Why Is My Scalp Dry and Flaky?
Itchy and Flaky!
If you suffer from the constant irritation caused by the itch-scratch cycle, you will try anything to soothe it.
A flaky scalp is associated with dandruff, which is usually a fungus that causes flakes of dead skin. Those with flakes in their hair tend to buy anti-dandruff shampoos. But they may not always work, and it isn't always dandruff. Sufferers will find it embarrassing, as there may be visible white/yellowish flakes on the scalp and in the hair, which other people can see. If they fall onto your clothing it's not pleasant to see—and you may avoid wearing dark colours because of it.
There may be several reasons for a flaky scalp.
Dandruff is caused by skin cells re-newing themselves more quickly than is normal. The skin then flakes away causing the embarrassment. Dandruff is also associated with a fungus (malassezia).
Curing dandruff may vary from person to person. There are regular anti-dandruff shampoos which may help a mild case and these are found on the shelf in chemists. But they are all different which makes it trial and error when searching for one that works for you. Some may clear up the dry flakes or sooth irritation. But if they don't work then using an anti-fungal shampoo may help instead. Persist for a few weeks with it to see results. Again, if it doesn't work for you, don't feel defeated as you may not have found the right product to suit. There are plenty of over the counter lotions to try from your chemist.
Try tea tree oil on your scalp, which acts as an antiseptic. It is natural and comes in pure oil or in shampoo.
Psoriasis is a skin condition which can affect small or large areas of the body. It is non-contagious, but can be very sore and inflamed if left untreated.
Psoriasis makes skin very dry and "clumpy." It can be scaly and flaky as well and needs steroid ointments or photo therapy treatment (done under an ultra-violet light) if severe.
If you have psoriasis on your scalp you can try various treatments and shampoos to calm it down. It is important to keep the scalp moisturized, so a special moisturising shampoo and conditioner will help. Using coconut or caster oil will also help the condition, as will olive oil shampoo. If you are trying coconut or caster oil, massage it into the scalp at bedtime and leave overnight for an intense treatment.
You can also try coal tar shampoos which are designed for severe dandruff and psoriasis. There are many types on the market, or go to your GP who will prescribe you one.
This has similar traits to psoriasis although appears more like cradle cap, which is a condition often seen in infants.
Seborrheic dermatitis, otherwise known as seborrheic eczema, is inflamed skin on the scalp, although can form in other areas, too. These can include the eyebrows, sides of the nose, middle of the chest or around the ears.
The flakes form on oily parts of the skin and can become clumpy, have yellowish flakes and the skin can become red.
It is thought to be bought on by a combination of an over production of skin oil and the fungus associated with dandruff, malassezia.
It can run in families or come on through stress, fatigue, changes in weather, skin disorders or infrequent shampooing.
How to Combat the Condition
Various treatments are available to help seborrheic dermatitis. Often steroid based ointments or shampoo are prescribed, such as those containing keratolytic ingredients.
Anti fungal treatments can help the condition such as anti dandruff shampoo or those containing, zinc, tea tree, salicylic acid, coal tar, selenium or resorcin.
Use them two to three times a week and alternate with a mild or moisturizing shampoo.
Ensure flakes are washed out frequently to avoid build up and use a natural brush to loosen them from the scalp.
For a milder treatment, try cradle cap shampoo for babies to soften the flakes away.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a chemical found in a lot of shampoos, bubble baths, toothpastes, etc, as it acts as an effective cleaning agent. However if you have eczema prone skin or any other problems with dry skin conditions, SLS's can irritate and flare up.
Choosing a shampoo which is free of this chemical could help to improve dry and flaky scalps. Since I started with this condition and trying various different treatments, this by far is the most effective.
Going hand in hand with this, ensuring the water you use is not very hard (we live in a hard water area and have installed a water softener to combat this), this would also be more moisturising and again, I have personally noticed a difference even more.
A dry scalp may be due to changes in the weather or brought on by central heating in your home. It can dry out the skin making it quite dry or itchy. Changes in hormones (especially if you have just had a baby) can alter your hair thickness and condition.
Try putting olive or baby oil on your scalp and leave overnight for a moisturizing experience which could help the problem.
Stress may be a factor. You can itch when you feel anxious which needs to be addressed. Being aware of the habit can help to try to sort out an underlying problem.
You may also need to look at your diet. Sometimes it's not what we put on our bodies which can help, but it's what we put in our bodies. Nutrition is vital for healthy skin and plays a big part in it. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables rather than refined sugary foods (like cakes and biscuits), and balance your diet. Include Omega 3 and 6 oils which are found in fish, nuts and vegetables. Being deficient in these oils will make your skin dry and red. If you struggle to eat foods which include them then take vitamin supplements.
Having too much sugar in our diet can cause a growth of Candida (yeast) in the gut which can then aggravate dandruff related problems.
Vitamins do wonderful things for us which you will get from a balanced diet. Not all oils are bad for us. "Good" oils (from fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil) help us inside as well as out. Saturated fats, from cakes are the ones to avoid.
Drink More Water
If you have dry skin you need to hydrate yourself inside as well, so drink plenty of water. If you struggle with water, then add cordial to it. In cold weather, drink herbal teas which are caffeine free, rather than having coffee. Nettle teas and peppermint teas are great for flushing out your system.
Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about your problem. It could be identified and cleared up quicker that you realize. You could be allergic to your shampoo or have sensitive skin, or you may need to improve your diet. If it is a more serious complaint, antibiotics or specialist ointments may be the answer. Just don't suffer in silence.
Questions & Answers
I tried all these for my dry and flaky scalp, but nothing worked. What more can I do?
Why don't you try warming a small amount of olive oil (make sure it's not too hot) with a squeeze of fresh lemon and apply it to your scalp? Lemon is a great antifungal treatment, and the olive oil is moisturizing. Leave on for half an hour or so then wash off - ensuring you use a shampoo free of SLS. Have a look at your health store for a chemical free shampoo which won't make the condition worse.