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What Exactly Is the Difference Between Dry Scalp vs. Dandruff?

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What Exactly Is the Difference Between Dry Scalp vs. Dandruff?

Are you constantly itching your head or finding white flakes on your clothing? Scalp problems can be embarrassing and, you may not even know what is causing the discomfort. 

The most common causes are either dry scalp or dandruff. But what is the difference between a dry scalp vs. dandruff? 

Keep reading to find out the key differences. 

Dry Scalp 

Does your skin get dry and flakey during the winter? For most of us, the dry winter air takes all the moisture from our skin. 

This is the same effect that can happen on your scalp. Common causes of a dry scalp are dry air, over-washing, or skin conditions such as eczema. 

Your scalp may not produce enough natural oils or, if you are over-washing, you may be stripping your scalp of its natural oils. 

Certain types of shampoos or other hair care products can leave your scalp excessively dry. Sulfates are a common ingredient in many popular shampoo brands that can strip your skin of oils and disrupt natural oil production. 

Be sure to look at your shampoo bottle and seek out a sulfate-free, moisturizing shampoo if necessary. 

The symptoms of a dry scalp include itching, dry, brittle hair, and possible small white flakes. When it comes to dry scalp flakes vs. dandruff flakes, think of the dry scalp flakes the same as if you were to have dry skin on your arm. Dandruff flakes would be much larger, which we will discuss next. 


Dandruff occurs when your dead skin cells interact with an overproduction of sebum often, causing an overgrowth of fungus. Not to worry, fungus on your scalp is completely common and not harmful.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress and diet can also be a factor in the worsening of dandruff. 

The fungus Malassezia causes the larger flakes that are commonly associated with dandruff as well as scalp irritation. Dandruff flakes may also be yellowish or oily, depending on how severe the dandruff is. 

Itching is most commonly the first sign of dandruff. Then, you will start to notice the larger white flakes when you shake your hair or find white flakes on your shirt. With either condition, redness and sores on the scalp can occur due to frequent itching and irritation. 

For how to remove dandruff, there are many prescription or over-the-counter shampoos that can help manage symptoms of dandruff.

For example, Head and Shoulders is common dandruff controlling shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione which, has antibacterial and antifungal properties. 

Before you buy special shampoo, make sure you have figured out whether you have dry skin or dandruff to limit the risk of further irritation. 

Dry Scalp vs. Dandruff-Know the Difference? 

For some, it can be hard to know the difference between a dry scalp vs. dandruff. They can also occur at the same time.

Knowing the difference between the symptoms and causes will help you determine how to move forward with treatment and prevention. 

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