A dry scalp can be distressing, particularly when accompanied by flaking, itching and redness. Dryness on the skin and scalp is common among people of all colors, but it can be more apparent on those with darker skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Furthermore, oil-based hair products often used to manage African American hair can exacerbate certain scalp conditions. Talk with a dermatologist if you are concerned about the health of your scalp.
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Dry scalps look gray or ashy on those with darker skin. The skin may flake and peel off, as well as become itchy and potentially inflamed if scratched at or left untreated. You may also notice the skin on your scalp begin to scale; these scales can range from white to silver and vary in thickness and intensity, depending on the severity of your dry skin and any underlying conditions. When your dry scalp persists, the flaking skin may clog your hair follicles and lead to temporary hair loss.
Some skin is naturally drier than others, and this may be all that is causing your dehydrated scalp. However, you may also have a condition like dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis or scalp psoriasis, all of which cause itching and flaking skin in addition to a dried-out scalp. Ringworm, a contagious fungal infection on your scalp, can also cause these symptoms, as well as hair breakage and loss.
Hair pomades or oils can soothe a dry scalp, but the AAD warns that these greasy products can make scalp conditions like dandruff and psoriasis worse. They may even cause a bacterial infection on your scalp. Instead, wash your hair with a moisturizing anti-dandruff shampoo every other day, and talk to a dermatologist about the ingredients to look for in a conditioner to keep your scalp moisturized without adding oil to it. A dermatologist can also give you anti-fungal medications if you have ringworm or prescription-strength shampoos if your dandruff is severe.
Showering in hot water can dry out your skin, including your scalp, even further. Limit your bathing time, and use lukewarm water. Do not soak your hair in hot water, which can strip it of moisture and essential oils, making your dry scalp worse. Swimming in chlorinated water can also dry out skin. Cut down on the time you spend in the pool, and wash your hair and scalp with a moisturizing shampoo as soon as you finish, to get the chlorine out.
If your scalp dryness is severe or becomes inflamed or painful, seek medical attention. Also consult a doctor if you experience sudden or excessive hair loss, as you might have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.