Have an irritatingly dry scalp? Such a bummer. When your scalp doesn't produce enough natural oils to properly lubricate itself, it can cause irritation, itching, flaking, and make your hair look dry, too. Dry air, too much shampooing, and skin conditions like eczema can cause a dry scalp. Obviously, you can't control every factor that might contribute to your scalp woes, but fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to relieve them.
There are plenty of pre-made dry-scalp shampoos on the market, but if you want to go the all-natural and money-saving route, you could make a DIY treatment of your own.
We spoke to dermatologists Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, and Marthe Dika, MD, for nine home remedies for a dry scalp, using ingredients you can find in your kitchen (or on Amazon).
Meet the Expert
- Marthe Dika, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer prevention and treatment as well as the management of conditions, such as acne and eczema. She practices at the Franklin, Wisconsin, office of Forefront Dermatology.
- Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care.
- Sophia Emmanuel is an IAT Certified Trichologist and licensed cosmetologist.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is found in many pre-made shampoos for dandruff and dry scalp, due to its potent antiseptic and antifungal properties. To make an easy mask of your own, mix a few drops of tea tree oil with coconut, jojoba, or olive oil, massage it into your scalp, and leave it for at least 10 minutes before rinsing.
After washing the mask out, let hair dry naturally before turning on any heat tools. "Let hair air dry at least 80 percent before blow-drying, or wear it au natural once in a while," says Shainhouse, adding that blow-drying too often can worsen dry scalp.
Here's another antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient packed with vitamin E and fatty acids, all of which might work to relieve a dry, itchy scalp. Mix one part castor oil with two parts aloe vera gel and a few drops of tea tree oil, apply to your dry head, and rinse after 30 minutes. Do this up to four times a week.
Aloe vera on its own may also soothe a dry scalp, thanks to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory benefits. But be aware that some aloe vera products may contain additives that might actually harm hair (in other words, look for the pure variety rather than a product that just lists aloe as an ingredient).
Apply aloe vera directly to your scalp and leave on for 10 minutes before shampooing. This application is especially great for those who have hypersensitive skin.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is antimicrobial, so it might help alleviate itch-causing bacteria. It's also claimed to be exfoliating and can help remove residue from hair products which, as Shainhouse explains, can also contribute to dry scalp. "Styling products, including shampoos with sulfates, alcohol-based gels, mousse and hairsprays, and layers of oil-absorbing dry shampoo can also dry out the scalp skin," she notes.
To reap the benefits, mix one part apple cider vinegar with two parts water, and apply directly to the scalp. Rinse after five minutes with shampoo and condition as normal.
Witch hazel is an astringent that's anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, and compatible with sensitive skin. It also works wonders on dry and irritated scalps. In a 2014 study, those who used a witch hazel–based shampoo for six months saw a decrease in red scalp syndrome, a medical condition often marked by itchy and dry scalp. "Witch hazel can be used alone to lift off build-up or cleanse the scalp before you shampoo," Emmanuel says. "It can also be misted on the scalp with a spray bottle after you rinse out your conditioner." Alternatively, you can mix one part witch hazel with two parts olive, coconut, or jojoba oil to make an easy pre-poo mask.
Jojoba oil is incredibly moisturizing for the scalp and nourishing for the skin and hair, and it's often used to treat conditions like acne and psoriasis. Even better, it doesn't need to be diluted before being used. Just massage the oil into your scalp and leave it in for 10-20 minutes before shampooing.
Try adding a few drops of jojoba oil to your shampoo to relieve dryness and itching.
Antifungal, antibacterial, and highly moisturizing, coconut oil may be extremely helpful for dandruff and dry scalp. Dika recommends trying a leave-in conditioner "followed by a moisturizing cream or oil (coconut oil being one that has been shown to lower water and protein loss)." Simply apply a small scoop of food-grade coconut oil to your dry scalp before hopping in the shower, and comb through the ends. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes and then shampoo and condition as normal.
Applying a moisturizing scalp and hair mask once a week will "hydrate and protect the scalp skin barrier," says Shainhouse. She recommends utilizing a balancing, intensely moisturizing mask or making your own, using "avocado, honey, and mashed banana." Apply to your scalp, cover with a shower cap, and let it sit for up to 30 minutes before rinsing. Avocado is rich with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, plus vitamins A and B.
This one might go without saying, but it's important to note that deep conditioners are a solid bet for treating dry scalp. "Dry scalp is due to depletion of natural oils/moisture from either washing too often or using harsh products (one example is sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate—which is found in some shampoos and can be very drying)," says Dika. "In the case of dry scalp, one should decrease the frequency of washing their hair, use a deep conditioner, and moisturize after washing."
For a DIY deep-conditioning treatment, try a mixture of egg yolk and olive oil. Olive oil is rich in healthy fats, which might work to nourish the hair and scalp. Shainhouse recommends "rubbing your hair conditioner into your scalp in order to moisturize it" and selecting moisturizing formulations with less alcohol and sulfates. After, be sure to rinse well.
Orchard A, van Vuuren S. Commercial essential oils as potential antimicrobials to treat skin diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4517971. doi:10.1155/2017/4517971
Sandford EC, Muntz A, Craig JP. Therapeutic potential of castor oil in managing blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye. Clin Exp Optom. 2021;104(3):315-322. doi:10.1111/cxo.13148
Salehi B, Albayrak S, Antolak H, et al. Aloe genus plants: from farm to food applications and phytopharmacotherapy. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(9):2843. doi:10.3390/ijms19092843
Yagnik D, Serafin V, J Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):1732. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x
Trüeb RM. North American Virginian witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): based scalp care and protection for sensitive scalp, red scalp, and scalp burn-out. Int J Trichology. 2014;6(3):100-103. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.139079
Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;19(1):70. doi:10.3390/ijms19010070
Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-750. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.556759