Winter is officially here and although I'm one who loves a little snowfall on the ground and sitting cozy by the fire, something that I dread is...a flaky scalp.
Do I have dandruff? Just a dry scalp? Am I not washing my hair often enough? Are the flakes due to product build-up? It's always been a big mystery to me!
Determined to get to the bottom of this — and I'm sure I'm not alone here — I turned to a few experts to learn the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp and most importantly, how to treat both.
• Rebekkah O'Neill, master stylist and founder of The Orchard Hair
• Dr. William D. Yates, board-certified hair loss surgeon and expert
• Dominic Burg, trichologist and scientist for Evolis
• Sharie Wilson and Tonya Thompson, founders of DreamGirls Hair
• Fabio Scalia, hairstylist
First things first: Before you freak out after finding white flakes on the back of your sweater, know that it's completely normal for your scalp to shed skin from time to time.
To know how to properly treat your scalp, it's important to understand the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp.
"Dandruff is a condition that is caused by a growth of fungus. It's a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis that increases and decreases over time," said Rebekkah O'Neill.
"Its most obvious form is noticeable white flakes," she said. "And it will never truly go away without proper treatment."
O'Neill explained that it's easy to confuse a dry scalp for dandruff but they are different from one another.
"A dry scalp is often mistaken for dandruff. Some of the causes of dry scalp are excessive washing, sensitivity to hair care products, and a scalp struggling to maintain or produce moisture."
If you're not sure which one you have, consult a doctor or dermatologist.
With that in mind, here are some expert-approved tips and tricks on how to best care for your scalp this winter — whether you're dealing with dandruff or dry scalp. If you have some to add, share in the comments!
Avoid hair products that contain alcohol, sulfates, and phthalates.
Avoid over-washing your hair and using "detox" shampoos.
Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D.
Look for products with natural dandruff fighters.
Swap your regular shampoo for one with zinc, salicylic acid, or tea tree oil.
Or opt for a shampoo that contains apple cider vinegar, which can help balance pH levels.
Don't let your scalp get too oily.
Realize that your diet can affect the health of your scalp.
If you see no improvement after troubleshooting products, wash frequency, and/or diet at home, see a professional.
"The yeast infection has to be addressed. If you're unsuccessful with getting rid of dandruff, prescription shampoo may be needed from your doctor," said Dr. Yates.