How To Moisturize Your Scalp Properly When It’s Itchy and Dry

Photo: Getty Images/ Klaus Vedfelt
You may know exactly what you're doing when it comes time to care for the skin on your face. (Look at you! You even have all the creams and oils to prove it.) But when it comes to scalp health and moisturizing your scalp correctly, you might not know how—if you're doing it at all—and that might mean you're itching (literally) to make the skin up there less dry, says trichologist William Gaunitz.

How to know if you have a dry scalp

First, you need to understand what dry scalp is. "Dry scalp is typically a term that people use for a flaking or scaly scalp. This is actually a scalp condition that is either dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis," Gaunitz says. "A lot of underlying issues can cause dry scalp, such as an overgrowth of bacteria or fungus, changes in weather, low nutrient levels inclusive of vitamin D3 and ferritin, and overuse of drying agents on the scalp in shampoo, conditioners, and chemical processing."

Experts In This Article
  • Wen-Jay Ying, founder of Local Roots NYC, A customized farmers’ market brought direct to New Yorkers, that supports local family farms
  • William Gaunitz, WTS, certified trichologist

Basically, "dry scalp" is an umbrella term that encapsulates a lot, so you should, if possible, see a derm or a trichologist to confirm which of the three—dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis—you're tackling.

It's also important to note that treatment for dry scalp doesn't vary by hair textures, but folks with certain textures may be more predisposed to scalp dryness based on the products they use.

"Styling and chemical product usage may change the level of inflammation on the surface of the scalp which may create a better environment for a negative scalp condition such as dry scalp," says Gaunitz.

Again, the uniqueness of each dry scalp situation makes it a great subject to bring to your next styling or dermatologist appointment.

What's the best way to treat dry scalp

No matter which variety you dealing with, however, Gaunitz recommends approaching the problem from the inside out with nutrition before you use topical solutions. "Vitamin D3 internally will resolve typically around 70 percent of the cases of dry scalp [that fall under the bucket of ] separate dermatitis, dandruff, and psoriasis," he says.

You can get that vitamin D3 through products like eggs, salmon, or a vegan source like shiitake mushrooms. Ferritin, on the other hand, is the way your body stores iron. You can eat that in iron-rich foods like oysters, lentils, white beans, dark chocolate, and tofu—which sounds like a delicious mix to me.

Once you're going all-in on the nutritional aspects of protecting your scalp, Gaunitz says you can also apply high-quality, extra-virgin coconut oil or castor oil to your scalp two to three times a week before you hop in the shower.

"Warm the oil to about around 100°F and apply it directly to the scalp, massage it in, and allow it to absorb," says Gaunitz. Let it sit for one to two hours, then immediately shampoo and condition your hair.

"Coconut oil and castor oil have unique properties that will not only hydrate and nourish the scalp by decreasing inflammation and fighting off microbes, and also will force topically essential fats into the scalp that will ultimately create a level of hydration," adds Gaunitz. Bonus: This is one of the best home remedies for an itchy scalp.

All this TLC doesn't just benefit your scalp; it benefits your hair, too. "If your scalp is healthy and is growing hair with the appropriate amount of sebum—protecting the hair follicles from exterior intruders like Demodex and microbials and has little to no inflammation—your hair will grow normally with a healthy sheen, good body, and an optimal texture," says Gaunitz. I don't know about you—but he had me at "healthy sheen."

Below, you'll find plenty of products out there that you can add to your shampoo and conditioner rotation that will help you establish a scalp-care routine that shows all the way from your part to the end of your strands. Let's get started.

10 products to moisturize your scalp that are just as essential as shampoo

Act+Acre Hair Cleanse — $28.00

Act+Acre’s “cold-pressed products” are like cold-pressed juices—they lock in the nutrients of each ingredient so you can experience them in the fullest. The brand’s hair cleanse makes quick work of cleaning your hair and scalp without stripping it using ingredients like lavender, ylang-ylang, vetiver, rosemary, and more.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub — $36.00

This scrub is a personal favorite of mine. I use it once a week as a deep treatment after I haven’t washed my hair in… well, none of your business how long. It works on all hair types and leaves your entire head feeling like it just went through a wax-and-dry car wash. Just rub it into your scalp 10 minutes before you plan on showering, then go about your normal shampoo and conditioning routine. It smells a little funky, but I guarantee you the results are worth it.

Raw Sugar Pure Scalp Therapy — $16.00

This drugstore buy has lots of reviews—and most of them are absolutely glowing. The product is water-based with activated charcoal, peppermint oil, coconut oil, sea kelp, and more.

Clarifying shampoo scrub from Christophe Robin
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt — $53.00

Many hair-care fanatics talk about Christophe Robin’s scalp scrub in respectful, hushed voices—and that’s because it’s pretty darn amazing. The rough texture of the scrub means it goes on like a massage and rinses out in sea salt crystals that ultimately leave your hair looking shiny and feeling soft. It goes after your dry shampoo buildup in a major way.

Mielle Moisture RX Hawaiin Ginge Moisturizing Scalp Treatment — $9.00

Originally $10, now $9

To use this product, simply separate out chunks of your hair and give each a good spritz. That’s it: No rinsing, washing, or drying involved.

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment Serum — $32.00

Briogeo’s take on a scalp serum enlists binchotan charcoal to remove dirt and bacteria from the scalp and hair follicle. Peppermint and spearmint work in tandem to make your scalp less itchy, while witch hazel keeps your glands from overdoing it on the oil. A LOT is going on here.

R+Co Crown Scalp Scrub — $38.00

Salicylic acid to the rescue! In this scalp treatment—designed for those with sensitive scalps—the ingredient gets to work scrubbing away product residue to optimize follicle health. It also removes any lingering flakes and smells bright and earthy—so that’s a total plus.

Bask & Bloom Essentials Brahmi Root Hair Masque — $24.00

This hair mask comes equipped with marshmallow root, an ingredient that hydrates each strand so that your hair dries shiner.

Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment — $38.00

When it comes to hydration, argan oil doesn’t disappoint. It’s a multipurpose ingredient packed with antioxidants and fatty acids that naturally nourish and hydrate anything it touches, including your scalp. This treatment uses includes a high dose of the oil, along with geranium oil and salicylic acid. FYI, salicylic acid can be secret weapon for hair care because it helps to cleanse your pores and prevent buildup that often leads to itchiness.

Living Proof Scalp Care Dry Scalp Treatment — $34.00

This treatment really soars thanks to the hyaluronic acid-based molecular patch and a unique vitamin B3 complex. While hyaluronic acid helps to boost hydration and strengthen your skin’s moisture barrier, this special vitamin B3 complex helps to maintain a healthy and clean environment for your products to thrive in your scalp. The two together work as a dynamic duo to moisturize the skin on your head layers deep and help fight bacteria and product buildup nestled in your strands.

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