Environmental Causes of Dry Scalp
The most common cause of dry scalp is dry skin, especially in the cold winter months, when the cold air outside is being countered with excessive heat indoors. It can be caused by shampooing too much (causing irritation from the shampoo) or shampooing too little (causing an excess of oil and skin cell buildup). Contact dermatitis occurs when the scalp dries out due to sensitivity to hair products and becomes red and itchy. Alkaline soaps can also trigger dry scalp.
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Medical Causes of Dry Scalp
Dry scalp can also be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, which is irritated, oily skin, and the main cause of dandruff. It is red, greasy skin covered by flaky white or yellow scales of dry skin, which flake off. Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder in which dead skin cells accumulate rapidly, causing itchy flaking of silvery scales. Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that feeds on oil-producing hair follicles and causes skin irritation and rapid skin cell growth and sloughing. Fluctuating hormones may also cause dry scalp.
Risk Factors for Dry Scalp
Dry scalp tends to occur from young adulthood through middle age. Males are more likely to develop dry scalp, probably due to hormones. Those who have oily hair and oily scalps are more likely to develop dry scalp conditions. A diet lacking in zinc, B vitamins and certain fats is also a contributor. People with compromised immune systems or neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, tend to be more likely to have it. Stress is also a factor.
Complications of Dry Scalp
Dry scalp tends to be quite itchy. Frequent scratching can lead to breaks and bleeding in the skin. Any kind of skin break is inviting bacteria, such as strep and staph, to enter and cause infection.
Help for Dry Scalp
Dry scalp can usually be treated by over-the-counter remedies found in the shampoo aisles. Look for products such as Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena T-Gel, Selsun Blue and their generic counterparts. Each contains different medications, so try them all until you find the right one for you. Some also benefit from the use of tea tree oil. Contact a doctor if after several weeks of using these OTC products, symptoms have not improved or have worsened.