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Why is my scalp so dry and what can I do about it?

IMAGE VIA @MECCAbeauty/instagram

WORDS BY BELLA BACKWELL

The lowdown on getting rid of those little white flakes.

Every year without fail, my scalp begins to dry up as soon as colder weather arrives. I’ve always considered this to be a pretty normal experience, and besides being slightly uncomfortable, it had little impact on my life. 

This year, however, the dryness is back with a vengeance, determined to exceed every previous year. I was perplexed as to why this was happening. I mean, I’m hardly exposed to cold weather because I stay inside nearly all hours of the day (thanks, lockdown). 


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Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve been neglecting my scalp. I’m prone to dryness everywhere, and religiously slather oils and creams on my face, lips and body. But I’ve been at a loss when it comes to addressing the dryness of my scalp.

I’m fed up with the morning cringe I experience when I spot those pesky white flakes, and I’m sick of avoiding black tops. In search of answers, I enlisted some help from Dr Bevin Bhoyrul from Sinclair Dermatology, who told me how to know when you have a dry scalp, what the causes are and how to get rid of it. 

Signs that you have a dry scalp

The classic telltale sign that you have a dry scalp is finding white flakes in your hair (or on your clothes, for the unlucky ones like me). Itching, irritation and soreness also occur when your scalp is dry. Clearly, it’s not a fun time.  

Factors causing your scalp to dry out

“Overwashing your hair can cause a dry scalp,” says Dr Bhoyrul. This is particularly common if you’re using a shampoo that contains chemicals, fragrances and preservatives. Check the backs of those bottles, people! 

It turns out you’re not entirely to blame for developing a dry scalp if, like me, hair care is embarrassingly low on your priority list. Factors beyond your control can contribute to a dry scalp, such as changes in the seasons. “At certain times of the year, there is more of a tendency to get a dry scalp,” explains Dr Bhoyrul.

When you are more at risk of developing a dry scalp

So, when exactly is this treacherous time of the year Dr Bhoyrul mentioned? You guessed it – it’s winter. “This is not so much to do with the actual weather,” says Dr Bhoyrul. This explains my previous confusion about barely braving the cold weather during lockdown, yet my scalp still being drier than ever. 

Being stuck inside due to COVID combined with colder weather likely means your indoor heating is on more than usual. I know mine is, if the horrifying sharehouse electricity bill is anything to go by. And while I’m aware it’s now spring, if you’re living in Victoria, you’ll know it’s not exactly warm just yet. 

“Heating dries the air and there is not a lot of humidity – this is what gives you not just a dry scalp, but dry skin generally,” Dr Bhoyrul says. 

Is having a dry scalp different to having dandruff?

I’m guilty of lumping together dry scalps and dandruff, I mean, they’re both just flakes in your hair, right? Wrong. They are actually two different conditions but can have many of the same symptoms.

“Both dandruff and a dry scalp are itchy and flaky, but the flakes that you get with dandruff are different to those you get with a dry scalp,” says Dr Bhoyrul. “The flakes with dandruff look a bit yellow, whereas the flakes with a dry scalp are white.” 

Their causes are, in fact, the complete opposite, so it’s important to determine which condition you have so that you tackle it correctly and prevent it reoccurring in the future. Dandruff is caused by excess oil, whereas a dry scalp is caused by dryness (it figures). 

Try these treatments for your dry scalp

To treat dryness of the scalp, firstly, “limit exposure to very chemical-rich shampoos,” advises Dr Bhoyrul. Try a sulphate-free shampoo, as they are less likely to cause dryness. To take it a step further, choose a hydrating hair wash, which, as Dr Bhoyrul has assured sceptics like me, actually helps dry hair more than standard shampoos. 

Other remedies to try are coconut oil, aloe vera, scalp scrubs and essential oils for maximum hydration. “Making sure you eat a healthy diet” is also key, says Dr Bhoyrul, so pack in those fruits and veggies. 

Sadly, there’s no magic number of weekly hair washes that can prevent your scalp from drying out and flaking. This varies for each person, depending on how much hair you have, how thick it is, and whether it’s curly, straight, or somewhere in between. Dr Bhoyrul recommends washing one to two times per week for curly hair and two to three times per week for straight or wavy hair. 

So, try these tips and treatments to hydrate your dry scalp and stop those pesky flakes popping up in your hair and on your clothes. It’s time to break out the black tops again. 

For more on how to tell the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff, head here. 

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