How to Fix a Flaking Scalp, According to the Experts
We'll help you find the right remedy.
If you suffer from dandruff, or any type of flaking scalp condition, you know what it's like to constantly monitor your shoulders. The flakes, however, are often easier to brush off than the embarrassment, but this doesn't have to be the case. There are plenty of ways to remedy your itchy, flaky scalp. All you have to do? Determine the root cause of the problem and go from there. Ahead, our experts unravel the most common causes of this condition and share their best, most soothing tips.
Dead scalp cells shed, just like those from other parts of the body, but your scalp is more prone to becoming overstimulated. "Overusing dry shampoos, co-washing (where the conditioner is used in place of shampoo), and use of products that leave a heavy coating on the hair and scalp traps the dead cells, which then flake off," says Michelle Blaisure, a trichologist at Bosley Strength. This is why scalp exfoliation is essential—it eliminates the dead cells, reduces flaking, and supports moisture balance, all while adding shine to your hair, she says.
"Dandruff is essentially inflammation caused by your body overreacting to yeast on your scalp," explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. When this process of rapid cell turnover starts, the shedding becomes noticeable as it sheds off in white flakes. To remedy this, slather on a "three percent salicylic acid shampoo to remove the buildup of dead cells and follow with a scalp mask made from organic coconut oil or virgin olive twice a week," advises Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, the founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare.
Seborrheic dermatitis is an extension of dandruff, and caused by the same thing—an overgrowth of the normal yeast on the skin, which then causes greasy scales and itching due to an allergic response, says Dr. Caren Campbell, MD, a San Francisco-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. The only difference? It's more chronic, and can also appear on the face and body. "It's best treated with an antifungal shampoo to calm the inflammation that results from the yeast overgrowth. Shampoos like ketoconazole or anti-inflammatory shampoo with zinc are best," she says.
Occasionally, scalp scaling and flaking become severe. If your scalp is currently red—and feels out of control—you could be experiencing an allergic reaction, to that aforementioned yeast overgrowth or to a new hair product. Campbell's best advice? Head to a professional. "To remove the red scales, use a salicylic acid shampoo with a prescription steroid solution to calm the inflammation," she explains.