Everyone is prone to bouts of dryness on the scalp when the temperatures drop. Not to be confused with greasy dandruff, a dry scalp is simply your body's way of telling you that there's a lack of moisture on the head. We may find momentary relief in scratching the itch, but it's always accompanied by white flakes dusting our shoulders and clothes.
This is easily remedied - you only need to ensure that your scalp keeps hydrated and moisturised in these times. Just as we introduce hydration back to our dry winter skin with thick creams, a flaky head needs moisturising ingredients and scalp care to bounce back.
And, of course, prevention is key, which is why we spoke to Dr Alaa El Chami, a natural aesthetics doctor and general practitioner at the holistic medical centre Wellth, Dubai. Dr El Chami takes us through dry scalp causes, tips and easy at-home treatments, which you can find below.
Our curated list also features the best-rated tools and products that will help you combat the occasional dry scalp when the season turns. An Amazon Prime membership can get these to you quickly and free of delivery cost.
1. Best Shampoo: Jupiter Dry Scalp and Dandruff Shampoo
Dr El Chami has personally seen great results with shampoos that are infused with natural oils. Jupiter's balancing shampoo for dry scalp sees scores of happy reviewers claiming incredible results with hydration and reduced irritation and 'snowflakes'. It carries scalp moisturisers in the form of several oils, from coconut to rosemary, glycerin, sugar kelp extract and squalane. What's going to be fighting the flakes is the medicated active ingredient zinc pyrithione in one per cent concentration. As our expert cautions against sulfate, this shampoo is free from the stripping ingredient, along with paraben and phthalate, making it safe for colour and chemically-treated hair. Those with a dry, itchy scalp note that the formula is thick and creamy, and hydrates like a conditioner! You can follow up with the conditioner from the same range or try out our next pick. Do note that you're only getting 280ml at this price.
2. Best Conditioner: Mizani Scalp Care Dandruff Conditioner
Conditioners are essential if you suffer from dryness on the head, especially with curly hair, which tends to be on the drier side naturally. The Mizani scalp care conditioner moisturises both the scalp and the hair with peppermint oil and cucumber extract, while delivering anti-dandruff (dry flaking, in this case) properties with the active ingredient pyrithione zinc. Reviewers find it soothing to their dry, itchy scalps in cooler months, and some prefer to co-wash with it in between shampoo wash days. It enhances curls and makes them softer and more manageable, so that's just a win-win situation.
3. Best Scalp Leave-In: Living Proof Scalp Care Dry Scalp Treatment
A leave-in treatment is going to supply hydration to the scalp till your next wash day, all the while soothing any itching and flaking. Living Proof's dry scalp treatment contains hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, glycerin and urea for long-lasting moisture and vitamin B3 complex to rebalance the scalp's natural microbiome for a healthy environment. It's free of sulfates, silicones, parabens and more. To treat your scalp, simply part your freshly washed, damp hair and massage the formula in. Reviewers who've had dry flaking for a long time say that they found immediate relief with the Living Proof leave-in treatment, and it's the only product that has worked for their dry scalp. Any inflammation that comes with scratching is also instantly soothed, they add.
4. Best Oil: JVN Pre-Wash Scalp Oil
Any hydrating hair oil will work wonders to nourish the scalp, but a targeted one, like this JVN scalp oil, features a complex of ingredients meant to combat a dry scalp. This nutrient-rich scalp oil uses rosemary to increase blood circulation, turmeric to soothe irritation, hemisqualane to enhance the strength of your hair strands and neem seed for hydration. You'll also find coconut oil, moringa seed oil and sunflower seed oil in the formula. This is a thick pre-wash oil, so you can fully enjoy its benefits on the scalp before washing it out. Users say that it helps with breaking down the scales on their scalp, hair fall and itching. Due to import fees, however, the price is higher than the original value.
5. Best Scalp Massager: Sndyi Scalp Massager
To dislodge stubborn scales and stimulate blood flow, you might just need a dedicated scalp massager on hand. These silicone-bristle brushes have become a popular tool on the internet for exfoliating the scalp gently, getting the most out of your lather and improving circulation in general. Our pick has 19 soft spikes and only weighs 60 grams to give you a stable hold in the shower. You can even use it with oil on your scalp or on dry hair, reviewers see good results either way. For many, the brush is now an essential part of their scalp care routine.
6. Best Humidifier: Levoit Dual100 Humidifier
- Ultra-fine mist
- Has a slot for essential oils
- Works for up to 20 hours
- Auto shut-off when tank runs out
- Adjusts humidity levels automatically
- Only lasts one night
Low-humid environments can be detrimental to our skin. Our expert suggests adding moisture to your living spaces with a humidifier, so that your scalp becomes less prone to drying out. You have plenty of pocket-friendly options on the market, like the Levoit Dual100. It's a 1.8-litre bedroom unit that can run up to 20 hours at a time, and works perfectly for medium-sized spaces. You also have the option of adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil into the base of the humidifier, which can help with dry throat, congestion and allergies. Don't know how much humidity you'll need during sleep? The unit comes with a sensor to automatically maintain an ideal level in the room, switching off when the right humidity is reached. Those with dry eyes, nose and skin say that they've been able to sleep and wake up feeling better. It also helps combat the dry air from the air conditioner.
Bonus: Get Dh40 off when you apply a coupon.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a two-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh29 and two years for Dh41.
7. Best Hair Supplement: NutraChamps Biotin Gummies
Maintain your results with a dose of biotin or vitamin B7 to strengthen your skin and nourish the hair. These biotin chewables by NutraChamps are plant-based gummies infused with 10,000 mcg of pure biotin in each serving. They're completely vegan, with no gelatin added, and free from soy, eggs, dairy and nuts. Reviewers confirm that not only do these taste great but work great, too. Even people with dry scalps note that they're no longer scratching as much and have seen an improvement in the overall health of their hair and scalp.
What causes dry scalp?
A dehydrated scalp shares some symptoms with dandruff - itchiness, flaking and irritation - so telling them apart can be confusing. Dr El Chami says that the main difference is in oil production. Dandruff happens when there is excess sebum on the scalp, but a dry scalp occurs when you've lost too much of moisture.
Dr El Chami explained: "We're all prone to getting dry scalp here in the UAE, since the sun hits the scalp directly and humidity is low. The main cause is the lack of moisture, and we can have a lot of reasons for what is causing this." She lists them below:
- Low humidity in the air, especially here in UAE
- Hot showers, which are not good for you as you can lose moisture
- Shampoos with harsh chemicals, like sulphates, take away natural oils from the scalp
- Over-washing your hair or shampooing too frequently
- Cold weather because the air is dry and you absorb less moisture
- Stress and diet
- Medical conditions, such as hormonal imbalances, especially hypothyroidism, or autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, or skin conditions like eczema
Before we move on to over-the-counter solutions, our expert strongly suggests visiting your doctor for a thorough check-up as a chronic dry scalp might be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
How do you treat dry scalp?
The good news is that unless you have a pre-existing condition, treating a dry scalp is a matter of adjusting a few lifestyle choices. We have straightforward changes to make, such as avoiding hot showers and hot styling tools, shampooing less, choosing better hair products, and so on.
When it comes to wash day, Dr El Chami suggests the following: "Use shampoo that has moisturisers, like aloe vera, jojoba oil, argan oil, glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and always use a conditioner after. Also, reduce the frequency of washing your hair to every two to three days to retain natural oils."
You could even employ traditional pre-shampoo remedies, like massaging the scalp with coconut oil and leaving it on for 30 minutes before showering. Special exfoliating scalp brushes will help you remove dead skin cells and stimulate the blood flow to the scalp, adds Dr El Chami.
For post-shampoo treatments, go for scalp serums with hyaluronic acid. Our expert advises bringing home a humidifier to combat low humidity indoors, as well. Staying hydrated day-to-day will greatly impact the skin on your scalp, so ensuring a healthy diet with vitamins and minerals is important. Dr El Chami recommends hair supplements if necessary, namely biotin (vitamin B7) and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), both of which promote healthy hair growth.
"Avoid using heat styles with blow-dryer and straightener, but if you must, use a heat protectant spray at least," she advised.
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