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Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp: What's the Difference?

by Madison Reed September 25, 2023

fix dry dull hair

Image by Madison Reed

We love our hair, and we do our best to keep it healthy. However, sometimes we can encounter issues, like dandruff and dry scalp, which can make us feel uncomfortable and less confident. The trouble is, it’s not always easy to address these issues because we often can't tell them apart. In this article, we'll explain the difference between dandruff and dry scalp. At the end of it, you should be able to spot these problems on your own and know how to treat them. So, don't stop here—keep reading!

What is dandruff?

Before we look at the differences between dry scalp and dandruff, let’s evaluate both of these conditions separately.

Dandruff isn’t serious when it comes to your health, but it is serious when it comes to your confidence. It’s actually quite a common condition (according to the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, about 50% of the adult population suffers from it) which causes the skin on your scalp to flake (and might cause itching). The flakes are white and fall off, so you may spot them on your shoulders or even in your hair, which is even more noticeable on darker colors. 

You may have heard that dandruff is caused by poor hygiene – however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there may be quite a few reasons behind it, such as:

- Irritated skin

- Oily skin

- Dry skin

- Malassezia (a fungus feeding on oils on the scalp)

- Using the wrong hair care product (ones that your skin is sensitive to)

- Skin conditions

- Product buildup

Interestingly enough, women and men don’t suffer from this condition equally. According to the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, it appears more often among males.

Dandruff is usually treated with special shampoos. But, if you don’t see any effects of using them after some time, it might be good for you to consult a dermatologist.

What is dry scalp?

Dry scalp is another skin condition that can be quite bothersome to many people. It’s caused by the lack of oils responsible for moisturizing your skin. There are quite a few situations that can lead to this, such as:

  • - Exposure to cold, dry air (AC, we’re looking at you)

  • - Using the wrong hair care products (ones that your skin is sensitive to, or that absorb your natural oils)

  • - Age (the older we get, the more prone we are to this condition)

  • - Excessive washing

Similarly to dandruff, the main symptom of dry scalp are flakes, plus it might cause itching. However, it might also lead to your skin getting dry in other parts of your body. What’s more, your hair might look less glamorous, since the oils also help condition it. So, before you ask yourself how to fix dry hair, you might want to check if everything is okay with your scalp.

Dry scalp treatment really depends on the root cause. If your hair care products irritate your scalp, try switching to a gentler alternative. When caused by excessive washing, you just need to change your routine. If neither of these solutions help, you might need to consult a dermatologist.

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Dry scalp vs. dandruff

Now, let’s chat about the differences between dandruff and dry scalp. At first glance, they may look the same, but they're actually quite different. In fact, dry scalp can even lead to dandruff, which speaks volumes. To pick the right treatment, you need to figure out which condition you’re facing. We’ve prepared a short table comparing dry scalp to dandruff to help make the process a little bit easier – take a look and see which one applies to you:

The Differences Between Dandruff and Dry Scalp



Dry Scalp


Quite big, oily (white or yellow)

Small, dry





Oily, red, and often scaly on the scalp

Dry, both on scalp and in other places

Does hair change?


Yes, it can become dry


Irritated, oily, and dry skin; sensitivity to hair care products; other skin conditions

Dry, cold air; age; sensitivity to hair care products, using products that drain the natural oils, excessive washing


Special shampoos, consulting a dermatologist in the most severe cases

Eliminating the causes, consulting a dermatologist in the most severe cases


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Dandruff vs. dry scalp summed up

The difference between dandruff and dry scalp is simple – the former results in bigger and more oily flakes than the latter. They are usually caused by similar or identical factors, so if you wish to avoid them, take proper care of your hair and scalp. With the right routine, you can help maintain a look that boosts your confidence and lets your natural beauty shine through!

Did you like this post? Leave a comment and check out our other article: From Pantry to Pretty: All The Hair Treatments You Can Make At Home