Symptoms, Causes and Support for Dry Scalp, Dandruff And Flakiness

Symptoms, Causes and Support for Dry Scalp, Dandruff And Flakiness

It’s not always clear to most people which scalp issue they are experiencing. Understanding what condition is present is imperative to know how to address it properly.  We recommend visiting a professional in-person before self-treating.   

Dry scalp doesn’t necessarily mean you have dandruff. Dry scalp is characterized by a tight, itchy scalp. Dandruff is when there are pieces of dead skin in hair. A person can have a dry scalp without dandruff, as well as Dry Scalp Dandruff, which is a type of dandruff, or Oily Scalp (Sebum) Dandruff, another type of dandruff that doesn’t have the typical symptoms of a dry scalp. 


Dehydration is a common cause of dry scalp because most people don’t drink enough water. Cold weather or a cold indoor environment, hard water and harsh detergent shampoos can contribute to symptoms as well. Synthetic hair care, which is not bio aligned, often very harsh, and full of allergens, plastic/polymers, silicones and many other highly questionable and proven toxic ingredients, can contribute to dry scalp and dandruff.

Apple cider vinegar rinses can help clarify scalp build-up due to styling products and can help restore scalp pH. Massaging the scalp with any number of nut and seed oils can dramatically improve dry scalp conditions by soothing the dryness and helping restore a barrier that locks in hydration. When dry scalp dandruff is present, the scalp has lost its ability to retain moisture and the acid mantle is compromised.  Remember,  after massaging oils into the scalp, cut the oil first with shampoo before adding water.

Jojoba, coconut, hemp, olive oils, and many other fatty acid-rich oils work incredibly to assist the scalp in its ability to trap moisture and support healing a dry scalp. Oil massage treatments can also help clear hair follicles and support healthy hair growth.


The cause of dandruff is not fully understood and there are different types. Internal causes of dandruff range from stress, hormone imbalance, poor diet and genetics. Top external causes lean towards infrequent shampooing, poor hygiene, not removing a product from the hair and scalp, excessive use of dry shampoos, harsh weather conditions and hair coloring. 

Dandruff is treatable, but not curable and there’s a lot of conflicting information, even coming from doctors and dermatologists.

Here are a few common types of Dandruff and their symptoms:

Dry Scalp Dandruff - Itchy, dry scalp with little white ball-like flakes

Sebum (Oily) Scalp Dandruff  - Oily small to large white flakes.

Seborrheic Dermatitis - One of the most severe types of Dandruff. Oily scalp with large white flakes and a red and irritated scalp. Sores can also appear. 

Fungal Dandruff - Oily Large white and yellow flakes, crusting, and redness.

Psoriasis - tends to produce a drier, silver-colored, flakey condition 

There is a small amount of harmless fungus on everyone’s scalp called Malassezia. A popular understanding is that a fungus present with Fungal Dandruff tends to reproduce at a faster rate by feeding on the excess oil, causing the chronic issue. The origin of the condition is unknown but the overproducing sebaceous glands are part of the cause.

Hormones may play a part as well. The renewed cells constantly pile up on top of one another resulting in thick, oily flakes with patchy redness on the scalp as well. 

Causes can also be attributed to stress, poor nutrition, oily skin, weather extremes and allergies.  Sunlight is good for helping to cure dandruff and I recommend heading outdoors for at least fifteen minutes a day for direct sunlight. 

Dandruff is not contagious. 


As with science and medicine, ideas and treatments evolve - skin and hair care is no different, ideas have changed because treatments have expanded. Effective treatment for skin and scalp conditions should always be addressed holistically. 

Tea Tree essential oil is excellent support for a dry scalp and dandruff. This oil is is rich in anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties as well as 98 different compounds. Apple cider vinegar can balance the pH levels of the scalp and help with an overly dry condition. Apple cider vinegar acts as a fungicide and helps kill off the fungus. 

Dilute both the Tea Tree essential oil and apple cider vinegar before applying it. You can massage coconut oil, sesame or olive oil into your scalp.  Simply warm a little oil and apply to scalp, leave on for up to an hour. 

From our experience treating dandruff, there is a secondary at-home treatment we recommend to clients when experiencing extreme oily scalp dandruff or flakiness to regulate oil overproduction. Since the Malassezia yeast appears to feed on scalp oils and exacerbate the condition, oils, conditioners, and rich moisturizing shampoos do not help. Saltwater rinses can assist in absorbing excess oil.

When trying to decipher what causes dry scalp and flakey scalp conditions, consider the multiple factors and possibilities that combine and lead to the state of imbalance and distress to the scalp. Many people have food allergies and gluten intolerance that contribute to chronic scalp conditions. Even when a person eats gluten without any immediate acute symptoms, the subtle intolerance can weaken the bodies immunity and the body might express an outbreak. Our bodies have a natural immunity to protect every system and stay healthy. This innate defense works as resistance to possible pathogens. 



Journal Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology 2009 Nov; 2(11): 14–17

Skincare Ingredient Heroes

How to Keep Your Skin Healthy While Traveling 

Our Top Skincare Tips for Healthy Skin

Revitalize Your Skin With Walnut Shells - We're Nuts Over This Exfoliant

What is Galactoarabinan and Why We Love This Moisture Enhancing Ingredient

Quick View

Nourish Shampoo

8 oz Full Size, 120 mL
Quick View

Balance Shampoo

8 oz Full Size, 240 mL
Quick View

Enrich Mask

Full Size 4oz 120 ml

WRITTEN BY Josh Rosebrook


Almost everyday I’m browsing on google on how to fix my dandruff issue. Finally, a helpful article!


Great article thank you. I’ve always struggled with dandruff, thinking dry scalp was the cause. But, I think I either have oily or eborrheic Dermatitis. I have thick curly hair so I don’t think a) I have washed the back thoroughly enough and b) the sunlight probably can’t get in. I think I will start with apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil and maybe invest in some Balance Shampoo. I’ve heard coconut is good for fungal issues to. Thanks again – there isn’t much good info on this topic so it is good to see a thorough article :)

Casey Smythe

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published