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How to treat a dry, flaky scalp: causes and prevention tips

Want to know what causes a dry, itchy, flaky scalp and how to treat it?

Here’s the heads up from our expert Trichologist.

If you’re reading this because you’ve been scratching your head about how to treat a dry, itchy, flaky scalp perhaps the first thing to know is, you’re not alone: lots of people suffer from scalp conditions. A frustrating problem, it’s not just the physical itching and redness that’s irritating; psychologically, unsightly flakes can make you feel self-conscious and impact your confidence, but the condition can also affect the quality of your hair growth.

The good news is, with the right treatment, you can get on top of it but before we move onto how to help fix those flakes and relieve that itchy redness let’s first look at how the scalp works and what triggers poor scalp health.

Understanding your scalp

Home to your hair follicles, it’s no surprise that by caring for your scalp you are also safeguarding the future strength and growth of healthy hair. The skin on our head has sweat glands and sebaceous glands that produce sebum, which forms a protective barrier for the scalp and moisturises the hair. Like the rest of the body, our scalp hosts a whole universe of microflora which rely on sebum and sweat as their food source.

On a healthy scalp where the follicles are clean and clear, skin renewal takes place over a four-week period with small numbers of dead skin cells shedding as tiny individual scales that we don’t normally notice. These dead cells slough away on the outermost layers of the skin, the stratum corneum as it’s known which is a shield against external aggressors, bacteria, physical damage and water loss.

There are, however, various factors which compromise the skin’s barrier function and rapidly accelerate the rate of skin shedding from a regular 28 days to 14 days which in turn leads to problem dryness, itching, flaking and follicles that are compromised by a build-up of dead skin cells.

What are the causes of a dry, itchy, flaky scalp? 

Identifying the exact reason for the problem can be tricky but one of these factors is often to blame:

Microbiome imbalance

While an itchy, flaky scalp doesn’t always mean dandruff, it is a very common skin condition that affects about 50% of the world’s adult population and it occurs when the balance of the scalp’s microbiome is disturbed. Micro-organisms called Malassezia live on everyone’s scalp. They thrive on the nutrients in the natural sebum that’s released there but if their numbers increase and get out of control, skin cells start to overproduce and build up too quickly. This leads to the rapid shedding of big clusters of dead skins cells and the formation of visible flakes accompanied by itchiness and irritation.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

As a skin condition that tends to present itself on areas of the body where there are more sebaceous glands, the scalp is the perfect territory for it to appear. While the exact cause isn’t known, micro-organisms again can be a factor, with the symptoms ranging from redness, itching and shedding of crusty white and yellow skin scales.

Psoriasis

Like the previous skin conditions, psoriasis increases the rate of cell turnover (in some cases it can be as fast as 3-4 days) which creates clusters of cells on the skin’s surface that are often scaly and sore.

Haircare routines

It’s not just harsh chemicals from dyes, bleach or perming treatments that can trigger an allergic reaction or irritate your scalp; build up from styling products like sprays and gels or simply shampoo residue can all affect sensitivity and the skin’s natural moisture balance leading to dryness, discomfort and itching. Styling appliances can also have a part play in the problem.

Physical environment

Factors like air pollution, air conditioning and central heating impact your skin, including your scalp, as it adjusts to changes in the atmosphere.

Sebum imbalance

Whether the scalp is producing too much sebum or too little, both instances can cause flaking

Other triggers

There are several other triggers that can also influence the health of your scalp including hormonal changes, stress and poor diet.

What’s the difference between a dry scalp and dandruff?

A dry scalp can often cause dandruff, but the two conditions are distinct. So what’s the difference?

Dandruff causes the scalp to flake which is visible on clothing or on hair directly. The scalp sheds dead skin cells, like the rest of our skin. Dandruff occurs when this process speeds up – the faster the scalp sheds dead skin cells, the worse dandruff becomes. Flakes are more likely to be dandruff if: The scalp feels oily, there is intense itching even when the scalp does not feel dry, hair looks greasy and flakes are larger and yellow-tinged.

A dry scalp occurs when the scalp does not have enough oil for skin to feel lubricated. Like with dry skin, this can cause the scalp to become irritated, itch and flake and also causes hair to look dry. Unlike dandruff flakes, these tend to be smaller and whiter.

How to soothe and treat your dry scalp? 

 

While troublesome scalps have many different causes, thankfully managing the problem is more straightforward. A good cleansing routine is key to nurturing your scalp and investing in the growth and future health of your hair.

Trichologist approved, dermatologically tested and clinically proven in independent trials to restore and relieve dry, red, flaky scalps in just 7 days*, the complete scalp care system from AMELIORATE tackles scalp confidence head-on.

Applying our award-winning formulas and dermatological skincare expertise to the scalp, we’ve developed a new haircare range that uses our unique technologies to gently resurface, nourish, comfort and moisturise delicate scalp skin. As well as improving the appearance of dry, itchy, flaky scalps, hair is left feeling smooth and looking full of shine and vibrancy.

This advanced collection of products has been specifically created so people don’t have to compromise the efficacy of your traditional haircare routine: a Clarifying Shampoo and Smoothing Conditioner help hydrate and replenish the hair and maintain scalp health while our Clarifying Scalp Exfoliator and Transforming Scalp Serum are more treatment based.

Here’s how they work:

AMELIORATE TRANSFORMING SCALP SERUM, £20, 125ml

The high-performance hero in AMELIORATE’s scalp care system, apply this lightweight scalp resurfacing serum before bed and let its raft of benefits get to work as you sleep. Providing instant relief, the formula’s lactic acid supports the skin’s natural exfoliation process softening and loosening the build-up of dead cells, so the scalp feels softer, smoother and more refined.

Meanwhile, our unique LaH6 Skin Hydration Complex and a nourishing blend of Oat Oil, Frankincense extract, Celery Seed Oil and minerals help improve the appearance of the scalp, replenish hydration to enhance the moisture barrier and provide a healthy environment for balanced scalp microflora.

AMELIORATE CLARIFYING SHAMPOO, £16, 250ml

This mild, natural moisture-enhancing shampoo cleanses as it nourishes the hair and removes flakes, impurities and product residue. pH balanced to avoid irritation, while high-performance conditioning actives detangle and maintain volume and shine, even the driest, most sensitive scalps are soothed with the Prebiotic Therapy and our unique LaH6 Skin Hydration Complex that powers the formula.

AMELIORATE SMOOTHING CONDITIONER, £18, 250ml

Replenishing, weightless and smoothing, the exceptional de-tangling properties of this rich, creamy conditioner mean that sensitive scalps don’t have to suffer knots and snags while brushing. Instead, hair is left super soft, hydrated and full of volume.

AMELIORATE CLARIFYING SCALP EXFOLIANT, £20, 125ml

Used two to three times a week as part of your hair cleansing routine, this gentle, non-abrasive exfoliating cleanser reduces the appearance of dry and flaky scalps while respecting the natural pH balance of the scalp using lactic acid to soften dead skin cells and a cellulose scrub to remove dead skin cell debris.

AMELIORATE SOOTHING SCALP ESSENCE, 50ml as part of THE AMELIORATE 5 STEP SCALP CARE SYSTEM

Designed to provide instant comfort and relief throughout the day, this ultra-fine, non-greasy spray has a directional nozzle which allows you to apply the scalp conditioning formula in targeted areas like the hair parting.

*Independent Clinical and user trial with Ameliorate Regime kit over 7 days.



Meghann Thorp

Meghann Thorp

Writer and expert


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