Let’s face it: Along with fall’s chill (which means piling on the layers and drying, dulling skin) comes a ton of gross beauty problems. From smelly feet to chapped lips, there’s a lot that can hold you back from living the confident fireside, pumpkin spice latte-sipping lifestyle you were meant to lead. But don’t worry—we’re talking to experts about how to fix them. Welcome to Ew! Beauty.
As every Game of Thrones fan will remind you over the coming weeks: Winter is coming. Along with it, we’re blessed with ashy skin, smelly boot feet, and dry scalp. Thanks, Mother Nature! (Also, though, sincere thanks for the snow, the holidays, and the return of hot drinks. Those are all good things.)
But so, we’re here to talk to you about the last beauty inconvenience on that list: dry scalp. Yes, this is a condition you can suffer from in any weather, but it’s particularly exacerbated during the colder months. Of course, it’s during this coldest time of year when black invades our wardrobe, making flakes even more evident. Speaking of flakes, they’re the most in-your-face sign that you’re dealing with a dry scalp, but they can also fall into the dandruff category. Francesca Fusco, MD, tells us that it’s important to know the difference between the two. She explains:
Dry scalp presents subtly as a tightness, a mild itchiness and when you look at the scalp, especially if you have dark hair, you may see a couple of flakes here and there. Whereas dandruff—an overproduction of yeast, oil, and dead cells—is more than just a couple of flakes. Some people tell me that, when they put their fingers to their scalp and rub the ball of their fingers or scrape lightly with their fingernail, they get a greasy collection of dead skin and oil with it. Some people who have dandruff also get it in their eyebrows. It’s really a spectrum.
For dry scalp sufferers, outside of frequent flakes, another indicator might also be if you’ve been losing more hair than usual. “If your scalp is really dry and very inflamed, then the inflammation could lead to increased shedding,” Dr. Fusco tells us. Another red flag: If you’ve gotten, or plan to get, your hair colored recently and your scalp starts to sting as they’re putting the color on. “If you look at a dry scalp under a microscope, there are little microscopic cracks... The chemicals go in there and irritate it more.”
What typically causes dry scalp is exactly what you might think: not hydrating or moisturizing enough. The frigid conditions outside are a factor, but what’s going on indoors could also make the problem worse, Dr. Fusco says. “As the weather gets colder and the heat goes up indoors, that’s usually a dry heat, and it tends to leach moisture out of the skin and scalp.”
Which leads us to some steps for treating the condition. A humidifier is a great way to hydrate the air and help balance things out indoors. When it comes to washing your hair, the more conditioning you do, the better. “Lots of women have problems with putting the conditioner on their scalp, or they want to begin putting it on their hair halfway down the shaft, and they’re doing a disservice to themselves because they’re not allowing that scalp skin to be hydrated,” Dr. Fusco tells us. “Rub the conditioner into your scalp, let it sit a little bit, and then rinse it out. If you’re really, really worried about whether it’s going to end up weighing up your hair, there are enough choices out there where you can pick the one that’s right for you.”
When choosing a product, one ingredient you should always look out for is zinc pyrithione. Dr. Fusco notes it’s both hydrating and anti-dandruff. She’s also a fan of incorporating oil treatments into your hair regimen. “My favorites are coconut oil because it has proven to penetrate the hair shaft better than any of the other oils and lessen the protein in your hair from shedding with each brush, or comb, or hand flipping through it.”
Some things to absolutely avoid when you’re dealing with a dry scalp: scratching your scalp with your fingernails. Dr. Fusco says it can traumatize an already wounded scalp. She does advocate for massaging your scalp, though, as it stimulates circulation, and also going the DIY route. “A cool way of exfoliating your scalp is to take a tablespoon of sugar or salt and put it in with your shampoo,” she says. “Use the balls of your finger… it will feel good, it will exfoliate, and, most importantly, the sugar and salt will melt away.”
This next tip might be hard to avoid while outside, but Dr. Fusco also recommends taking off that beanie once you’re indoors. “Some people who have dry scalp, or they think they have dry scalp, and they have dandruff tend to wear a hat all day… but in reality, if you have dandruff, you’re making your head a perfect petri dish to grow all the yeast that’s present.”
Dry scalp is something you can absolutely pull a WebMD and diagnose yourself with, but Dr. Fusco says, if you take the proper steps toward treating it and still don’t see results, then you should consult a physician. Don’t try to hide your condition out of embarrassment from your doctor, either. You’re only hurting yourself by doing that in the long run. “When you go to the doctor, go in your natural state. Let them see the flakes,” Dr. Fusco says.
And then take the proper steps to get rid of them. Winter is coming, but a parched scalp doesn’t have to accompany it.