An itchy, dry scalp may be simply a consequence of skin dryness or related to certain hair styling practices, but these symptoms could also signal a more serious skin condition such as psoriasis or eczema. Addressing the cause of your itchy, dry scalp is important to determine the best treatment strategy. For minor symptoms, home remedies can often relieve the itchiness or irritation without the need for medical treatment. But if your systems are severe or persistent, seek the advice of a doctor for treatment recommendations.
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Assess the Flakes
Dandruff is commonly blamed for any condition that leads to white flakes in the hair and scalp. While dandruff, and the more severe and related condition, seborrheic dermatitis, are typically associated with an oily scalp, a dry scalp can also produce flakes that appear to be dandruff. Before you treat your flakes with a medicated shampoo, consider if dandruff is really the problem. If your scalp is not oily, you may want to first try countering the flakes by preventing dryness and adding moisture to the scalp. Use dandruff shampoos, as directed, only if you are sure you have dandruff.
Heat from outdoor temperatures, or excessive heat from blow drying can lead to scalp dryness. Hair product buildup and the use of shampoos or conditioners with harsh chemicals can also cause scalp dryness -- which can easily become irritated and itchy. To counter this, avoid excessive use of hair products, and minimize direct scalp application of these styling gels or sprays. Keep your hair and scalp clean by washing regularly. However, many shampoos can strip the scalp of natural oils, so if possible, wash your hair every other day to prevent dryness. Moisturize the scalp by using hypoallergenic shampoos, leave-in scalp conditioners and scalp lotions that are specifically targeted for dry hair or scalp.
Home Moisturizing Remedies
Effective moisturizers soothe, soften and prevent water loss from the skin. Topical use of warmed coconut, sesame seed or olive oil, applied to the scalp 15 to 20 minutes before shampooing, is a common home remedy to combat a dry, itchy scalp. Jojoba or aloe vera oils are other popular strategies to moisturize the scalp, but there is limited research on the effectiveness of these remedies in the treatment of a dry, itchy scalp.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another popular home remedy for a dry, itchy scalp. While this treatment is not evidence-based, there are some reasons it could help. Vinegar has antimicrobial properties that could counter yeast, fungus or infectious agents -- so ACV may help if one of these is the cause of your dry, itchy scalp. Vinegar is also commonly used as a cleansing agent, so rinsing your hair and scalp with an ACV solution a few times a week might help remove the product buildup which leads to scalp dryness. Be sure to avoid the use of undiluted ACV, though, in order to avoid scalp and skin irritation. Mix ACV with at least 1 part water, then use as a rinse after shampooing. Rinse again after 5 minutes.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil commonly recommended for skin and scalp treatments. This oil is known to have antifungal properties, which can target the scalp itchiness and dryness caused by fungus and yeast. As with other home remedies, there is limited research on the effectiveness of using this oil in the treatment of a dry, itchy scalp. If you want to try tea tree oil to counter these symptoms, do not apply full strength oil, as this may cause irritation or rash. Instead, add a few drops to a palmful of your shampoo, conditioner or moisturizer.
Management of Scalp Conditions
If your dry, itchy scalp does not improve after using home remedies, or if your symptoms are severe, see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Dry, itchy scalp may also be caused by psoriasis, an autoimmune disease which leads to the buildup of skin cells, or due to eczema, an itchy inflammation of the skin. Having your doctor evaluate severe or persistent symptoms is important, because these scalp conditions may be difficult to treat and may not respond well to home remedies.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD