Scalp dryness brings a lot of further complications and it is very exhausting. The scenario results in less oil and moisture on the scalp. But what about dandruff? And, specifically, how to know if it is dandruff or dry scalp.

Although those flakes on the scalp that often fall on the shoulders look very embarrassing, and you might be looking for its treatment, the more important aspect is knowing the difference between dry scalp and dandruff due to similarities in symptoms.

To solve this problem, we wrote down some differences between dandruff and dry scalp to help you diagnose your flaky scalp and get the appropriate treatment. So, let’s start!

Dandruff or Dry Scalp?

Both conditions have common symptoms and appearance but there are some ways to simplify the explanation of dandruff vs dry scalp. Both conditions cause flaky and dry scalp. Dryness may cause itching on the scalp.

To distinguish both terms, you have to delve deeper into their details, causing factors, appearance, and cure.

It will be better to get the right treatment for a particular skin condition. See the below details:

1.  Observe the flakes carefully

Dry skin leads to dryness in the scalp. Sebum is a natural oil that our body produces to maintain skin health. It is responsible for hydrating and protecting the skin.

Less sebum production leads to dryness and cracks on the skin, which often contributes to the formation of flakes. This condition is dry scalp. The flakes will be white and very small but visible.

Dandruff is caused by the overproduction of Sebum oil on the skin. Some foods with high fats can also cause dryness and flakes.

Our body automatically removes dead skin cells from our skin that are not visible to the naked eye.

During dandruff, these skin cells combine and make visible flakes that fall on our shoulders. The flakes could be white or yellow, but dandruff flakes are bigger than dry scalp flakes.

2.  Severity of condition

So, which is more dangerous, dandruff or dry scalp? Let’s see.

A dry scalp is simply dry skin which is not very harmful. It doesn’t show severe symptoms or irritate a lot.

However, dry skin often leads to itching. Mild conditions can be ignored or managed with OTC treatments. Excessive dryness may induce cracks on the skin and bleeding.

Dandruff is a moderate form of seborrheic dermatitis, and it is more severe than a dry scalp. The flakes are bigger, causing a person to scratch the scalp even if it doesn’t itch.

This may contribute to temporary hair loss. The scalp may look dirty, scaly, and red. It can be treated with OTC treatments. Both conditions are harmless.

3.  Different ways to treat a particular condition

Although they share symptoms like dryness and flakes, both conditions need different treatments due to different causes leading to dry scalp or dandruff.

A dry scalp can be managed by following some preventive measures and using moisturizing creams

Usually, regular but safe moisturizers will work well. Still, using a medicated moisturizing lotion or cream is better if the skin is very dry.

Natural oils like coconut, olive, and mustard oil are a better option. Apply any of these oils on your scalp and massage gently for a while.

For seborrheic dermatitis (a parent term used to describe mild dandruff in adults and cradle cap in children), dandruff shampoo will work well.

This will soothe dry skin and remove flakes, providing a safe and clean environment for hair follicles to thrive.

To implement this, apply a small amount of shampoo on the affected area and rub it for a while. Wash with cold water.

Use it twice within a week for better results. You can increase the usage if symptoms don’t improve fast.

4.  Preventive measures

Preventions, often, work more effectively than the actual treatment. So, it is very important to know about the prevention of these skin conditions because treatment is not necessary for them.

Whether you have dandruff or dry scalp, the preventive measures will be the same for both.

Here I have listed some measures that you must follow if dealing with these conditions:

  • Avoid excessive exposure to heat. Both conditions can worsen with frequent exposure to heat or direct sunlight. Heat removes the essential oils and damages our skin. So use a hat to cover your head when you go out.
  • Keep your skin away from harsh products and chemicals. Use only medicated soaps and shampoos if needed.
  • Don’t take frequent or regular baths. Like heat, excessive bathing also removes essential oils from the skin, worsening existing dryness.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration also affects our skin and can contribute to further dryness.
  • Don’t brush or rub your hair vigorously. Whether it is dandruff or dry scalp, scratching will induce further damage, causing temporary hair loss.
  • Use a humidifier to keep the air moist. But it is optional.
  • Don’t try to manually remove flakes. It may weaken or remove hair as well.
  • Fried, processed, and fatty foods can lead to a dry and flaky scalp. Quit or reduce the intake of those foods. Avoid alcohol.
  • During baths, avoid using hot water. Use cold or lukewarm water.

Another thing that is specific for women is to avoid using styling products. They cannot cause dandruff but the fragrance and chemicals in them can irritate the scalp.


It should be easy for anyone reading this article to now distinguish between dandruff and dry scalp. Both conditions cause flakes on the scalp but those in dandruff are bigger.
Dandruff is a slightly more considerable condition than a simple dry scalp. Both conditions need different treatment.

However, their symptoms are mild or moderate and they can be ignored safely. Still, it is better to avoid their triggers and follow preventive measures to reduce the risk of flare-ups and further complications.

I hope you can now tell using the provided information in this article that you have dandruff or dry scalp.

By Annie Reaves

Greetings, I'm Annie Reaves, your cheerful guide to all the things like hair, beauty, and lifestyle! With an unbridled passion for enhancing your innate beauty and making your daily routine a breeze, I'm here to shower you with the freshest tips, hottest trends, and expert advice in the dazzling realm of hair and beauty.