inflammatory response and contribute to dandruff. Yet another reason to get along to 6am yoga…

The symptoms of dandruff and dry scalp

So, with their similar symptoms, how can you tell the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff? Here are a few key things to look out for.

Flakes: While both a dry scalp and dandruff can cause flakes, they look slightly different. With a dry scalp, the flakes are generally small, white and dry. With dandruff, the flakes are larger, yellowish and oily. 

Itching: Itching is common with both a dry scalp and dandruff but it can be more intense with dandruff. If you're constantly scratching your scalp and can't seem to find relief, it may be time to chat with your dermatologist.

Redness: If your scalp is red and inflamed, it's more likely to be dandruff. A dry scalp can also be itchy and flaky, but it won't typically cause redness.

Now you know the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff, you're probably wondering how to treat them. Don't worry, flaky friend – we've got you covered!

How to treat a dry scalp

The key to treating a dry scalp is to replenish lost moisture. You can do this by using a gentle, moisturising shampoo and conditioner with soothing and hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, tea tree and coconut oil – a key ingredient in our Super Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner, natch. 

Formulated with ResistHyalTM Hyaluronic Acid technology to deliver 26 times more hydration, our shampoo is a dry scalp’s dream. And it delivers all that magical foaming action you love without any drying sulphates.

Also avoid using hot water when washing your hair as this can strip your scalp of its natural oils. Instead, keep the H20 lukewarm and try to extend the time between shampoo sessions if you can.

The benefits of Coco & Eve's Deep Clean Scalp Scrub 

And for fast relief from dryness, add a hydrating and exfoliating scalp scrub to your pre-shampoo routine once or twice a week. Formulated with coconut shell, volcanic ash and AHAs, our Deep Clean Scalp Scrub gently removes dead skin cells, product build-up and impurities while hydrating the scalp and strands with coconut oil. (And guess what? If you snap one up now you can get the second one for 50% off* NOW!)

If your doctor or hairdresser has confirmed you have dandruff, you may need to use a medicated shampoo to get it under control. These are available over the counter and your pharmacist will be able to recommend shampoos that contain active ingredients like salicylic acid and pyrithione zinc to reduce sebum and help kill the pesky flake-causing fungus. 

Using a scalp scrub is also a great way to help soothe inflammation, combat excess oil and reduce itching. Our Deep Clean Scalp Scrub in particular is your soothing, de-scaling BFF. With anti-dandruff active SpecKare PO Piroctone Olaminedel, it delivers a 40% reduction in scalp sebum after one use and a 60% reduction in dandruff after 29 days. It also soothes the scalp with cooling peppermint oil and stimulates with caffeine, creating the perfect hair growth environment for healthy, Rapunzel-like locks.

Components of Coco & Eve's Travel Hair Kit

Healthy hair starts at the scalp and there are a few habits aside from scalp scrubbing that can give you a head start. Other tips to help keep both dandruff and a dry scalp at bay include avoiding harsh shampoos (especially those with sulphates) and styling products, eating a healthy, balanced diet, managing stress and avoiding wearing tight hats or hairstyles that can be irritating.

If you're still not sure if you’re dealing with dandruff, take a trip to your doctor or dermatologist for a diagnosis and recommendations for the best course of action.


Written By: Pip Jarvis 

Edited by: Iris


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Honey Haircare is here! Shop Now Scalp Health 101: The Difference Between Dandruff and Dry Scalp
13 May, 2023

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