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Dry scalp is one of those pesky issues no one wants to talk about, but everyone wants to know how to fix. Nothing is more distracting (or embarrassing) than white flakes collecting on your shoulders or being visible in the parts of your hair when you style it up. Thankfully, you’re not doomed to shed forever—the common condition can be easily treated at home. We turned to trichologist (a dermatologist specialized in hair and scalp health) Dr. Dominic Burg, chief scientist and hair biologist for évolis Professional to create an easy plan to tackle dander for good.
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First, understand what causes a dry scalp.
Like the skin on your face, the skin on your scalp is made up of sebaceous glands and also has a “type” ranging from dry to oily. Burg says oil levels are influenced by genetics, hormones—for example if a woman is pregnant or going through puberty the scalp is more oily, and after menopause it is more dry—drugs like retinoids, and environmental factors like dry air, excess heat used when styling and drying, and harsh shampoos.
Dry scalp can happen seasonally, too. “The air in winter is particularly dry, as is the air from air conditioners in the summer,” he says, “This can lead to drying of the skin, leading to sensitivity, itchiness, prickliness, and flaking that many people experience in the winter months.”
Switch out harsh chemicals from your hair routine for natural ingredients.
Burg suggests using products free of sulfates because they are drying and silicones because they can “prevent your scalp for breathing.” He recommends switching to products with “gentle, natural ingredients.” To add moisture, look for aloe, Vitamin E, and baobab oil, which Burg claims is the best ingredient for adding moisture. You should also seek essential oils like lavender and rosemary and antioxidants like green tea and goji berries to boost scalp health as well.
Only wash your hair two to three times a week.
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“The scalp actually has a population of billions of good bacteria from hundreds of different species,” Burg says, “The microbes help balance pH and actually work to out-compete the bad microbes for nutrients and by producing special defense molecules.” Daily washes can exacerbate a dry scalp and upset your scalp’s microbiome, so he suggests only washing two to three times a week. When your scalp is imbalanced, inflammatory species (like fungi and yeast) can take over. “These inflammatory cause the skin to thicken and shed excessively and in clumps, causing dandruff,” Burg warns.
Stop using scrubs on your scalp.
A scrub with lots of grit may feel like it’s buffing away unwanted flakes, but it actually has the opposite effect. “Heavy scrubs can cause more irritation to dry and unhappy scalps, so if you want to use a scrub to clean up excess skin, make sure that it contains moisturizing ingredients as well,” Burg advises.
Don’t apply conditioner on your scalp.
Reserve conditioner for the ends of your hair. Burg says you should avoid conditioner on the scalp because it coats the scalp and leads to dryness—that’s especially true if the conditioner is silicone-based. He does, however, encourage using product you might not immediately think of: scalp serum.
Start taking hair supplements.
Looks like those beauty influencers on Instagram shilling hair gummies are on to something—just make sure you’re looking for the right ingredients. “As the scalp is similar to the rest of the skin, the same principles apply. Look for supplements with key ingredients such as Omega 3 oils and Vitamins A, C, and E which are great for helping skin maintain is structure and moisture,” Burg says. He also suggests seeking zinc, iron, and biotin.
Know when it’s time to see a dermatologist.
It’s normal to shed skin cells and have some dander everyday, Burg explains, but a lot of people confuse dry scalp and dandruff. Dandruff can happen on a dry scalp, but occurs on oily scalp types as well. “When shedding is excessive and visible, it may be a sign that there is some other underlying issue,” he continues, “Excess flakiness or dryness may be caused by things such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis and if you have itchiness, redness, sores, broken skin or areas where there is associated hair loss, it might be time to see a dermatologist.”