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Debunking The Difference Between Dandruff & Dry Scalp

Debunking The Difference Between Dandruff & Dry Scalp

It starts innocently enough. You’re wearing that new black bomber jacket you ordered last week to complete your date night fit. Suddenly, you notice some dry, white flakes on the shoulders of your jacket…and, in your hair! “What’s this?” you think to yourself.

“Are those ashes?”

“Is it snowing?”

Not quite sure what to think, you reach up and run your fingers through your hair, hoping to remove those foreign invaders. Nope – still there. You notice that your head feels a little itchy, and scratching only exacerbates the problem. At that point, your stomach sinks, and the thought that you may have dandruff begins to creep in.

For many people, dandruff is the first thing that comes to mind when you experience a sudden urge to scratch your scalp and notice flakes falling on your shoulders. However, it could also be a dry scalp. People sometimes confuse dandruff with dry scalp since the two terms are used interchangeably and have similar symptoms.

But dry scalp and dandruff are two different conditions, despite having similar symptoms. A dry scalp occurs when the skin on your head becomes dehydrated and cannot retain enough natural oils to keep your scalp moist. As a result, flakes of dry skin come off. On the other hand, dandruff happens when a scalp imbalance leads to an overproduction of skin cells.

That leads to the question -- how do you know for sure if you have dandruff or dry scalp? Although it can be difficult to distinguish between dry scalp and dandruff due to the overlapping symptoms, it’s much easier when you understand how the two conditions develop. A little education can go a long way in debunking the differences between dandruff and dry scalp and help you quickly diagnose and treat which one you're dealing with.

What Exactly Is Dandruff?

We all shed our hair and skin on a regular basis. Even though we shed skin, the microscopic skin cells that remain are generally undetectable and evaporate into thin air. In the case of dandruff, dead skin cells begin to accumulate on the skin's surface and cluster. These large, white flakes that have accumulated on your head will eventually fall off and settle along the lengths of your hair.

One common myth about dandruff is that it is caused by not washing your hair often enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dandruff isn't caused by how frequently you wash your hair. Instead, it's all about your scalp's skin.

Dandruff can worsen when you're sick or stressed or by cold, dry winters. But the real issue is that skin cells grow and die too quickly. Why this happens isn't exactly clear. Malassezia, a common fungus that most of us have living on our scalp, may play a role in dandruff. Malassezia, for most people, isn't a cause for concern. But research has found that people who develop dandruff may have an immune system that overreacts to the fungus.

It is important to know that dandruff can't be cured. The majority of people will have to deal with their symptoms for the rest of their lives. The flakes will usually come and go, but managing dandruff can be minimized with proper care.

What Exactly Is Dry Scalp?

When it comes to understanding dry scalp, think dry skin. Dry skin occurs when there is an inability to create or retain moisture. Dry skin does not produce enough sebum and natural oils to keep it moisturized. As a result, the top layer of skin dries up, cracks, and eventually sheds in the form of small flakes. So, think of those flakes falling from your head as little messengers from your scalp saying, “I’m thirsty!”

Dandruff And Dry Scalp: What Causes Them?

Dandruff is a moderate form of seborrheic dermatitis, a skin ailment characterized by oiliness, flakiness, and redness. It's more than just a build-up from dry skin. The presence of Malassezia globose, a naturally occurring fungus that dwells on the scalp surface, causes it to break down sebum or natural oils and release oleic acid as a by-product. This by-product is usually harmless but can cause problems for someone with a skin condition. Those problems often occur in the form of dandruff.

Dry scalp is usually caused by hormonal imbalances or as a side effect of certain medications. The unpleasant condition of dry scalp makes the skin on your head feel tight, as if your skin is stretching. The end result is hair that is dull and frizzy. Dry scalp is different from dandruff in that it feels like dry skin that flakes, while dandruff can occur in hair that seems oily but is nevertheless flaky.

Dandruff And Dry Scalp Symptoms

Skin flakes are a typical symptom of both dandruff and dry scalp. However, dry scalp flakes are whiter and smaller on closer inspection, whereas dandruff flakes are bigger, yellowish, or oily. While dandruff caused by a fungal infection can be treated by shampooing less frequently, dandruff caused by a fungal infection is unlikely to improve without thoughtful treatment.

Both dandruff and a dry scalp can also cause irritation and itching. Either condition causes people to scratch their scalp repeatedly, especially if their symptoms become severe. This results in redness or small sores on the scalp’s surface.

How Can Dandruff Be Treated?

Using dandruff shampoo and scalp treatments is the most effective technique to treat and control dandruff. To get the best results, follow these dermatologist recommendations:

  • Follow the directions on your bottle of dandruff shampoo. There are a variety of dandruff shampoos available, each with its own active components for symptom relief. Some dandruff shampoos, for example, require you to lather the shampoo into your hair and scalp and keep it in for around five minutes before rinsing. Others should not be allowed to remain on the scalp. Always follow the directions on the bottle for the best results.
  • For Black Men, use a dandruff shampoo only once a week. For the best product advice for your hair type, consult a board-certified dermatologist.
  • When using a dandruff shampoo that contains coal tar, be cautious. Tar shampoo can discolor blonde, grey, or white hair. Therefore if you have light-colored hair, you should use a different dandruff shampoo. Tar shampoo can make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight. It’s crucial to keep your scalp protected from the sun by wearing a hat and staying in the shade as much as possible when using this sort of dandruff shampoo.

For the most part, dandruff does not necessitate medical treatment. However, what looks to be dandruff is occasionally a medical problem such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, scalp fungal infections, or eczema. A dermatologist can accurately assess your condition and offer the best treatment option for you. Consult a board-certified dermatologist if your symptoms persist after using a dandruff shampoo.

How Can Dry Scalp Be Treated?

For most people, dry scalp can be treated at home. Consider these methods to relieve dry scalp first:

  • Check out your shampoo. Using harsh shampoos can result in a dry scalp. Use a soft, hydrating, and moisturizing shampoo instead of an oily hair wash, which will be excessively drying.
  • In the shower, use warm water rather than hot.
  • Don't overdo it with hair styling products. Avoid alcohol-containing mousses, hairsprays, gels, and other products that dry out your scalp and hair.
  • To give your hair a chance to recuperate, avoid using heat tools like a blow dryer.
  • Massage your hair and scalp. Give yourself a scalp massage to stimulate your hair follicles.
  • Use hot oil treatments to soothe and hydrate irritable scalps.
  • Exfoliate your scalp. Exfoliation products can be purchased, or you can make your own at home by mixing Epsom salt or sugar with jojoba, coconut, or olive oil. Gently massage the paste into wet hair before rinsing. You can also use these oils to hydrate your scalp without adding salt or sugar.
  • Use a medicated shampoo. Ketoconazole, zinc, or selenium oxide are all over-the-counter shampoos that may help. DHS Zinc Shampoo, for example, can reduce irritation and promote exfoliation by using zinc. Salicylic acid-containing shampoos can also help exfoliate dead skin cells. Understand that over-shampooing can strip the skin of its protecting oils, causing it to become even drier.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious diet to stay hydrated. Eat omega-3-rich foods like avocados, flaxseed, almonds, salmon, or other freshwater fish.
  • Make sure you're receiving enough B and D in your diet. Nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamins B12 and B6 in your diet, can cause dry scalp. Boost your diet with vegetables, fruits, cereals, whole-grain bread, and supplements like zinc, flaxseed oil, and selenium if necessary.
  • Reduce your stress levels. Stress, like anything else, aggravates the situation. To help, try things like yoga or other exercises, and be sure to get adequate sleep.

If your dry scalp problem persists, you may need some help to alleviate the situation. Your dermatologist can examine your symptoms to see if you have seborrheic dermatitis due to eczema, psoriasis, yeast, or other conditions.

Do Black Men Get Dandruff And Dry Scalp?

Black men (and women) are highly prone to dryness due to our afro-textured hair. This is why we require significantly more hydration to keep our hair healthy and avoid a dry scalp, which leads to breakages.

Black men's hair becomes dry and flaky when our hair has been stripped of its natural oils, resulting in a dry scalp or dandruff. This occurs when we shampoo our hair too frequently or not frequently enough. This can also be caused by using products that include harsh chemicals since they will further deplete your hair's natural oils.

Related Articles: Lather Does Not Matter: The Truth About Sulfate-Free Shampoos

A Healthy Scalp Begins With Being Able To Recognize Which Condition You Have

Dandruff creates flaking on the scalp, which can show up on clothing or in the hair. It can be caused by a fungal or other scalp infection. On the other hand, a dry scalp develops when the scalp is unable to produce or retain sufficient moisture. Knowing the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp is the first step to quickly and efficiently treating it, and the sooner you begin treatment, the faster your recovery will be. So, soak in this info, apply where needed and let us know how it goes!