Is it dandruff or a dry scalp? Here’s how to tell the difference – and what to do about it

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In the world of beauty, scalps are pretty hot right now. Yep, you read that right. Cult Beauty has seen searches for “scalp” increase by 196 per cent in the last year alone.

And if you find yourself plagued by little white flecks, you’re not alone – 50 per cent of people around the world suffer from dandruff. But are those pesky flakes down to a scalp imbalance or just dry skin? Here’s how to find out.

Part your hair and have a close look at your scalp. A healthy scalp will be even in tone, but if yours looks blotchy, red or flaky, read on to discover the characteristics of dry skin versus dandruff to see which best describes your scalp issues.

Dandruff checklist

Large, yellow, oily flakes


Oily scalp

Red, scaly skin


Dandruff is a medical condition caused by excess oil and a type of yeast-like microbe called Malassezia furfur. It can be made worse during times of stress and triggered by spicy foods and white wine.

How to help:

You may need to wash your hair more regularly to help cleanse and exfoliate the scalp, and use a targeted shampoo.

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Dry scalp checklist

Fine, barely-there flakes



Dry skin on other areas of the body

Worsens with weather changes and frequent shampooing


You could be over-cleansing and stripping the scalp of its natural moisturising oils. This can lead to an itchy and flaky scalp.

How to help:

Look for hydrating hair care to replenish moisture levels. Unlike dandruff, a dry scalp may improve by simply spreading out your hair washes – win win!

Skincare for your scalp

Get to the root of the problem with these skincare-inspired treatments.

Grow Gorgeous Intense Thickening Hair & Scalp Mask

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This targeted treatment not only moisturises dry scalps and lengths, but also helps to boost the hair’s volume. This is because it also contains caffeine and pea peptides, which boost your roots.

You can get your hands on a travel-size tube of this in this month’s OK! Beauty Edit box, which contains six pampering beauty treats to give yourself a moment of “me-time”. The contents are worth over £40, but you can pick them up for as little as £16.50, including P&P.

Pick up the OK! Beauty Edit box from just £16.50* here.

Head & Shoulders Daily Protect Shampoo, £5.99 here

Use a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo regularly to remove excess oil and microbe build-up. This one’s pH-balanced and all about supporting the scalp’s natural microbiome to protect against the dandruff-causing microbe.

Lee Stafford Scalp Love Skin-Kind Dry Shampoo, £6.99 here

If dry skin is your issue, you may need to space out the time between your hair washes. Cue the dry shampoo. This one is kind on the scalp thanks to hyaluronic acid, which keeps the skin nice and hydrated whilst mopping up greasiness.

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