Dry Scalp Remedies That Work

With symptoms such as itching and flaking, dry scalp can be aggravating and embarrassing. And it can sometimes be difficult to figure out the cause. It can be triggered by different things, like environmental factors (such as dry outdoor or indoor air) or conditions like dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis.

However, there are some natural remedies known to help if you are experiencing dry scalp. Here's a look at them and how each works.

Raw White Organic Coconut Oil
Brent Hofacker / 500px / Getty Images

What Is Dry Scalp?

Your scalp contains sebaceous glands that produce a substance known as sebum, which lubricates, waterproofs, and controls the temperature of the scalp. But sometimes these glands are not able to produce enough sebum due to various factors, which can result in your scalp becoming dry.

Oftentimes, this is caused by a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis, which is when there is an inflammation of the skin that affects the sebaceous glands and their ability to produce sebum. The exact cause for seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but it is often associated with a type of yeast known as Malassezia that feeds on the sebum produced by the skin.

Malassezia normally lives on the skin's surface and does not cause harm, but those with seborrheic dermatitis usually have increased amounts of it. Other risk factors of dry scalp include having a family history of it and a climate that causes the skin to dry out.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has been known to be effective for lubricating the hair and scalp, especially for those with dry scalp. Research shows that coconut oil can help the scalp stay properly hydrated and also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial if your dry scalp is caused by seborrheic dermatitis.

Studies also show that coconut oil can promote the production of collagen, the main structural component of your hair and skin, which can help in preventing hair loss and ensuring your skin and hair is strong.

Coconut oil can be used in different ways, such as a daily conditioner or a styling aid. Most department and pharmacy chain stores like Walmart and Walgreens have coconut oil or coconut oil-based hair products. Coconut oil can also be easily found online.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil comes from a small tree known as the jojoba shrub that is found in Mexico and neighboring regions in Arizona and California. Native Americans have used it for hundreds of years to moisturize the skin and treat cuts, burns, and sores.

Research shows that jojoba oil mimics sebum in helping keep the skin and scalp moisturized to prevent dryness, perfect for those suffering from dry scalp. It also acts as a softener for the skin and hair in addition to helping reduce wrinkles and stretch marks.

Jojoba oil can be applied to the scalp by itself, but it's usually included as an ingredient in hair products. Jojoba oil or hair products that contain it can be bought online or in stores and pharmacies like Target and Walgreens.

Tea Tree Oil

There's a lack of research on tea tree oil in general, especially for its effect on the scalp and hair. The majority of the limited research on tea tree oil focuses on treating acne, lice, athlete's foot, and nail fungus, and the most recent studies suggest it's helpful only for acne and athlete's foot.

One of the only notable studies regarding tea tree oil and the scalp was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2002. This report indicated that shampoo enriched with tea tree oil might help people with mild to moderate dandruff.

In the study, 126 people ages 14 and older used either a 5% tea tree oil shampoo or a placebo shampoo every day for four weeks. At the study's end, those given the tea tree oil shampoo showed a 41% improvement in scalp scaliness, itchiness, and greasiness. Those given the placebo shampoo showed only an 11% improvement in such symptoms.

Tea tree oil might not be as readily available in stores as other common oils, but department and pharmacy chain stores typically have tea tree oil products available to buy on their websites.

Aloe Vera

Due to research showing that aloe vera can have wound healing and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, some believe that it can be used as an all-purpose moisturizer that helps keep the skin from becoming dry while treating anti-inflammatory conditions like seborrheic dermatitis.

Although there is a lack of research directly looking at aloe vera's effect on dry skin, the proposed benefits of wound healing, in addition to its moisturizing consistency, may make it a good natural remedy to try for dry scalp. Aloe vera is commonly found in many hair and skin products that are sold online and in stores.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential fats that the body cannot produce on its own.

Research shows that including EPA and DHA into your diet can help improve your cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and raising levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is the type of cholesterol that is good for your health.

Studies suggest that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, can improve dry skin and dermatitis. In addition, some practitioners of alternative medicine suggest that applying omega-3 fatty acids to the skin can treat dryness too. Studies show that when omega-3 fatty acids are applied topically, they can have anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effects.

Commonly available online and in just about any department or pharmacy chain store in supplement form (including cod liver oil and krill oil supplements), omega-3 fatty acids are also found naturally in foods like flaxseeds and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and herring.

Omega-3 fatty acid creams and oils may be difficult to find in stores but can easily be bought online through many retailers.

Apple Cider Vinegar

There is very limited research on the benefits of apple cider vinegar for dry scalp. Proponents suggest that ingredients in apple cider vinegar, most notably pectin, may help improve the skin's barrier function, helping it retain moisture.

Apple cider vinegar should be diluted before using it on your skin, as its acidity can cause burns and irritation. A typical treatment for dry scalp involves combining 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces of water. Once poured into a spray bottle and then spritzed onto the hair and scalp, the mixture is left on for up to five minutes and then rinsed from the hair.

Apple cider vinegar can be found in just about any major grocery store, but there are also hair products that contain apple cider vinegar online and in stores.

Witch Hazel

Native to north and southeast North America, witch hazel has been used for treating acne due to its anti-inflammatory compounds. However, research shows that it may be beneficial to scalp health, too. In one study involving 1,373 people, a shampoo containing witch hazel reduced scalp irritation for many participants with seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.

If an irritating scalp condition like dandruff is causing your dry scalp, witch hazel shampoo may be a natural remedy to try. It's usually found in many pharmacy and department chain stores but can also be purchased online.

Avocado Oil

Many people love to eat avocados not only for their taste but because they're also packed with nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and healthy fats.

But some research suggests that using avocado oil topically can also be beneficial for your skin and scalp due to its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory effects. Avocado oil can be used by itself as a moisturizer or with other skin products designed to help with dry scalp. It can usually be found online and in most major grocery stores.

Risks and Considerations

While not all dry scalp remedies may benefit your skin, treating dry scalp with natural products is generally considered safe. However, it's important to make sure not to use oils that come from foods you're allergic to. For example, if you're allergic to coconuts, it's better to avoid products with coconut oil.

And for any natural oil you use, watch for side effects like rashes and bumps. If such symptoms start to show, stop using that oil.

Although natural remedies may help to treat your dry scalp, it is best to seek medical advice from your doctor first. They will be able to fully assess what's causing your dry scalp and put you on a proper treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I stop dandruff?

    Usually, shampooing your hair at least once or twice a week with products designed to treat dandruff will treat it. If dandruff is not going away even after regularly using these shampoos, you should see your doctor, as an underlying condition like psoriasis may be the cause.

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

    Dandruff is caused by your scalp producing an excess of oils, which leads to the build-up of skin cells that form flakes. Dry scalp happens when your scalp doesn't have enough oils and gets irritated or inflamed, which leads to skin flaking off.

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