Dandruff Vs. Dry Scalp, What's the Difference?

If I see flakes does it mean I have dandruff or maybe its just dry scalp? Is there a difference between dandruff and dry scalp?

Doctor Answers 2

Dandruff versus dry scalp

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Dandruff is not caused by dryness but rather too much oil (sebum). It can be due to overgrowth of yeast on the surface of the scalp, which feeds on excess oil and dead skin cells, causing the skin cells to shed more quickly than normal. This can lead to clumping of the cells (flakes). Dandruff flakes are generally greasy and yellowish/white in color. They do not come off the scalp easily. Usually itching and odor accompany the flakes. Over the counter shampoos like Head and Shoulders and Neutrogena T-gel can be used, but sometimes stronger prescriptions are needed.

Dry scalp is due to loss of moisture from the skin and can be caused by the application of soap, strong detergents, cold weather, product build up, or hard water. Signs and symptoms are itching and small white flakes that come off easily. Dry scalp can be treated by using natural remedies such as apple cider vinegar rinses to help remove build up left behind by shampoos, conditioners, and other hair products. You can also do a light scalp message using natural oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

Jupiter Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 41 reviews

No significant difference

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Dry scalp and dandruff are both often manifestations of seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that can cause dry or waxy flakes on the scalp. It can sometimes also cause a pink rash on the eyebrows or folds of the cheeks which can be scaly.

Consult a board-certified dermatologist to assess your scalp and recommend treatment, since some causes of flaking on the scalp (like psoriasis) may have implications for skin elsewhere on your body or other health issues.

Treatment often consists of an anti-fungal (Nizoral) or anti-inflammatory (T-Gel) shampoo. Topicals steroids (in the form of drops or foams) are also often helpful on the scalp for flareups. Since steroids require a prescription and can have side effects, they should be used under the care of your doctor if your scalp condition is severe enough to require them.

Colby Evans, MD
Austin Dermatologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.