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10 Ways To Soothe A Dry, Itchy Scalp

Karina Hoshikawa

Winter weather is notorious for being unkind to lips and skin — hello, extra-ashy elbows and tubes of lip balm in every purse and pocket. But as it turns out, chilly temperatures and dry, moisture-zapping air can be a real mother for your scalp, too.

"Under all that hair, the scalp is skin like the rest of your body," board-certified dermatologist Robyn Gmyrek, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology tells Refinery29. "In the winter, when we are going from the cold outside to the dry heating inside, our scalp skin can get dried out."

That said, cold weather isn't the only culprit behind a sad scalp. "Another common reason for a flaky or irritated scalp is something called seborrheic dermatitis," board certified dermatologist and LM Medical co-founder Morgan Rabach, MD, explains. "People usually don't wash their hair as much in the winter, due to the cold, and so the yeast that lives on the scalp can build up, causing irritation."

And if you guessed that all flakes aren't created equal, you're right: "While both dryness and dandruff can make your scalp itch, the flakes in dry scalp will be dry and white and the scalp will not appear red," Dr. Gmyrek says. "In seborrheic dermatitis, the flakes are bigger, can be both white or yellow, and they look oily."

If you're dealing with a textbook dry scalp, then switching to a gentle shampoo, adding a soothing scalp treatment, and eliminating any products with alcohol should be enough to get you to a healthier place. However, if you think you're experiencing seborrheic dermatitis, the derms suggest you try a medicated shampoo (twice or three times a week should do the trick) with an active ingredient like salicylic acid, ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide.

Ahead, ten shampoos and treatments that'll get you to a less flaky place ASAP.

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Briogeo B. Well organic + australian 100% tea tree oil


In addition to treating acne blemishes, tea tree oil is great for soothing a dry, itchy scalp. This steam-distilled, non-GMO oil from Briogeo is a great pick for a wide range of hair types.

Briogeo B. Well organic + australian 100% tea tree oil, $, available at Briogeo

Kérastase Specifique Bain Riche Dermo-Calm Shampoo


Dandruff may not be chic, but this shampoo certainly is. If you want to try a high-end option, Dr. Gmyrek suggests this luxe soothing formula, which contains tamanu oil, menthol, and piroctone olamine, an active ingredient with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. "It cleanses the scalp without stripping the skin's natural oils and without weighing hair down," she says.

Kérastase Bain Vital Dermo-Calm Shampoo, $, available at Kérastase

Free & Clear Shampoo


As the name suggests, Free & Clear is as no-BS as shampoos can get. "It's fragrance-, gluten-, and sulfate-free and contains zinc pyrithione, which has antifungal and anti-itch properties," Dr. Gmyrek explains.

Pharmaceutical Specialties Free and Clear Shampoo, $, available at DermStore

Act+Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox


Hip packaging? Check. A+ ingredients? Check. This plant-based scalp treatment is powered by botanical ingredients like moringa, basil leaf, amaranth, and baobab to nourish roots and gently rid the scalp of impurities.

Act+Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox, $, available at Net-A-Porter

Phyto Phytopolléine Botanical Scalp Treatment


This pharmacie gem is on the pricey side, but a bottle lasts for a deceptively long time: A couple drops of the essential oil blend massaged into the scalp is all you need for an instant soothing, cooling sensation.

Phyto PHYTOPOLLÉINE Botanical Scalp Treatment, $, available at Ulta Beauty

Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment


"I like this leave-in oil because it soothes the scalp with argan oil, exfoliates gently with salicylic acid, and helps repair the skin barrier," Dr. Gmyrek says.

Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment, $, available at Sephora

Re-Fresh Scalp Care Shampoo Anti-Dandruff Sea Mineral & Hydrate Salicylic Acid


"This shampoo feels very luxurious — but at a drugstore price point," Dr. Rabach says. "It contains 2% salicylic acid, and can help reduce the dead, flaky skin on the scalp."

RE-fresh Scalp Care Shampoo Anti-Dandruff Sea Mineral & Hydrate, $, available at Walmart

Selsun Blue Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo


Dr. Rabach also name-checks this OG drugstore formula to help with symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

Selsun Blue Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo, $, available at Amazon

Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo


"I love this product because is made with 1% ketoconazole, which helps to curb the excessive yeast overgrowth seen in seborrheic dermatitis," Dr. Gmyrek says. "This decreases inflammation, scale and itch."

nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, $, available at Amazon

Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub


Scrubs can be harsh if you overdo it, so look for a gentle formula that will removes flakes and product build-up without stripping the skin. This affordable option is made with sugar crystals, which are kinder on your scalp than salt-based products.

Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub, $, available at Target

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