Have a Dry Itchy Scalp? Learn How to Treat It

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Having a dry scalp is a hugely irritating and embarrassing condition. You get pesky white flakes smothering your hair and showering your shoulders with their ugly selves. Not a good look on anyone! And to add insult to injury, the itch drives you mad and you scratch, scratch, scratch. People think you’re riddled with fleas or head lice or some other contagious malady and keep their distance.

Shampooing doesn’t work and dandruff treatments don’t do a thing to help.

Okay, let’s find out why that is.

Your scalp renews its skin cells every 24 days by forming new skin cells while the old cells slough off to uncover the new ones. On a healthy scalp, these flakes are removed when you brush or comb your hair and all is well. But on an out-of-balance scalp, a normal hair care routine doesn’t cut it. When your scalp is out of balance, skin cells are produced too rapidly and they slough off quickly too, leading to the snow cover on your shoulders.

Your scalp contains sebum (produced by your sebaceous glands) which helps to moisturize your hair and keep your scalp in good condition. But the amount of sebum that you produce can vary for a variety of reasons. And when your scalp loses this precious moisture, it becomes dry, white, flaky and itchy.

Shampooing doesn’t help and can make dry scalp worse because shampoo strips the sebum from your hair and scalp.

Dandruff treatments don’t work because you don’t have dandruff, duh!

Dandruff is a yeast infection that causes clumps of yellowish skin to build up on the scalp. It’s not caused by too little sebum, it’s caused by too much, which feeds the yeast. We all have this yeast – called Malassezia – living happily on our heads, but for some people it gets out of control. It causes the scalp to shed skin cells more frequently and these mix with the excess oil and clump into flakes.  Dandruff flakes are larger than dry scalp flakes and harder to remove from the scalp.

So you can understand why removing more oil with regular shampoos, and yeast killing dandruff treatments don’t work for dry scalp. If you’re unsure whether you have dandruff or dry scalp, ask your hairdresser.


What Causes Your Scalp To Become Dry And Itchy?

Like most skin problems there are a number of reasons why the skin on the scalp loses too much moisture or doesn’t produce enough sebum.

  • Cold weather is a common culprit. People often find that they don’t have dry scalp in the summer, but once winter hits so does the itchy, flaky scalp.
  • Harsh detergents found in lots of shampoo brands
  • Chemical hair treatments
  • Styling product build up.
  • Hard water
  • Hot styling tools – hairdryer, tongs, etc
  • Air Conditioned dry environments
  • Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
  • Diet – caffeine is a common cause.
  • Stress
  • Bacterial Infection
  • Using water that’s too hot in the shower
  • Pollution

But whatever the cause, the good news it that there are steps you can take to moisturize your skin and hair, eliminate bacteria and have a healthy, itch free, flake free scalp again. And they’re all natural and 100% safe.


Take A Look At Your Diet

A poor quality diet can cause dry skin conditions and lead to a dry, itchy scalp. When your diet is deficient in essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, you’re more likely to suffer from dry skin. You also need to ensure that you consume good levels of vitamins and minerals.

  1. Foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include, tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, flax seed, pumpkin seeds and canola oil.
  2. Vitamin A can be obtained by eating eggs, dairy, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes and papaya, etc.
  3. B vitamins are found in meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, beans, potatoes, yeast and leafy greens.
  4. Vitamin C rich foods include lemons, strawberries, green peppers and spinach.
  5. Vitamin D is made by the skin in sunlight. Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement, you should take it in D3 form and add vitamin K2 to ensure proper bioavailability of the D3.

Avoid junk foods and highly processed foods. Switch out caffeine for a herbal tea and cut out sugar, which is highly inflammatory.


Shampoo With Natural Ingredients

Most shampoos on the shelves of your grocery or drugstore contain harsh chemicals which are the cause of many hair and scalp problems. One common ingredient in shampoo is Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

This detergent and surfactant is so common because it’s a cheap and effective cleaner. It’s the main cleaning agent in engine degreaser. Did you catch that? Engine degreaser.

If SLS can strip the grease from an engine, just imagine what it does to your poor, delicate scalp. Sodium Laureth Sulfate is also a potent irritant. It’s actually used in product testing to induce irritation so that the effectiveness of skin healing treatments can be evaluated.

So we’re looking for a natural shampoo without harsh ingredients. But sadly that isn’t enough. Your scalp, like the rest of your skin, has a pH of 5.5 and your hair shaft has a pH of 3.67.

What’s pH you ask? It’s the measure of the alkalinity or acidity of a substance. Anything lower than a seven is deemed an acid. Anything with a pH above seven is a base or an alkaline. Vinegar and lemon juice are acids, baking soda is an alkaline. If you’ve got a dry scalp, then you absolutely need a cleansing shampoo that restores the pH balance of your skin.

This is another area where many commercial shampoos contribute to the shenanigans on your scalp. A majority of popular brand shampoos are way too alkaline. And an alkaline environment on your noggin strips away your precious sebum. And, (yes there’s more, there always more), it’s your naturally acidic sebum that helps to fight bacteria and fungus and keep your hair and scalp in tip top condition.

The study linked to above found that 68.7% of the 128 shampoos tested had a pH higher than 5.5. That makes them more alkaline than your skin and some of the shampoos were over pH 9.

Chagrin Valley Soap company carries several natural shampoo bars which are perfect for gently cleansing and nourishing dry, itchy scalps.

Here are some of the ingredients in their Ayurvedic Bar shampoo bar. Coconut Oil – Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Mango Butter – Babassu Oil – Castor Oil – Neem Oil – Canola Oil – Jojoba oil – Coconut Milk – Essential Oils of Cypress – Juniper Berry – Lavender – Lemon – Basil – Rosemary – Hibiscus – Amla – Tulsi – Fenugreek – Jasmine and organic soapnuts.

Don’t those ingredients sound nice? See all the rich oils in that list? Don’t you think that they’re going help your skin, more than engine degreaser? You bet they will!

You can make your own pH balanced, gentle shampoo too.

Dry Itchy Scalp 1

This recipe uses coconut milk and aloe vera along with some deliciously fragrant and superbly healing essential oils.

Coconut milk and aloe vera both have pH values under 7 and both are rich moisturizers and effective anti-inflammatories. Just what you need to soothe your scalp.


  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup of pure aloe vera gel
  • 1 teaspoon olive, jojoba or sweet almond oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops rosemary essential oil
  • 10 drops chamomile essential oil

You can experiment with essential oils. They’re all choc-full of antimicrobial and nourishing properties, so use what you enjoy.

You can purchase aloe vera gel, or obtain your own 100% pure, fresh gel from your own aloe plant. It’s very easy to get the gel from the plant. Each one of those juicy plump leaves is full of it. Cut a leaf from the plant using a clean sharp knife. Lay the leaf flat on a cutting board and trim along the sides, then carefully slice off the top and bottom. You’ll be left with a block of transparent nutrient packed, soothing gel. If you want to see how it’s done, you can find quick demonstrations on Youtube.


Mix all of the ingredients into a bowl and whip with a wire whisk to fully incorporate everything.

Pour into an old shampoo bottle and use a small amount each time you wash your hair.

This shampoo won’t lather, so don’t keep adding more to try to make it foam up. The foam in commercial shampoos doesn’t actually cleanse your hair, but people expect to see it.

That’s the only reason foaming agents are used.

Use Apple Cider Vinegar To Remove Hair Product Residue and Restore Scalp PH

After you’ve used your shampoo, follow up with an ACV rinse. The pH of undiluted apple cider vinegar is usually between 4.2 and 5. In addition to helping balance your scalp pH, ACV will leave your hair supremely soft because it smooths the hair shaft. Commercial conditioners coat the hair to smooth the shaft but ACV works differently.

Each hair shaft is made up of overlapping layers. Like shingles on a roof. When you mess up the pH balance of your hair and strip the naturally acidic sebum from your hair and scalp, you get rough, dry hair that tangles and frizzes. That’s because the ‘shingles are all roughed up’. The acid in ACV smooths them down again. Simple! But don’t use ACV neat. A 50:50 solution of ACV and water will give you a lovely conditioning rinse. Even though it’s diluted, you still won’t want to get the rinse in your eyes – it will sting. If it does get in your eyes, rinse with cool water.

I know that it’s hard to get used to the idea that non foamy ingredients can clean your hair and that a non creamy product like ACV could condition your hair and scalp, but it’s true. Try it out for yourself.

Scalp Massage

Dry Itchy Scalp 2

A light scalp massage, using nourishing oils like jojoba, argan, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or sweet almond oils, will add much needed moisture to your scalp and calm the itching.

Jojoba oil is the best oil to use for dry scalps because its molecular makeup is the closest to that of the scalps naturally produced sebum.

Argan oil is another good choice. Argan oil is a light, non-greasy oil that is easily and fully absorbed, meaning that you can leave it on your scalp and hair without making them look greasy. Argan oil is a potent moisturizer that will banish dry scalp and flaky skin. It’s anti-inflammatory so it will soothe itching too.

Add essential oils to the mix to add even more benefits.

Chamomile essential oil is particularly recommended for dry scalp. It has anti-inflammatory, anti itching antiseptic and anti allergenic properties.

Lavender essential oil helps to balance scalp oils and relieve dryness and flakes. It’s an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and pain relieving. This wonderfully fragrant oil is also a powerful moisturizer.

Rosemary essential oil is packed with antioxidants, stimulates blood flow to the skin and soothes itchiness and scalp irritation.

Warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in a cup in your microwave. Warm oil feels nicer to use. Add whichever essential oils you have chosen to use and stir with your fingers. Then dip your fingers into the oil and begin to massage the oil into your scalp. Start at your natural hair parting and then make new partings and work the oil in until you’ve thoroughly covered your scalp. Spend a few minutes massaging, then wrap your head in a towel or a shower cap or even saran wrap and wait for at least 20 minutes. The longer you can leave the oil on the better.

Now head to the shower and shampoo to remove the oily residue. If you’ve used argan oil you don’t need to wash it off. Finish with an ACV rinse.

Use as often as you need to combat dry itchy skin on your scalp.

Deep Conditioning Hair Mask

A hair mask is the perfect way to soothe an itchy dry scalp, and honey is the best ingredient to use, bar none. Honey is an ancient remedy, long used for wound healing and full of antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s also a rich moisturizer, anti-inflammatory, and very effective for dry, irritated skin conditions like eczema and dry scalp.

Here’s a recipe using honey, mashed banana and avocado. Mmmm, sounds good enough to eat!


  • Two tablespoons honey
  • 1 banana
  • Half an avocado

Mash the banana and avocado in a bowl until nice and gooey, then stir in the honey. Apply to your scalp and hair and work it into your scalp. Leave for half an hour then rinse out and shampoo. Use two to three times a week.

Exercise And Stress Relief

Exercise has been shown to help relieve the inflammation associated with a dry itchy scalp. The National Psoriasis Foundation reports that exercise in general, yoga, and tai chi bring positive effects to people suffering with psoriasis. This may be due to improved blood flow that exercise brings.

Stress is implicated in a whole host of health problems. From life threatening conditions like stroke and heart attack, to distressing skin conditions. And your dry scalp may be caused or worsened by the stress in your life.

Unfortunately stress is endemic in our modern lives. Whether it’s money problems, relationship woes, health issues (now there’s a vicious circle for you) an unreasonable boss, troublesome teens or your failed hopes and dreams, stress robs you of your peace of mind and quality of life.

After that gloomy assessment you’ll be glad to know that there are ways to tackle stress and stop it from impacting your health.

Don’t sulk or try to forget your troubles by switching on the TV and switching off your brain. Fire up your music player! Gather up the music that makes you smile, that makes you want to get up and dance, or sing at the top of your voice. Grab some headphones, shut the world out and crank up the volume. Have some fun. It beats watching the news.

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching. Love like you’ll never be hurt. Sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” – William W Purkey

Another way to ease stress is to incorporate daily meditation into your routine. And guided meditations are super helpful if you tend to lie awake at night unable to switch off. One guided meditation that I love and have never got to the end of – because I always fall asleep about halfway through – is The Temple Of Light by Dick Sutphen. It’s quite an experience and the production values are top quality!

With incredible three-dimensional sound effects, you journey to Kathmandu, where you meet a Sherpa guide who leads you deep into the Himalayas… Eventually, you reach The Temple of Light, where you’ll meet the Masters and experience a chakra initiation.”

And don’t forget essential oils in your stress relief protocol. Their clean, natural, invigorating fragrances lift even the blackest of moods. Add them to massage oil, or just pop the cap off and breathe some in. You can’t help but sigh with relief when you’re surrounded by their natural goodness.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.