Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dandruff -Vs- Dry Scalp:
Guest Starring Kelsi!

A few weeks ago, I posted a Quick Tip on how to treat dandruff without stripping your color. In the comments, fellow blogger and professional stylist, Kelsi, of Kelsi Does Hair, mentioned that quite commonly, people who think they have dandruff actually don't. Instead, they suffer from dry scalp- and are possibly making their condition worse by treating it with dandruff shampoos.

I was intrigued, and I immediately contacted Kelsi to see if she'd like to do a guest spot here to explain to us the differences between dry scalp and dandruff. Luckily for us, she agreed! Here, Miss Kelsi answers:

We've all seen the commercials for Dandruff shampoo where a nice man or woman in a dark colored shirt is caught in an embarrassing situation with unsightly little white flakes of scalp snowing down onto their shoulders. "Oh," their friend or colleague will assure them, "try this shampoo and your flakes will be gone!" Right? No. Yes. Well, maybe. You see, it's not quite as simple as that. The flakes we see on their shoulders aren't actually dandruff; they're dry scalp, and yes there is a difference. Unfortunately these commercials cause people to misidentify their problem, and often mistreat it, possibly making it worse. Let's go over a few of the major differences between Dandruff and dry scalp. I should also make it clear before we get into the thick of it that your hairstylist may be able to give you their personal and professional opinion on what scalp condition you have, but Dandruff can only be diagnosed by a doctor.

Dry Scalp: We'll start here, since this is what the majority of people who think they have Dandruff actually have. Dry scalp is characterized by small, white flakes of scalp. It is caused by dehydration and over-shedding of the scalp and is often linked to not drinking enough water, using poor quality shampoo and conditioner which are stripping your scalp of it's natural oils, over-washing your hair, washing your hair with hot water, or change in the seasons. It may also be accompanied by itching and irritation. If you find that your lips and the rest of your skin is dry or feels tight, this is also a good indication that you have a dry scalp, and not dandruff. Here are some ways that you can combat dry scalp.

1. Make sure to drink plenty of water. I often forget to do this in the winter-time, but staying well hydrated in the winter is important for our skin because we are often moving in and out of heated buildings, which can suck moisture from your skin. If you're well hydrated on the inside, your whole body will function better and your hair and skin will look and feel better as well.

2. Switch to a professional shampoo and conditioner. Many drugstore brand shampoos have harsh cleansing agents which will strip your hair of the natural oils that it needs to stay hydrated. Beware of claims that drugstore products are "pH balanced". This means nothing. They are allowed to make this claim no matter what because everything that is water soluble has a pH, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is the same pH as your hair and skin. Most professional products ARE balanced to the pH of your skin unless they are meant to serve a certain purpose like clarifying shampoo for swimmers. A couple of good professional products are Paul Mitchell Instant Moisture Shampoo and Daily Treatment, and Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo and Conditioner. On of my favorites for dry scalp is Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Hair and Scalp Treatment. The tea tree is soothing for itchiness, and the treatment should be massaged into your scalp and has little beads to help exfoliate dead skin sells so that they don't fall off later, when you don't want them to. The tea tree treatment isn't necessary to use every day, and you want to make sure to rinse it out thoroughly. I should also mention that anything with tea tree oil can fade color, so if you have your hair colored, you probably won't want to use tea tree products regularly.

3. Wash your hair less often and with cooler water. Hot water strips the natural oils from your skin causing it to feel tight and dry. I know a lot of people love to take scalding hot showers, but it's really terrible for your skin and can cause all kinds of irritation and problems down the road. Also if you think you have a dry scalp, and you wash your hair every day, try to cut it down to every other day at the most; this will give your skin a chance to create the oil that you need to protect your skin and re-balance it's own natural pH.

4. Gently brush your scalp before washing your hair. Use a brush that has bristles which are close together and not too stiff. Start at your hairline and work around your head, making sure to brush all areas of your scalp. This will help loosen dead skin cells which are ready to shed off so that you can wash them out.

Dandruff: Dandruff is usually characterized by larger, greasy or waxy flakes or clusters of skin cells and are usually yellowish or grey. They may come off in your hair brush or stick to your hair or scalp, and are accompanied by itching. Dandruff, unlike dry scalp, is usually associated with a fungal or bacterial infection of the scalp and can be contagious. If you have dandruff, you should not share brushes, combs, hats, towels, hair clips, or anything else that touches your head, and you should clean and disinfect brushes etc. between each use. There are different types of Dandruff and the type and cause can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. Here are a few things you can try to help combat Dandruff, but be sure to check with your doctor, especially if it is accompanied by severe itching, bleeding, or oozing.

1. Shampoos and conditioners which contain Tea Tree oil can be effective against dandruff caused by infection because tea tree has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Make sure you're using a professional brand, because many drug store shampoos and conditioners contain cheap fillers that coat your hair and scalp, making dandruff worse.

2. Cut down on styling products, especially if they are greasy or waxy. Too much product and improper shampooing creates build-up on your hair and scalp, which can cause dandruff, or make it worse.

3. Don't scratch. Scratching can damage your scalp, making it vulnerable to infection. Extreme damage to your scalp and follicles can result in hair loss which may be permanent.

4. Of course, see your doctor! Your doctor will be able to properly diagnose your condition and recommend or prescribe products and routines to manage your Dandruff problem!

I hope this helped to clear up some of the misconceptions you may have had about dandruff. Please let me know if you found this piece informative! May you and your scalp live in health and harmony!


Cydonian said...

lol wow, I never knew this. I used to occasionally get flakes in winter and say oh no, I have dandruff... I never knew there was a difference. I knew there was dandruff, psoriasis, etc... but never that dandruff was an infection. Interesting. Well now if my "dry scalp" issues turn up again, I know how to fix them.

Anonymous said...

Actually, most salon products have the same "harsh" ingredients. They're rarely any better despite what the companies (and your stylist) want you to think. The Beauty Brains blog has some really good information on that if you're curious.

The key is not to buy expensive shampoos but find one best suited for you needs. Research ingredients and dig further than marketing claims.

Unknown said...


Funny that you should bring the ingredient issue up; before publishing this post, Kelsi (who, again, is a licensed professional hair stylist) and I explored the idea of clarifying which ingredients to look out for.

We actually decided not to for basically the exact reason you mention: there is no one universally "bad" ingredient, the entire formulation should be considered when deciding what works best for your particular needs. Having said that, Kelsi did tell me that she feels that in her experience, there is a difference in the results she sees in clients that use pro products
-vs- ones that choose drug-store brands.

I'd also mention that I personally know several professional stylists and cosmetologists on a personal basis, and I can't think of one that doesn't use professional haircare. That may be circumstantial, but I feel like it deserves mention. I'd love it if some more pro stylists would weigh in on the issue!

Oh, and BTW, I actually wrote a post in March 2009 about one family ingredient that's taken a lot of heat lately,Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which appears in many shampoos from bargain bin to high-end. If your curious, check it out:

Chloe said...

As a pro, I am going to confess that I don't exclusively use pro products - despite a very generous work discount. I used to exclusively use Tigi (which we stock) but I've recently decided to expand my horizons.

Of course a lot of cheap budget lines are a load of junk, but there are many gems in the supermarkets aisles.

One the most popular is probably L'Oreal Elnett hairspray, widely regarded to be one of the best in the business. I also rate Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners, and several gels (names escape me right now).

SLS in products are what currently bother consumers right now - but many high end shampoos still contain them - even those thatr are designed for colour protection!

I think alot of the problem is not what is in the product, but how people use them - they just don't know how. Excessive use is common I find. People also apply products to the scalp when they don't need too, things like conditioner and styling products that do not need to be used on the roots.

Not to mention fragrances can irritate the scalp.

Sorry for the ramble, but topics such as these do fascinate me!

Anonymous said...

I think that I am a victim of dry scalp. After reading the article, it seems to me that what I am experiencing is dry scalp. I first thought I had dandruff, I even changed my shampoo to dandruff controlling shampoo, which didn't change anything. Perhaps I'll have to see about getting some dry scalp shampoo instead.

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