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Can a Dry Scalp Cause Hair Loss? Evidence Review 2023
Dr Kieran Dayah (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Kieran Dayah (GMC)
Updated on May 13, 2024

If you are wondering whether a dry scalp causes hair loss, you are likely experiencing symptoms such as tenderness, and irritation and your scalp may itch even after washing your hair. You are also likely to see white flaking, which might make you part of the 42% of the population who experience dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis [1].

A dry scalp can also affect the appearance of your locks. You may be experiencing dry, brittle hair which breaks off easily and flat, lacklustre tresses.  But can your dry scalp cause hair loss? And if so, is there anything you can do to prevent and treat it? 

The answer is that there are several ways in which your dry scalp can cause your hair to fall out, but fortunately, these can usually be prevented or reversed with proper hair care.

Keep reading this article to find out more about:

  • What dry scalp is 
  • Ways to identify dry hair
  • The main causes of a dry scalp
  • The relationship between a dry scalp and hair loss
  • Ways to prevent and treat dry scalp-induced hair loss
Table of Contents
close up image of a dry and flaky scalp

What is a dry scalp?

The skin on your scalp is similar to that on other parts of your body, except it is thicker, and has larger hair follicles and more sebaceous glands [2]. These glands produce sebum, an oily substance that moisturises and protects your scalp and hair. 

When sebum production is too high, your scalp can get too greasy, your hair follicles can get clogged and you can develop a yeast infection on the scalp, such as dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. 

However, when your scalp doesn’t produce enough sebum or the natural oil on your hair is stripped off by overuse of hair products with harsh chemicals or due to common scalp problems, your scalp can become too dry.  

How can I tell if my scalp is dry?

A healthy, well-moisturised scalp should be skin coloured and should look clean and smooth. You should experience no discomfort while touching it and no scalp tenderness when you move your hair.

A dry scalp, however, can look reddish, irritated or inflamed. It can feel rough, scaly or bumpy and it may produce flaking. You may experience itchiness, tenderness, tightness or a burning sensation on your scalp

Can a dry scalp cause hair loss?

While it is not the scalp dryness itself that causes hair thinning, a dry scalp can often mean that you can expect some hair loss. Here are some of the most common ways that could happen:

  • Itchiness can make you scratch vigorously, which can cause hair breakage at the crown or on other parts of your scalp. 
  • Oxidative stress affecting the scalp can interfere with hair development before it emerges from your scalp, making it more brittle and prone to falling out [9]. 
  • Scalp problems like seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and dandruff can lead to hair loss, as they may weaken the anchor point of the hair strand within the follicle [2]. Learn more about seborrheic dermatitis according to the NHS.
  • A dry scalp may mean an overall lack of moisture in the body, which also affects your hair. Dry hair can be brittle and break off easily.

What causes a dry scalp and how can it lead to hair loss?

There are a number of things that can dry out your scalp and lead to hair loss. Here are some of the most common:

1. Using hair products that contain harsh chemicals

One of the primary causes of a dry scalp is the excessive use of hair products which contain harsh chemicals, such as hair bleach, dye, glycolic acid for hair growth or even shampoos with powerful detergents. These chemicals strip the protective oil from your scalp. Also, overuse of chemicals such as bleach and dye can cause hair loss.

2. Certain scalp conditions

There are several common scalp problems which can lead to a dry scalp. Here are some of the most frequent:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis [1]
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) [11]
  • Scalp psoriasis [6]
  • Ringworm [7]
  • Actinic keratosis [8]

Research suggests certain scalp conditions can contribute to hair loss by reducing the stability of the hair within the follicle, often as a result of oxidative stress 10]. This makes hair more prone to shedding in the shower or when you brush it.

3. Frequent heat styling

Using heat styling and blow drying on your hair too frequently can dry out the moisture from your scalp and hair, leaving them brittle. Learn more about how heat styling leads to damaged hair.

all the ways to style your hair

4. Excessive sun exposure and low air humidity

Too much sunlight isn’t good for your hair. Being out under the hot sun for too long with no UV protection for your hair can remove the moisture from your scalp, leading to a dry scalp and summer hair loss.

Lack of air moisture, as usually occurs in hot dry summers or in winters when you spend a lot of time inside, surrounded by artificial heating, can also dry out your scalp and hair. 

Naturally lower sebum production

Some people have underactive sebaceous glands, which means they produce less sebum than normal. This leaves their skin and hair drier and they require additional moisturising to compensate for this.

anatomy of a hair follicle

Unhealthy dietary habits

Very restrictive diets or eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can lead to hair loss and a dry scalp, as they are deprived of the necessary nutrients to remain healthy and produce the necessary protective oils. 

eating a single pea on a plate

How do you prevent a dry scalp that may lead to hair loss?

If you want to prevent your scalp from becoming dry, the best thing you can do is to adopt healthy hair care practices and to make some light lifestyle changes:

  • Keep your scalp well moisturised and conditioned, especially in high-heat or low-humidity environments
  • Stay informed regarding the best and worst shampoos for hair loss
  • Cover your hair or use UV protection when going out in the sun
  • Use heat styling sparingly and use heat protection when you do
  • Avoid hair products with harsh chemicals which can strip the natural oil off your scalp. Be aware that even without having a dry scalp, overuse of bleach and dye can cause hair loss.
  • Avoid washing your hair too frequently if your hair seems to be drying or wear a moisturising hair mask afterwards.
  • See a trichologist if you experience an itchy scalp alongside inflammation, swelling, irritation, plaques, oozing or flaking. 
  • Use an air humidifier in the heated rooms you spend the most time in. 
  • Use proven essential oils for hair growth

Does hair loss from a dry scalp grow back?

Once your scalp problems are properly treated and your dry scalp is regularly moisturised and provided with a proper care regimen, the hair loss may resolve itself and your locks could look happy and healthy once more.

If your scalp dryness improves, but you are still experiencing hair loss, it may be due to a different underlying cause. The most common types of alopecia are:

Since these conditions can get worse if left untreated, It is a good idea to book a consultation with a trichologist from the first signs of hair thinning and balding. They will perform all the necessary tests such as a dermoscopy or blood tests for hair loss to determine if it was indeed your dry scalp causing your hair shedding or if it has an unrelated cause.

Once they have uncovered the root of your hair woes, they are likely to recommend hair growth medication (such as Minoxidil or Finasteride) or therapies (such as dermarolling for hair growth or red light therapy for hair growth).

Can a Dry Scalp Cause Hair Loss? Evidence Review 2023, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Kieran Dayah (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Kieran Dayah (GMC)Updated on May 13, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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