Like a cystic acne flare-up, dry scalp is one of those embarrassing beauty issues that makes you feel like you're the only person dealing with it, but the problem is actually more common than you think—especially with the abundance of tools and treatments that can impact the health of your scalp. Rest assured that the issue can be resolved and that your LBDs will eventually be devoid of flakes, but first things first, you have to determine whether it's dry scalp or dandruff, then treat it accordingly.
"In general, dry scalp symptoms would of course include flaking, itching, tightness, stinging, or pain when getting chemicals or hair dye applied to the area," explains dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco. "With dandruff, you could have all of those symptoms, but you'll generally also have a greasy scalp, with more flakes than what you'd get with typical dry scalp. My clients who have it complain of oily skin on their scalp, and it can also affect their eyebrows."
Dandruff is caused by two things—a compromised skin barrier, and the overgrowth of a yeast that naturally grows on the scalp. "When dandruff really revs up a lot, it can feel like thick scales, and if you look at the skin under a microscope, it will look cracked because the protective barrier is compromised," she explains. "Then, it's just a matter of the yeast getting itno the cracks, the cracks getting bigger, and it just takes off from there."
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One common mistake, Dr. Fusco finds, is that people decrease the amount that they shampoo, which is bad in terms of the yeast on the scalp building up. A shampoo with an active ingredient meant to treat dandruff should be used, along with a coordinating conditioner. Dr. Fusco likes the Dove Derma Care range ($5; target.com), which uses zinc pyrithione to treat the area and balance the yeast levels.
As for regular dry scalp, exfoliating away the dead skin is key. "If you add a little sugar into your regular shampoo and rub it in using the balls of your fingers, it will get rid of the dead skin very effectively, and because it's in your shampoo, it won't leave behind any residue," Dr. Fusco says. "Then, you want to condition, but be sure to use a conditioner made to treat the scalp, as opposed to one that just treats the hair. Make sure you actively massage it in, or turn it into a hair mask. Heat a small amount of conditioner in the microwave for a few seconds, part your hair, massage it in, then wear a shower cap over it for 10 to 20 minutes."