Winter Scalp Problem: How To Avoid Dry Flaky Scalp?

WrittenbyLuat Duong
Last updated

During the winter season, you might see excessive flakes on your scalp, and dandruff might be the first thing popping in your mind. Even though they may look the same, flaky scalp often results from the intense dryness associated with the cold, while dandruff is more about pathological conditions. 

This blog will help you distinguish the two conditions: dandruff and flaky scalp so that you might have proper care for your scalp through the winter months. 

Flaky Scalp vs. Dandruff

Both dandruff and flaky scalp cause flakes and itch on the scalp. Thus, many people do not know from which condition they are suffering. However, there are still differences between them, which enable us to tell and distinguish these two conditions. 

Regarding their appearance, flakes coming from a dry scalp condition tend to be smaller and look dry (well, obviously!). Meanwhile, dandruff flakes are big, oily with a yellow or white color.

Regarding the cause, dandruff occurs due to excessive oil on your scalp, leading to a buildup of dead skin cells. And then itching feelings and flakes emerge. Several reasons that induce dandruff include fungus, oily skin, hormonal imbalances, stressors, or build-up. Besides, dermatitis or other pathological skin conditions might also contribute to dandruff. 

Contrarily, the flaky scalp has more to do with an overly dry scalp. Dryness will happen when your scalp lacks oil, resulting in itching and flaking. It is an alarm signal that your scalp needs more moisture. Also, the dry scalp can worsen if you already suffer from dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or under cold weather, or when you use products that dry out your scalp. 

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Why Does Flaky Scalp Happen In Wintertime?

As mentioned before, the flaky scalp condition is seen as a consequence of dry skin, resulting from different underlying ailments or physical environment-related factors.

Besides some persistent scalp diseases that may dry out the scalp and cause scaly patches, such as atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis, in the cold season, air humidity plays a major role in inducing a dry scalp.

We all know that dry conditions are prevalent in wintertime, resulting from the cold air outside and indoor heating. Thus, it is common to experience dryness and irritation on the body’s skin and scalp. To make things worse, in winter, the level of oil production by oil glands decreases in most body parts, including the scalp, which may eventually cause flaking.

But not all scalps endure wintertime in the same way. Studies have reported the link between the scalp’s sensitivity with its dryness. Indeed, one study found that 60% of reported dry scalp is sensitive or very sensitive. Scalp sensitivity is quite diverse and depends broadly on scalp characteristics. It is a symptom of noticeable irritation or discomfort to the scalp without an immune response, which happens due to changes in the living environment, air pollution, your daily diet, and stress.  

How To Take Care Of Scalp To Avoid Flaking?

Dry scalp treatments can include ingredients that hydrate, nourish, and repair the scalp issue. Besides, hair products including oil from argan, coconut, almond, or jojoba can adequately increase the moisture on your scalp. Oatmeal and Vitamin E are also good options for soothing dry and irritated scalps. 

Treatments for dry scalp typically come in the forms of shampoos and conditioners, but scalp treatments, moisturising lotion, and serums are also beneficial. They altogether can nourish your scalp and reduce the number of white flakes. However, when experiencing any pain, redness, or increased irritation, stopping using those products is a must to prevent further issues for your hair and scalp. 

One suggested way to improve the flaky scalp condition is using a proper hair washing method to enhance the moisturisation of the scalp. Avoid hot showers as they could further dehydrate your scalp and hair. Instead, keep the water lukewarm during shampooing, and wash off the conditioner with cold water to effectively retain moisture.

Last but not least, a scalp massager can assist in exfoliating and rubbing off dead skin from your scalp. Thanks to soft silicone or synthetic bristles, the massager helps relax the scalp and buffs away dry and flaky skin, followed by a decrease in the number of flakes. Also, it provides a clean canvas to enhance the positive effects of the application of hair serums or other hair products later on.


Although dandruff and dry scalp induce flakes and itch, they are two distinct matters. The prior occurs due to excessive oil; meanwhile, the latter results from a lack of oil production.

The flaky condition of the scalp is associated with dryness, resulting from skin diseases or physical-related factors, including the winter cold. During wintertime, the outside cold and the indoor heating during the winter months can induce dryness and irritation on your skin and scalp. When dry scalp happens, flakes emerge and worsen if not treated properly. Also, as your scalp becomes more sensitive thanks to changes in your living environments or daily routines, dry scalp can happen.

To deal with a flaky scalp, you might need to use suitable treatments such as applying hair products with specific ingredients to increase scalp moisture, using a scalp massager to gently exfoliate dead skin, or following a proper washing method.



Kim, S., Shin, S., Kim, S.-N. and Na, Y. (2021) Understanding the Characteristics of the Scalp for Developing Scalp Care Products. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and

Applications, 11, 204-216.

Godse, K., & Zawar, V. (2012). Sensitive scalp. International journal of trichology4(2), 102–104.

Love, C. (2021, Jul 27). Dandruff vs. dry scalp: Differences and best treatments. BestReviews, Retrieved from

Oshima, M., et al. (2014) Improvement of Scalp Condition and Quality of Life through Proper Skin Care of Dry Scalp. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences, and Applications, 4, 284-292.

Luat Duong

Luat Duong is a Copenhagen-based writer and content strategist specializing in hair loss and health. His work has been featured in MyHealthGuide, The Right Hairstyles, and Woman's Era. He is a graduate of Vaasa University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.