What To Do If You Have A Dry, Itchy Scalp

And how to banish dandruff forever.

There's not a lot to love about having a dry, itchy, flaky scalp. Not only is it unsightly, with the associated dandruff making dark jumpers pretty much out of the question, but depending on the severity of your condition, it can be pretty painful, too.

So what causes a dry scalp, and what can you do about it?

"The medical name for a dry scalp is pityriasis capitis," dermatologist Professor Rodney Sinclair told The Huffington Post Australia. "The dry skin can flake off and produce dandruff."

While Sinclair notes "a dry scalp alone is a minor problem", it's also a fairly common one, with dandruff affecting around 50 percent of the Australian population.

But what exactly is it?

"Dandruff is comprised of skin cells that have not fully matured prior to being shed," Sinclair said. "As they have not matured, they retain their cell nucleus and have not separated from neighbouring cells.

"As a consequence, rather than being shed as individual cells that are invisible, they shed as clumps of more than 1000 cells that are visible, especially against a dark background such as dark hair or dark clothing."

So yes, you read right. Dandruff is actually clumps (his words, not ours) of cells that fall out of your head. Great. Doesn't exactly make you want to run your hands through someone's hair anytime soon, does it?

...Is that what I think it is?
...Is that what I think it is?

In terms of what causes dandruff, there are a couple of different things (though rest assured, most experts agree it's not due to poor hygiene).

"Psoriasis is one cause of dandruff," Sinclair said. "Psoriasis produces itchy thickened plaques on the scalp that bleed when scratched or when the scale is pulled off.

"The plaques are scaly and the scales when shed form the scalp produce dandruff.

"Psoriasis occurs in association with plaques on the elbows and knees, nail dystrophy and arthritis.

"In simple Piyriasis capitis, however, the scalp is normal, there is no blood, and the individual flakes of dandruff are smaller."

An example of psoriasis on the hairline and on the scalp.
An example of psoriasis on the hairline and on the scalp.

Other potential causes of dandruff include a sensitivity to yeast, dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, or even a case of over-active Malassezia (which sounds gnarly but is actually just a fungus that lives on everybody's scalp. Generally it just hangs out there bothering no one, but if it gets out of control, it can cause some issues.)

Some illnesses, such as Parkinson's Disease, may also make an individual more susceptible to dandruff.

But before you freak out and become convinced your previously unheard-of head fungus has gone rogue, it's worthwhile noting most of these causes are specialty cases and won't affect the run-of-the-mill dandruff sufferer. In fact, your average case of dandruff is surprisingly easy to treat and shouldn't involve any trips to the specialist.

"Dandruff should settle with regular shampooing, and an anti-dandruff shampoo may [provide further] help," Sinclair told The Huffington Post Australia.

Lather up, folks.
Lather up, folks.

"For instance, Head and Shoulders offers (to leave you) up to 100 percent flake free with continued use, and other anti-dandruff shampoos offer similar efficacy.

"Most cases can be managed in the community by pharmacists and/or a GP. It is an uncommon cause for referral to a dermatologist, unless severe or refractory to treatment."

BUT. If you're finding no amount of shampooing is helping to alleviate your symptoms, or if there is evidence of a rash somewhere else on your body, it might be worth paying a visit to your dermatologist.

"If you have already tried washing your hair daily with an anti-dandruff shampoo and matching conditioner and it is still problematic, or of you have severe itch or bleeding or you have a rash elsewhere on the body, see your dermatologist for a diagnosis and treatment," Sinclair advised.

"Dermatologists have a myriad of additional strategies, lotion and creams that can be used to help."