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Why Is My Scalp Dry and Flaky?

I suffer from a dry and flaky scalp, so know what a nightmare it can be. I have tried all sorts of treatments in the quest to find relief.

Itchy, Flaky Scalp

Itchy, Flaky Scalp

Itchy and Flaky!

If you suffer from the constant irritation caused by the itch-scratch cycle, you will try anything to soothe it.

A flaky scalp is associated with dandruff, which is usually a fungus that causes flakes of dead skin. Those with flakes in their hair tend to buy anti-dandruff shampoos. But they may not always work, and it isn't always dandruff. Sufferers will find it embarrassing, as there may be visible white/yellowish flakes on the scalp and in the hair, which other people can see. If they fall onto your clothing it's not pleasant to see—and you may avoid wearing dark colours because of it.

There may be several reasons for a flaky scalp.


Dandruff is caused by skin cells re-newing themselves more quickly than is normal. The skin then flakes away causing the embarrassment. Dandruff is also associated with a fungus (malassezia).

Curing dandruff may vary from person to person. There are regular anti-dandruff shampoos which may help a mild case and these are found on the shelf in chemists. But they are all different which makes it trial and error when searching for one that works for you. Some may clear up the dry flakes or sooth irritation. But if they don't work then using an anti-fungal shampoo may help instead. Persist for a few weeks with it to see results. Again, if it doesn't work for you, don't feel defeated as you may not have found the right product to suit. There are plenty of over the counter lotions to try from your chemist.

Try tea tree oil on your scalp, which acts as an antiseptic. It is natural and comes in pure oil or in shampoo.


Psoriasis is a skin condition which can affect small or large areas of the body. It is non-contagious, but can be very sore and inflamed if left untreated.

Psoriasis makes skin very dry and "clumpy." It can be scaly and flaky as well and needs steroid ointments or photo therapy treatment (done under an ultra-violet light) if severe.

If you have psoriasis on your scalp you can try various treatments and shampoos to calm it down. It is important to keep the scalp moisturized, so a special moisturising shampoo and conditioner will help. Using coconut or caster oil will also help the condition, as will olive oil shampoo. If you are trying coconut or caster oil, massage it into the scalp at bedtime and leave overnight for an intense treatment.

You can also try coal tar shampoos which are designed for severe dandruff and psoriasis. There are many types on the market, or go to your GP who will prescribe you one.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This has similar traits to psoriasis although appears more like cradle cap, which is a condition often seen in infants.

Seborrheic dermatitis, otherwise known as seborrheic eczema, is inflamed skin on the scalp, although can form in other areas, too. These can include the eyebrows, sides of the nose, middle of the chest or around the ears.

The flakes form on oily parts of the skin and can become clumpy, have yellowish flakes and the skin can become red.


It is thought to be bought on by a combination of an over production of skin oil and the fungus associated with dandruff, malassezia.

It can run in families or come on through stress, fatigue, changes in weather, skin disorders or infrequent shampooing.

How to Combat the Condition

Various treatments are available to help seborrheic dermatitis. Often steroid based ointments or shampoo are prescribed, such as those containing keratolytic ingredients.

Anti fungal treatments can help the condition such as anti dandruff shampoo or those containing, zinc, tea tree, salicylic acid, coal tar, selenium or resorcin.

Use them two to three times a week and alternate with a mild or moisturizing shampoo.

Ensure flakes are washed out frequently to avoid build up and use a natural brush to loosen them from the scalp.

For a milder treatment, try cradle cap shampoo for babies to soften the flakes away.

Go Natural

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a chemical found in a lot of shampoos, bubble baths, toothpastes, etc, as it acts as an effective cleaning agent. However if you have eczema prone skin or any other problems with dry skin conditions, SLS's can irritate and flare up.

Choosing a shampoo which is free of this chemical could help to improve dry and flaky scalps. Since I started with this condition and trying various different treatments, this by far is the most effective.

Going hand in hand with this, ensuring the water you use is not very hard (we live in a hard water area and have installed a water softener to combat this), this would also be more moisturising and again, I have personally noticed a difference even more.

Natural ways to relieve an itchy scalp

Natural ways to relieve an itchy scalp

Dry Scalp

A dry scalp may be due to changes in the weather or brought on by central heating in your home. It can dry out the skin making it quite dry or itchy. Changes in hormones (especially if you have just had a baby) can alter your hair thickness and condition.

Try putting olive or baby oil on your scalp and leave overnight for a moisturizing experience which could help the problem.

Stress may be a factor. You can itch when you feel anxious which needs to be addressed. Being aware of the habit can help to try to sort out an underlying problem.

Balance your diet

Balance your diet


You may also need to look at your diet. Sometimes it's not what we put on our bodies which can help, but it's what we put in our bodies. Nutrition is vital for healthy skin and plays a big part in it. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables rather than refined sugary foods (like cakes and biscuits), and balance your diet. Include Omega 3 and 6 oils which are found in fish, nuts and vegetables. Being deficient in these oils will make your skin dry and red. If you struggle to eat foods which include them then take vitamin supplements.

Having too much sugar in our diet can cause a growth of Candida (yeast) in the gut which can then aggravate dandruff related problems.

Vitamins do wonderful things for us which you will get from a balanced diet. Not all oils are bad for us. "Good" oils (from fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil) help us inside as well as out. Saturated fats, from cakes are the ones to avoid.

Drink More Water

If you have dry skin you need to hydrate yourself inside as well, so drink plenty of water. If you struggle with water, then add cordial to it. In cold weather, drink herbal teas which are caffeine free, rather than having coffee. Nettle teas and peppermint teas are great for flushing out your system.

Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about your problem. It could be identified and cleared up quicker that you realize. You could be allergic to your shampoo or have sensitive skin, or you may need to improve your diet. If it is a more serious complaint, antibiotics or specialist ointments may be the answer. Just don't suffer in silence.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I tried all these for my dry and flaky scalp, but nothing worked. What more can I do?

Answer: Why don't you try warming a small amount of olive oil (make sure it's not too hot) with a squeeze of fresh lemon and apply it to your scalp? Lemon is a great antifungal treatment, and the olive oil is moisturizing. Leave on for half an hour or so then wash off - ensuring you use a shampoo free of SLS. Have a look at your health store for a chemical free shampoo which won't make the condition worse.


Gaby81 on October 03, 2014:

Your article is great! For those who suffering with severe dandruff flakes and dry scalp, I believe that using anti-dandruff shampoos is the best. You can get latest tips and information about best dandruff shampoos and treatments here:


Sarah on April 02, 2014:

I agree with @idigwebsites, i think drink water more often will help dry scalp, it's because many people fotgot about it, nice post Harvey and you can check more here about dry scalp : . thanks

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on January 04, 2013:

Thanks idigwebsites - I'm glad you found some of this information useful. I hope you try out some of these suggestions and persist. Good luck!

idigwebsites from United States on January 04, 2013:

Well, the solutions to dry scalp are relatively simple enough. Mine has a dry scalp too, and if treatments for my hair and scalp still don't do it, maybe I'll try to change my diet and drink water more often. Thanks for the chockfull of information about dry scalp. Voted up and useful. :)

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on November 27, 2012:

Hi VeronicaFarkas - yes diet has a lot to answer for. It certainly affects the outside of our bodies as well as the inside. Some foods can make skin complaints worse and lack of certain nutrients can trigger problems too.

Thank you so much for the comment.

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on November 27, 2012:

I've read & been advised by DO's & nutritionists that (as you touched upon) most skin irritations are caused by a lack of something in the diet (usually Omega 3's, as you also stated). Eczema, cradle cap, dandruff, etc.

Great information! :)

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on November 26, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Sometimes we just assume a flaky scalp is dandruff and an anti dandruff shampoo will fix it. But it isn't always the case, and sometimes we have to try out different ones.

I change my shampoo frequently and use a prescribed lotion for sebborheic dermatitis. At the moment I'm using a moisturising coconut shampoo. But it really is trial and error once you get a diagnoses.

John on November 25, 2012:

That is a so nice information .Its so useful for my patients .I would like to thank you for share us a nice and impressive information.I'll keep touch to you for get more useful information .Thanks.

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on March 29, 2012:

Hi vasemenon - thank you for coming by. Hope you found the information useful.

Vasanthan R Menon from India on March 29, 2012:

Very interesting information indeed.

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on February 08, 2012:

Hi bindaasraghu, thanks for your comment. I also believe nutrition is key to healthy skin, although when I am tired I get very itchy too.

bindaasraghu from BIDAR on February 08, 2012:

very clearly said and tips mentioned are helpful. Best nutrition and drinking lots of water is necessary.

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on December 12, 2011:

Yes, underlying problems are harder to control the situation. It's not always the lotions that help but also well being and lifestyle.

whoisbid on December 12, 2011:

nice idea to hydrate more. As for stress, I know it does make life more difficult

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on October 26, 2011:

I do think stress is a big factor when it comes to skin complaints. This could be scalp problems, acne or other flare ups - totally agree.

Joseph De Cross from New York on October 22, 2011:

Excellent tips. Had those problems long time ago...probably seafood helped me to get through this problem. Thanks for the helpful hub. Voted up over our heads!


LindaSmith1 from USA on October 22, 2011:

Sometimes it is dandruff, psoriasis, poor diet, even excessive stress, chemicals in hair products.

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on October 18, 2011:

Thanks, I am glad you found it interesting :)

Nyesha Pagnou MPH from USA on October 18, 2011:

This is a well written hub. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on September 25, 2011:

Good nutrition plays a major part in skin complaints. Sometimes it's not just the lotions and creams we put on our bodies which help, but what we put inside our bodies too.

MP50 on September 24, 2011:

Good hub, nutrition is the key to a healthy scalp....

Emma Kisby (author) from Berkshire, UK on September 23, 2011:

I suffer from this myself, so know what a nightmare it is. I have tried all sorts to help, and found moisturizing products are the best. It all depends on what the cause of the problem is.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on September 23, 2011:

Nice information. Hair is a crown of the body. We should take good care our hair. Thanks for writing and share with us. I learn much from you. Vote up and useful!


chrisanto from Philippines on September 23, 2011:

Very helpful tips. Thanks!!!