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Dry Scales on the Scalp

author image Edie Grace
Edie Grace has been writing and editing since 2008. Her work has been published in medical magazines and aired on radio. She has written about skin conditions, cardiovascular health and surgery. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and music and a Master of Arts in journalism.
Dry Scales on the Scalp
Scalp changes can be a source of irritation. Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

There are many different factors that can affect the moisture levels of your scalp. If you notice that you only experience dry, scaly patches and small flakes of skin through your hair in the wintertime, you probably have a seasonal dandruff. This is due to the changes in outside temperatures, as well as indoor heating, according to MayoClinic.com. If pain or discomfort accompanies your dry, scaly scalp, see your doctor.


There are several different degrees of dry, scaliness that can appear on your scalp so examine the scales as closely as you can. Check to see if the scales flake off when you run your hand through your hair. It is possible you may have noticed flakes gather on your shoulders. If the scaly patches are thick and do not flake off, you will need to see your doctor or a dermatologist.

Common Cause

The most common cause of dry, scaly scalp skin is dandruff. Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, is very common and easily treated. Your scalp may or may not be itchy and will flake off naturally. According to the University of Michigan's University Health Service, dandruff affects men and women equally and will first appear in adolescence or young adulthood. Often, it will calm down over time.

Seborrheic dermatitis may also occur in childhood as cradle cap. This can affect children up to the age of 3-years-old and is largely harmless. MedlinePlus advises that the scales may be thick, yellow or brown, in contrast to the white flakes an adult will notice.

Other Causes

Thicker scaly lesions that do not flake off are usually a sign of psoriasis. These lesions are often itchy and may be red or inflamed. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, around half of all psoriasis sufferers will experience psoriasis of the scalp. Psoriasis may not be present on the rest of the body and may extend to the hairline and forehead. The underlying cause of psoriasis is not known, as of November 2010, and it usually appears in young adults.


Dandruff is usually prettily easily treated with an anti-fungal shampoo, alternated with a regular shampoo. Treatment depends on the individual and you may have to experiment with altering the frequency at which you wash your hair -- some people find that washing their hair more helps, while others find that washing less is key. Salicylic acid and sulfur shampoos may also help.

Tar shampoos and salicylic acid may be useful to treat scalp psoriasis but more serious cases may require other treatments, such as ultraviolet light or topical creams. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, you may become more immune to a single treatment over time, requiring you to alter your treatment.


Occasionally, a dry flaky scalp may indicate another condition or disorder. Fungal infections often presents on the scalp as dry, itchy, scaly patches. If you experience any hair loss, baldness, pus-filled lesions or black dots on your scalp, see your doctor immediately.

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