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Difference Between Dandruff and Dry Scalp

Dandruff and dry scalp are easy to confuse since both produce flakes of skin. However, dry scalp is when your hair and scalp are too dry and you produce small, white flakes of skin. With dandruff, you have large flakes of skin falling off. The dandruff flakes also look a bit yellow, and the hair may appear oily. Dandruff, is also known as seborrheic dermatitis. This condition appears to be related to a type of fungus that lives on the scalp. It can be tricky to know which condition you have, but a dermatologist or even your primary care physician can help you establish if you have dry scalp or actual dandruff.

In short, both dry scalp and dandruff produce flakes but these are different in size and appearance. Dandruff also doesn’t require the skin to be dry, while dry scalp does.

What is Dandruff?


Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, is the problem where you produce large flakes of skin on your head. These are quite large and often have a slightly yellowish look to them. It is an inflammatory condition. Although the exact reason for developing dandruff is not known it seems to be associated the yeast called Malassezia, which exists as a commensal on the skin. Climate, genetics, and stress can all influence how bad your dandruff is. 

Symptoms and treatment:

The symptoms of dandruff include itching of the scalp, and the production of flakes of skin. These flakes consist of dead skin cells and are quite big. They also usually appear slightly yellowish and may seem oily. Dandruff can be treated using a combination of medicines including certain anti-dandruff shampoos, which often contain ketoconazole (an antifungal). Topical corticosteroid medications along with antifungal agents may also help treat cases of dandruff.

What is Dry Scalp?


A dry scalp is when the skin on your head is too dry, resulting in pieces of skin flaking off the scalp. Superficially, you may think that you have dandruff, but in the case of dry scalp the hair will also appear dry. The flakes are also much smaller than regular dandruff and they are white in color. Dry scalp can be due to the products you use on your hair, but it can also happen if you live in cold and dry conditions. Eating unhealthily and smoking may also contribute to dryness of your scalp, and skin in general.

Symptoms and treatment:

With dry scalp your head will feel itchy and you will have flakes that are produced. The flakes, unlike those of dandruff, are small and white. If your dry scalp is caused by a hair product then you should stop using it. This is because the condition may worsen causing a type of contact dermatitis on your scalp. 

Difference between Dandruff and Dry Scalp?


Dandruff is a problem where large, oily flakes of dead skin are produced from the scalp. Dry scalp is a condition where small, white flakes are produced from the scalp.


The flakes of dandruff are large and tend to have a yellowish tinge. The flakes of dry scalp are small and white.


It is thought that dandruff is associated in some way with the fungus, Malassezia. Dry skin is caused by environmental factors, hair products, or other skin problems like scalp psoriasis.


Dandruff is most commonly found in babies and people between 30 and 70 years. Dry scalp affects most people at some stage of their life, and it tends to come and go.


Antifungals and corticosteroids can be used if you suffer from dandruff. Dry scalp can be treated with moisturizing shampoos; a dermatologist may also suggest other options depending on why you have a dry scalp.

Table comparing Dandruff and Dry Scalp

Summary of Dandruff Vs. Dry Scalp

  • Dandruff and dry scalp both cause flakes of skin to be produced from the head.
  • Dandruff typically has oily flakes that are quite big.
  • Dry scalp produces flakes that are small and dry.


How do I know if I have dry scalp or dandruff?

With dry scalp, your hair will also be dry and the flakes of skin you produce will be smaller and whiter than if you had dandruff.

Is it dandruff or dry scalp buildup?

Dandruff flakes are oily and larger than dry scalp flakes. Dry scalp flakes are small and dry. 

How do you get rid of dry scalp?

It depends on the reason why you have a dry scalp. Moisturizing shampoos can help in many cases.

Should I wash my hair everyday if I have a dry scalp?

No, as this may make the problem worse. It may be best to only wash your hair once a week.

When I scratch my scalp, I get white stuff in my nails?

The white stuff is usually a combination of dead skin cells and sebum. Sebum is an oily substance that is produced by glands in the skin.

How do you hydrate your scalp?

You can use natural oils, aloe vera, and moisturizing shampoos to help hydrate your scalp.

Can drinking water fix dry scalp?

It depends on why you have a dry scalp, but drinking water may be helpful in hydrating the skin.

How can I hydrate my scalp overnight?

Using liquid coconut oil may help to hydrate your scalp overnight.

How long does it take to rehydrate your scalp?

How long it takes for rehydration of your scalp depends partly on the cause of the dry scalp. It can take a week to a few weeks, depending on how severe the condition is.

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1 Comment

  1. thank for you the information was semi-useful but useful non the less
    i’m black

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References :

[0]Cleveland Clinic. “Dry Scalp”. Cleveland Clinic, 2023, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23326-dry-scalp

[1]Ruenger, Thomas M. “Seborrheic Dermatitis”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2023, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/dermatitis/seborrheic-dermatitis

[2]Saunders, Charles W., Annika Scheynius, and Joseph Heitman. "Malassezia fungi are specialized to live on skin and associated with dandruff, eczema, and other skin diseases." PLoS pathogens 8.6 (2012): e1002701.

[3]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAFBMS6l1qM-closeup-of-woman-with-dandruff-in-her-hair-view-through-magnify/

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAFOoHNBY-U-3d-restore-and-nourish-hair-scalp-with-shampoo-serum-treatmen/

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