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Struggling With Dry Scalp? We Asked a Trichologist for the Tips to Treat It

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Photo by AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Dealing with an itchy, dry scalp? You’re not alone. Whether you’re suffering through the side effects of harsh weather or you’re currently plagued with dandruff, there’s no reason to accept an irritated scalp and excess dryness as your new reality. With the right treatment, you can usher in good hair days, lots of hydration, and banish itchiness and dryness once and for all. 

“The scalp is the root of all hair health, meaning you need a well-balanced scalp/scalp biome to have healthy hair! Whether you’re looking to accelerate growth, strengthen the hair, reduce split ends, or lessen thinning + fallout, you need to take care of your scalp first in order to see results,” says Helen Reavey, board-certified trichologist.

We turned to Reavey and our beauty editors to round up the best hair care products and tips to remedy itchy scalps and dry skin. Read on to learn more and start your scalp care journey—trust, you’ll see healthier hair results in no time.

About the Expert: 

Helen Reavey is a board-certified trichologist, celebrity hairstylist, and founder of the scalp care brand ACT+ACRE.

What Causes Dry Scalp?

Before you start slathering on a dry scalp treatment, it’s important to get to the root of the problem and understand why improving your scalp is so important for the future of your tresses. Although you may not be able to always see it beneath your mane, a healthy scalp is essential for promoting healthy hair growth. Exfoliation, frequent washing, moisturizing, and rebalancing sebum levels are the keys to keeping itchiness, dry flakes, and inflammation at bay, all while clearing away follicle-clogging particles and product buildup that can inhibit future hair growth. 

“There are a few different causes of dry scalps, including lack of proper nutrients to the scalp, product buildup, inflammation, change in temperature, and more,” says Reavey. If you’re washing your hair but ignoring your scalp, you’re not really taking care of your hair. It’s like trying to do your skincare routine without washing your face.

Scalp care is important to rid your hair follicles of product buildup, sebum, and dead skin cells. You can use a scalp scrub or a clarifying shampoo a couple times a week to keep everything in check. Aside from soothing an irritated, dry scalp, you’ll begin to notice it’s easier to lather shampoo throughout your hair after removing all that buildup on your scalp. Your hair will look fuller and stay hydrated longer once you’re taking care of those hair follicles. A healthy scalp = healthy hair.

Dry Scalp vs. Dandruff

“A dry scalp typically occurs when there's a little bit of dead skin that hasn't been removed properly during your cleansing process. Dandruff is a bacterial growth that speeds up cell turnover so you're losing more skin rapidly and it's building up on the scalp and combines with the sebum. To sum it up, dandruff is poor circulation and a dry scalp is just dead skin built up on the scalp,” says Reavey.

However, you treat both conditions with the same remedies. While dandruff might be a bit more stubborn than a dry scalp, scalp care products are how you remedy both; making sure you’re removing excess buildup, using anti-inflammatory ingredients, and hydrating when necessary.

The Best Dry Scalp Treatments

1. ORIBE HAIR CARE Serene Scalp Soothing Leave-On Treatment

ORIBE HAIR CARE Serene Scalp Soothing Leave-On Treatment
Courtesy of ORIBE

This soothing leave-on dry scalp treatment is ideal after a few too many days of dry shampoo and works to remove dead skin and dandruff from your scalp. Infused with peppermint and chamomile extracts, it’ll also calm and soothe in the process, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready for a new hair day. We especially love that it’s free of parabens, sulfates, and fragrances, making it a safe choice for color-treated or keratin-treated tresses, too. One Ipster raved about the way it revived her hair: “My scalp has been very dry lately due to the colder weather and this helped tremendously!”

2. ACT + ACRE Cold Processed Scalp Detox

ACT + ACRE Cold Processed Scalp Detox
Courtesy of ACT + ACRE

“Keeping the scalp hydrated and moisturized will ensure that the scalp microbiome is balanced, leading to a healthy environment for growth and hair health. To treat dry scalp, try to incorporate an oil-based treatment into your routine to remove excess build-up,” says Reavey. She then recommends following up with a hydrating serum with inflammatory ingredients after washing.

3. OUAI Scalp & Body Scrub

OUAI Scalp & Body Scrub
Courtesy of OUAI

This invigorating scrub smells as good as it works, making it a fan favorite of both Ipsters and IPSY staff alike. Not only is it amazing at exfoliating away the flaky, dead skin typical of an itchy scalp, but it can be used on your entire body, too, for a replenishing scrub you'll reach for again and again. Use it to slough away dead skin while also providing nourishment to your scalp, thanks to coconut oil. “This scrub was amazing. I loved how multipurpose it was and that I could use it in my scalp without it getting gunky,” wrote one Ipster, while another really appreciated the versatility of the product: “I love love love this scrub! Amazing texture, amazing in the shower! I use it on my scalp and on my entire body! It smells delicious! A little goes a long way! This is a favorite for me!”

4. BRIOGEO Scalp Revival™ Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

BRIOGEO Scalp Revival™ Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
Courtesy of BRIOGEO

Exfoliating isn’t just for your face—in fact, your tresses can really benefit from sloughing off dead skin cells and follicle-clogging particles. Made with Binchotan charcoal, this shampoo works to clear out blockages and helps promote healthy hair growth while also soothing itchiness and irritation (two common culprits of dry scalps). Ipsters often rave about the refreshing scent and especially love the way it combats dandruff. “It really helped my dandruff and left my scalp feeling minty,” shared one Ipster.

5. BUMBLE AND BUMBLE Sunday Scalp Reset Foam Pre Shampoo

BUMBLE AND BUMBLE Sunday Scalp Reset Foam Pre Shampoo

Feeling like your scalp is 90% dry shampoo? Remove product build-up and impurities once and for all, thanks to this invigorating treatment that employs micellar water to gently cleanse, panthenol to prevent over-drying, and salicylic acid to clear away pore-clogging debris and dead skin cells. Apply on dry hair in sections and rinse out prior to shampoo and conditioner to achieve a refreshing, deep clean.

6. AVEDA Scalp Remedy™ Dandruff Solution

AVEDA Scalp Remedy™ Dandruff Solution
Courtesy of AVEDA

This daily leave-in spray is the answer to clearing up dandruff flakes once and for all. Lippia purifies and clarifies the scalp, while salicylic acid exfoliates and sugar beet extract conditions, leaving you with healthier hair in the process. The days of dealing with an itchy, flaky scalp are finally behind you.

7. R+CO Crown Scalp Scrub

R+CO Crown Scalp Scrub
Courtesy of R+CO

Give your scalp the deep clean it deserves thanks to this purifying and soothing scrub that’s like a detox for your head. Ideal for sensitive and oily scalps, this treatment is gentle enough to rebalance and will leave you with shiny, healthy hair in no time. Bonus: it smells amazing (think hints of lemon, eucalyptus, and green tea).

8. BRIOGEO HAIR CARE Scalp Revival™ Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment

BRIOGEO HAIR CARE Scalp Revival™ Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment

Are you constantly scratching your head? Look no further than this biotin-infused treatment–it’s a total game-changer. A clinical study found that 95 percent of participants reported reduced itchiness and 100 percent reported a reduction in flakes. Binchotan charcoal removes follicle-clogging particles and buildup, promoting a healthier scalp, while spearmint oil works to reduce itchiness and hazel water balances oil production. It also contains biotin to support healthy hair growth.

9. HAIRSTORY New Wash Original

HAIRSTORY New Wash Original
Courtesy of HAIRSTORY

This is a sulfate-free shampoo with zero detergent so it doesn’t lather like a normal shampoo; it feels more like a conditioner. It contains peppermint oil, an ingredient known to increase circulation to the scalp area to promote hair growth. If you have a sensitive scalp, trying this type of shampoo that won’t strip down essential oils yet still effectively cleanses might be beneficial.

10. DP HUE Apple Cider Vinegar Daily Scalp Serum

DP HUE Apple Cider Vinegar Daily Scalp Serum
Courtesy of DP HUE

Apple cider vinegar is one of the best ingredients to detox your scalp with. It’s gentle, so it’s great to use on sensitive skin. This serum will hydrate your scalp while calming irritation and dryness, and imbalance. A bonus is that it protects hair against shedding and promotes healthy hair growth.

How To Prevent Dry Scalp in the Future

While scalp hair treatments are great, some can be overly drying. Make sure you’re understanding if the scalp products you’re looking at are for more oily scalps or dry and flaky scalps. A good rule of thumb is to be looking for hair oils, hair masks, nourishing scrubs, and hydrating or soothing scalp serums.

“Beyond topical treatments, I recommend drinking a lot of water and ensuring you’re getting the proper vitamins and nutrients in your diet. All of these connect to support a healthy, strong scalp microbiome, ultimately promoting healthier and stronger hair,” says Reavey.

Another tip Reavey suggests is to try a double cleanse. “Make sure you double cleanse every time you wash your hair – this will ensure the scalp is remaining clean + buildup free. After each shower, add a nutrient-rich serum to the scalp to lock in moisture and soothe any irritation caused by previous dryness,” she adds.

If you’re finding your scalp is persistently dry despite caring for it with at-home remedies, it might be time to visit a board-certified dermatologist or trichologist. They can help you determine if your dry scalp is instead a chronic skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis.

Looking for more hair care tips and products? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own IPSY beauty subscription. Already a member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

About the author
Olivia Cefalu
Olivia Cefalu
Olivia is a freelance beauty writer. With experience in influencer marketing at Tata Harper Skincare and editorial at Very Good Light, she loves covering Gen Z beauty, wellness, and nail trends. Read her work on Very Good Light and Well + Good.
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Article Last Updated March 17, 2023 12:00 AM