From a steady lineup of shampoos, conditioners, masks, primers, and oils to regular trims and treatments, we devote considerable time and energy to keeping our hair healthy and strong. But for many of us, these efforts prove to be in vain when facing a dry or itchy scalp. Dry scalp can cause serious physical discomfort, and flakiness or shedding can wreak havoc on overall hair health. After all, the scalp is quite literally the root of our hair, so it can also be the root of its problems.
Dry scalp is an incredibly common condition, but understanding what’s behind yours may take some digging. “There can be a variety of reasons for dry scalp,” explains Caroline Robinson MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. She says, in addition to psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis, skin conditions that can all lead to dry scalp, lifestyle and environmental factors contribute to an itchy, inflamed scalp. “Drier seasons, for example, can promote dry skin on the scalp much in the way that it does on the rest of our body,” Dr. Robinson says. “And product buildup and under-washing can contribute to dryness and itchiness of the scalp as well.”
Chances are you’ll notice a dry scalp almost immediately, thanks to the many signs. “Symptoms of dry scalp include constant itching, irritation, flaking or peeling skin on the scalp, and swollen skin that is sensitive to touch,” notes Angel Mendez, a stylist at Salon YOSHIKO at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. And while dandruff is actually a cause of dry scalp rather than an effect, it too has myriad symptoms that are typically pretty easy to spot. “Dandruff can have a variety of symptoms and appearances, but most commonly, greasy white to yellow flakes and itching are present,” Dr. Robinson says.
If you suffer from dry scalp or have experienced any of these symptoms, the good news is that hair stylists and brands are increasingly aware of the condition and are on a mission to remedy it. With a slew of new treatments, oils, and exfoliators, all designed to soothe and hydrate, dry, itchy scalp can be a thing of the past. We conducted hours of research on the best dry scalp treatments, evaluating each pick by type, key ingredients, and what scalp condition, from dryness to dandruff, they treat. After consulting with a board-certified dermatologist and stylist, we narrowed down our picks based on their recommendations to give you the best in show.
Living Proof Scalp Care Dry Scalp Treatment
Good for all hair types
Can leave a slight film on hair
Living Proof’s Dry Scalp Treatment is one of the most innovative scalp products on the market. Not only does the hyaluronic acid-based formula feel incredibly soothing while applying it to your scalp, but the serum-like leave-in treatment also creates a protective layer of hydration to keep irritation at bay and provide lasting moisture until your next hair wash. It works on all hair types, but some users, particularly those with fine or oily hair, have reported seeing some greasiness from the product.
Price at time of publish: $37
Type: Leave-in treatment | Good For: Itchiness, Flakiness, Irritation | Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin B3 | Size: 3.4 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Head & Shoulders Royal Oils Scalp Elixir
Very liquidy (can spill easily)
If you want an effective dry scalp treatment at a reasonable price, you can’t beat this one from Head & Shoulders. Formulated with cooling menthol and peppermint oil, the elixir provides an instantly cooling sensation and major relief from irritation. Plus, it contains zinc pyrithione to combat dandruff and flakiness.
Price at time of publish: $8
Type: Treatment | Good For: Irritation, dandruff | Key Ingredients: Zinc pyrithione, menthol, peppermint oil | Size: 4.2 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Sisley Hair Rituel Soothing Rebalancing Cure Hair & Scalp Serum
Has a slight herbaceous smell
This hair and scalp serum from Sisley’s Hair Rituel comes at a pretty penny, but it’s well worth the price. Taking a holistic approach to scalp health, it thwarts irritation and discomfort with just a few drops, thanks to a blend of anti-inflammatory piroctone olamine, vitamin B5, sage extract, and exotic verbena essential oil. It nourishes the scalp and strengthens hair, leaving it healthier and softer than ever.
Price at time of publish: $142
Type: Serum | Good For: Irritation, dryness | Key Ingredients: Piroctone olamine, sage extract, vitamin B5 | Size: 2 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
OUAI Scalp and Body Scrub
Easy to apply
Crystals don't dissolve immediately
Can be tough to rinse out
This dual-action exfoliant from OUAI is one of the most popular scrubs on the market—and for good reason. It harnesses the power of sugar crystals to gently exfoliate—removing dirt, flakes, and product buildup along the way—while glycerin, coconut oil, and panthenol nourish and hydrate skin. The scrub boasts the brand’s signature Melrose Place scent, a blend of rose, cedarwood, bergamot, and white musk, so massaging it into your scalp feels as luxurious and indulgent as it does functional. And the best part about this exfoliant? You can use it from head to toe.
Price at time of publish: $38
Type: Scrub | Good For: Dryness, Flakes | Key Ingredients: Sugar crystals, coconut oil, glycerin, panthenol | Size: 8.8 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Kevin.Murphy Scalp Spa Wash
Safe for color-treated hair
Great for sensitive skin
May be too gentle for some
According to Mendez, “it’s important to remember that your scalp is part of your skin, and many reasons why the skin on your face and body become dry are the same for a dry scalp.” So, if you have sensitive skin on the rest of your body, your scalp will too, and it should be treated accordingly. This cleanser from Kevin Murphy is incredibly gentle and is actually recommended for those with sensitive skin. The formula is lightweight, and it will leave the scalp and hair clarified and nourished without feeling heavy or greasy. Plus, this shampoo is color-safe, so it won’t strip your hair of its color.
Price at time of publish: $38
Type: Shampoo | Good For: Sensitive skin, dryness | Key Ingredients: Coconut oil, panthenol, witch hazel | Size: 8.4 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment
May make hair oily
Moroccanoil’s Dry Scalp Treatment features a slew of impressive ingredients, including argan oil, vitamin E, and geranium oil, to soothe and hydrate the scalp, as well as salicylic acid to gently exfoliate and prevent buildup and flaking. The oil is formulated with the brand’s signature fresh scent and keeps the scalp and hair moisturized and soft for several days.
Price at time of publish: $38
Type: Oil | Good For: Dryness, flakes | Key ingredients: Argan oil, salicylic acid, geranium oil | Size: 1.5 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Cooling Hydration Mask for Dry, Itchy Scalp
Doesn’t treat dandruff
This hydrating mask from Briogeo provides instant relief for dry scalp pain and itchiness. Clinically shown to increase scalp hydration by up to 144 percent, this mask uses tea tree and peppermint oils to calm irritation and refresh the scalp, charcoal to detoxify and clear buildup, and coconut oil to moisturize.
Price at time of publish: $34
Type: Mask | Good for: Painful irritation, itchiness | Key Ingredients: Tea tree oil, peppermint oil, charcoal | Size: 6 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Curly Hair
Fable & Mane SahaScalp Amla Soothing Serum
Only needs to be used every two weeks
Takes time to see results
This soothing scalp serum from Ayurvedic haircare brand Fable & Mane is great for all hair types, but particularly curly hair. The lightweight serum is formulated with amla (aka Indian gooseberry) to relieve itchiness, bakuchi to rejuvenate, and aloe to hydrate. And the best part is that you only have to use this treatment once every two weeks—though, you can use it more frequently if needed.
Price at time of publish: $36
Type: Serum | Good for: Curly hair, irritation | Key Ingredients: Amla (Indian gooseberry), bakuchi, aloe | Size: 1.8 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Itchiness
Klorane Soothing Scalp Serum with Peony
Not great for serious/chronic dry scalp
Dry scalp is often much more than a little flakiness and can include painful irritation and continued itchiness. For those times, this soothing scalp serum from Klorane provides instant relief. With a few sprays using the targeted applicator, this serum will restore the scalp’s natural balance and leave it protected and hydrated for up to 24 hours. Plus, the light peony scent smells amazing.
Price at time of publish: $24
Type: Serum | Good for: Itchiness, irritation | Key Ingredients: Peony extract, glycerin | Size: 3.4 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Flakes
Vanicream Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Good for sensitive skin
Can be drying to fine hair
Don’t let the gentle nature of this Vanicream shampoo fool you; it’s deeply effective. Designed to treat dandruff and flakiness, it contains a maximum over-the-counter strength of zinc pyrithione, an antifungal used to treat seborrheic dermatitis and to kill the bacteria that can contribute to dry, flaky scalp. This shampoo is free of fragrance, parabens, and other harsh ingredients, so it’s perfect for sensitive skin.
Price at time of publish: $11
Type: Shampoo | Good For: Dandruff, flakes, itchiness | Key Ingredients: Zinc pyrithione, glycerin | Size: 8 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Gisou Honey Infused Scalp Treatment Serum
Works for all hair types
Honey-based haircare brand Gisou has been sharing the powers of honey and propolis with the world since its launch, and its Honey-Infused Scalp Treatment Serum is no exception. Formulated with Mirsalehi honey, a natural humectant that helps restore moisture balance, the lightweight serum also features ectoine to treat dryness and flakiness and a prebiotic complex to promote lasting hydration.
Price at time of publish: $48
Type: Serum | Good For: Flakes, dryness | Key Ingredients: Honey, ectoine, prebiotic complex | Size: 3.4 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Neutrogena Scalp Therapy Anti-Dandruff Scalp Build-up Control Shampoo
Relieves itchiness and flaking
Has strong chemical smell
Recommended by Dr. Robinson, this therapeutic shampoo from Neutrogena helps treat flakes and itchiness. “I often recommend starting with an over the counter shampoo that contains ingredients to address that skin, flakes, and itch such as the Neutrogena Scalp Therapy Anti-Dandruff collection,” she explains. This targeted shampoo contains 2.5 percent salicylic acid to control sebum production and prevent dry scalp, and it starts working after just one use.
Price at time of publish: $10
Type: Shampoo | Good For: Dandruff, flakes | Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, Apple cider vinegar | Size: 12 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
When looking for the best treatment, it’s important to keep in mind your specific scalp and hair needs. However, we’ve found that Living Proof Scalp Care Dry Scalp Treatment is the most universal, offering tangible results for every type of dry scalp, which is why it earned our best overall spot. We also love the drugstore pick, Royal Oils by Head & Shoulders Scalp Elixir, which is an affordable way to treat dandruff plus a dry and irritated scalp.
Meet the Expert
Caroline Robinson, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. She treats a full range of skin conditions but specializes in preventative skincare and ethnic skin dermatology, and is well-versed in the importance of scalp care to dermatology.
Angel Mendez is a hair stylist at Salon YOSHIKO at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. He began his career at Frederic Fekkai, perfecting his craft and specializing in Bridal and fashion week. Because his work focuses on the natural movement of hair, he’s experienced in all things scalp care.
What to Look for in a Dry Scalp Treatment
Before you can find the right scalp treatment for your needs, it’s wise to figure out what’s behind it. “It’s important to first get to the root of what is causing your dry scalp,” says Mendez. Once you’ve done this, you can more easily determine how to treat it.
When looking for a dry scalp treatment, keep an eye out for gentle and nourishing ingredients. “Rice Oil, Madecassoside, Pro Vitamin B5, and skin-loving oils, like marula and baobab, will all work to nourish and hydrate the scalp,” Mendez notes. “Other ingredients to look for, like tea tree oil, coconut oil, and charcoal, are also great options to help relieve dry scalp symptoms.”
It’s just as important, however, to avoid harmful ingredients. Steer clear of any hair or scalp products that contain alcohol, sulfates, or even some fragrances. “Take a look at the ingredients list on all of the hair products you use from shampoo and conditioner to gel, hairspray, and hair dyes,” Mendez adds. “If you see any form of alcohol or sulfates as ingredients, it’s best to stop using it and find alternatives.”
How do you get rid of dry scalp?
There are many different approaches to treating a dry scalp and the best one for you will depend on the cause and severity of your condition. That said, there are a number of preventative measures and lifestyle changes that are good places to start. “First, don’t wash your hair every day, as it will strip the scalp of oils that naturally moisturize the scalp,” Mendez explains. Take inventory of the ingredients your haircare products contain, and stop using anything that has alcohol or sulfates. “Additionally, do not go to sleep with or tie back wet hair after you’ve washed it - it’s important to allow the scalp and hair to fully dry,” Mendez adds. “This will help alleviate symptoms and also help to prevent hair breakage.”
From there, it’s important to find a cleanser that will help alleviate symptoms and replenish hydration. “Addressing any sort of dryness, or itchiness on the scalp always starts with the cleansing step.” Dr. Robinson says. “Cleansing the scalp at an appropriate frequency and with appropriate products for your scalp is essential.” She recommends starting with an over-the-counter shampoo that contains nourishing ingredients, and if that doesn’t help your dry scalp, a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist may be in order.
What’s the best treatment for an extremely dry scalp?
For extreme cases of dry scalp, look for products formulated with active ingredients, like zinc pyrithione and salicylic acid. If you don’t see any changes with over-the-counter treatments, schedule an appointment with your board-certified dermatologist, who can prescribe a medicated shampoo or topical anti-inflammatory solution if necessary.
How often should I use a scalp scrub or treatment?
Frequency of application will vary from product to product, so it’s important to read the specific directions thoroughly. In general, scalp scrubs and chemical exfoliants should be used once or twice a week; masks should be used once a week; serums and oils can be used as regularly as every day.
Why Trust Byrdie
Gabby Shacknai is an experienced beauty writer whose writing has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Departures, Women's Health, Air Mail, and more. For this roundup, she consulted with qualified skin and hair experts to ensure that the information presented is accurate and helpful. She also combed through reviews and tested many of the scalp products featured to offer readers the very best picks.