10 At-Home Remedies For A Dry Scalp + Possible Causes
Scalp care is top of mind for many people, given we know it's vital for healthy hair growth (and shiny locks in general). Properly tending to your scalp takes a holistic approach, involving nutrition, lifestyle factors, and of course, well-formulated topical products. However, it doesn't have to cost a fortune.
You can even whip up your own scalp treatments, serums, and oils—right from your own kitchen. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
What is a dry scalp? Signs you may have one.
Before diving into DIY scalp remedies, let's chat about dry scalp 101. The typical characteristics of a dry scalp can include flaking, itching, tightness, etc.
"Dry scalp can be caused by a few different things," board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, M.D., FAAD, tells mbg. More often than not, a dry scalp is caused by minor triggers. What's more, you can be simply prone to it, just as you may naturally have dry skin.
These minor triggers are often related to products used on the scalp or how often you wash. "A dry scalp can develop in one of two ways—either from buildup or from harsh ingredients causing flaking," certified trichologist and professional stylist Shab Caspara tells mbg.
"When the flaking is from a dry scalp with no sebum or product buildup, it is most likely the result of harsh cleansing agents in your shampoo or even excessively hot water in the shower," she explains.
On the flip side, "When the flaking is from an oily scalp, you may not be effectively shampooing your hair, but if that's not the case, even stress can cause overproduction of sebum and make your scalp act out," she concludes.
There are also two more serious causes of dry scalp, including:
- Sebborheic dermatitis: "A condition in which yeast on the scalp causes inflammation, which in turn leads to irritation, redness, flaking, and itching," Marcus explains.
- Psoriasis: "Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that can also cause scaly red plaques to form on the scalp, as well as on other areas of the body," she notes.
If you're unsure what's causing your dry scalp or you find little relief with at-home remedies, it's best to visit your dermatologist or a certified trichologist.
10 at-home remedies for dry scalp.
Now for the fun part: 10 quick, easy, and affordable at-home treatments that will quench your scalp's thirst ASAP:
Aloe vera mask
"Aloe vera is incredible for scalp health," certified trichologist, celebrity stylist, and founder of scalp-first hair care brand Act + Acre Helen Reavey tells mbg. "Not only does it soothe the scalp, but it's full of rich vitamins and amino acids that hydrate the scalp to create a healthier environment for growth," she adds.
The easiest way to use fresh aloe vera in your routine is via an aloe scalp mask—here's the how-to.
- Get pure aloe: To prep, you can either buy a fresh aloe vera leaf or 100% pure aloe vera gel (make sure to look out for added dyes or fragrance). If you opt for the fresh leaf, you'll need to scrape out the aloe gel and blend it until it reaches a more liquid consistency. If you bought the pure aloe gel, then you're all set. You don't need to add any other ingredients to the mask—in fact, the simpler, the better.
- Apply: Slather the mask on a clean scalp before you shower. "Clean" is the operative word here; make sure you don't have tons of product buildup from dry shampoo or hair spray on your scalp. This way, the aloe can penetrate deeper and provide lasting hydration.You can pour the aloe into a squirt bottle if that makes it easier for application, or you can use your hands. Really work the aloe vera into the scalp via a gentle scalp massage. Remember: Use your fingertips, not your nails.
- Wait: Let the mask sit for 20 minutes before rinsing it out, then follow your normal hair-wash routine. If you want to dive deeper into the benefits of aloe scalp masks—check out our full guide.
Coconut oil overnight treatment
"Coconut oil is an occlusive emollient," Marcus explains. "It is very hydrating and can be applied in very small amounts to the scalp to calm flakes and inflammation," she says. If you're looking for 24/7 hydration, coconut oil might be a bit too heavy.
However, you can use coconut oil as an overnight treatment without fretting about the excess shine on your roots. Here's the how-to:
- Melt: "Melt a few tablespoons of coconut oil over low heat, and transfer to a bowl," hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of natural hair care brand Miss Jessie's, once told us. "Apply warm coconut oil to hair—section by section—massaging into the roots and saturating hair throughout the tips. Then run a wide-toothed comb throughout your entire hair to gently detangle."
- Cover: After covering your hair with a shower cap, you can either relax for half an hour or sleep on those coated tresses overnight for some deep conditioning. Again, make sure to completely rinse out the coconut oil in the a.m.
Cooling yogurt mask
"Yogurt can act as a mild exfoliant due to lactic acid by removing dead skin cells on the scalp," Caspara says. Though the actual concentration of lactic acid is not comparable to pre-formulated topicals, it might be just what a sensitive scalp needs.
Not to mention, yogurt is packed with probiotics, which directly contribute to a healthy skin microbiome (scalp included). Use unflavored yogurt as the base, and add whatever other ingredients you see fit. Here are a few ideas:
- For an irritated scalp: oatmeal or honey
- For a sunburned scalp: aloe vera
- For flakes or buildup: fine sugar
You may have heard the term hair slugging pop up on social platforms as of late. While the term may be somewhat new, the process isn't. See, scalp slugging is just the same as hair oiling, which is a long-standing Ayurvedic tradition.
Before you begin applying the oil, you'll have to select the best option. Some of these oils you may have at home, and others you may want to invest in. A few possible options include jojoba oil, coconut oil, vitamin E, rosemary oil (great for stimulating growth), and argan oil.
- Apply oil: Working from one side to the other, apply your oil down the part of your hair and continue moving through sections until you've covered at least four or five part-lengths in oil. Don't forget the underneath section of your scalp as well.
- Comb: Using a comb or brush, work the oil through your scalp and down into the strands. You'll want the majority of your hair at least slightly covered in oil (this is where the term "slugging" really manifests).
- Massage: The most important step is to gently massage the oil into your scalp. Start at the crown of your head and move outward. Be sure to use your fingertips, not your nails. Not only will this feel great, but it can also contribute to hair growth1 by stimulating the skin.
- Let it set: Let your oily hair set for at least a few hours. This method may be best to do before bed or before you style your hair in an updo. Either way, rinse out the oil and follow up with your normal wash routine.
Stimulating tea tree tonic
"Tea tree oil is another good choice as it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe an irritated scalp," Marcus explains. However, you shouldn't put tea tree oil straight onto your scalp, as it's more potent than other hydrating oils.
You'll want to apply a few drops of tea tree oil (think four or five) into another carrier oil. You can pick any of those listed thus far (coconut, jojoba, etc.). Apply the blend and either massage it in or just let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing it out.
For even easier application, add a few drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo once you squirt it into your hand, and massage it in per usual.
Green tea leave-in
Topically, green tea2, and its major component, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), works well with reducing inflammation, removing bacteria and excess oil, and free radical protection. The antioxidants and polyphenols in green tea are among the most powerful in helping to protect the skin from environmental damage.
To be frank, it's a great ingredient to look for in your store-bought hair care products and DIY projects alike. The quickest way to get the tea to your scalp at home is through a green tea rinse.
- Steep: Steep 4 tea bags in 2 cups of boiling water for at least 1 hour.
- Apply: Just as you would with another hair tonic, place your green tea in a spray bottle and apply to the scalp and strands. You can even take a cotton ball and dip it in the green tea, and then dab it on your scalp if you don't have a spray bottle.
- Let it sit: Green tea shouldn't irritate the scalp if left on too long, so feel free to leave this tea rinse on your scalp until your next wash.
Rose water scalp toner
Now, if the leave-in masks and super-slippery oils aren't for you, this one might be a better fit. You'll be whipping up a spray-on scalp toner that can be used prewash, post-wash, or in between your wash days if you need an extra dose of hydration.
- Gather your ingredients: First, you have to find your roses. You can either use ½ cup fresh rose petals (which translates roughly to the petals of one large rose) or ¼ cup dried rose petals. Then, you'll need 1½ cups of distilled water. If you can't get your hands on distilled, then filtered water should be fine.
- Simmer away: Put your petals and water into a small pan and let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes. You'll know they're ready when all of the pigment has been drained from the petals. After that, strain your mist into a clean spray bottle of your choosing.
- Place it in the fridge: You'll want to keep your rose water in the fridge to keep it fresh. Because this blend is all-natural (i.e., sans preservatives), you'll want to keep it for only a week at a time. After that, toss the water, wash your bottle, and make another fresh batch. We have an in-depth rose water DIY story here if you want to learn more.
DIY sugar scalp scrub
If your flakes are bothering you, then you'll want to find a safe and effective way to slough off the dead skin. Enter, a scalp scrub. You can certainly make this product yourself, but be sure to use fine sugar rather than large salt crystals.
- Make your product: Place ¾ cup fine sugar in a bowl. Add in ¼ cup of any oil you prefer—refer to the sections above for some options. Be sure the oil is liquidy (i.e., melt solid oils like coconut before mixing).
- Apply: In the shower, apply your scalp scrub to a wet scalp. Do this before washing your hair. Gently massage the scalp with your fingertips (not your nails). Be sure to let the sugar do the exfoliating for you—no need to apply pressure.
- Rehydrate: After you complete your wash routine, use a hydrating scalp serum or oil to restore the skin barrier. Exfoliation is great for flakes, but the effects are best when followed with hydration.
Apple cider vinegar is a buzzy hair care ingredient, and for good reason. There's research that suggests ACV may help with dandruff: "We all have yeast living on our skin as part of its natural biome, but in certain people, it causes itching, inflammation, and flaking. ACV acidity makes a less favorable environment for the yeast and therefore may halt its growth, leading to less flaking," board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, M.D., and co-founder of LM Medical NYC once told mbg.
There are plenty of preformulated apple cider vinegar products out there, but you can certainly make your own as well.
- Make: A two-ingredient rinse is all you need. Mix together ½ tablespoon of ACV and 1 cup of cold water.
- Apply: Place the mixture in a squirt bottle and apply to your hair in place of shampoo. This story will help you determine the best cadence for your hair and scalp type.
Egg white mask
Your hair is made of a protein called keratin. Keratin is made up of amino acids. When you apply amino-acid-rich egg whites to the hair, their amino acids help smooth the follicle, nourish your scalp, moisturize the strand, and counteract damaging sun exposure, environmental pollution, and other stressors.
- Get your egg whites: Take the egg whites from one to three eggs and place them in a bowl.
- Add scent: Add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice to mask the egg aroma.
- Mix: Whisk together the mix until frothy.
- Apply: Apply to hair using your fingers. Cover with a shower cap—so you don't cause a mess—and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then rinse with cool water. Emphasis on cool: If you wash with hot water, the eggs will bake in your hair. Read this guide for more information on the egg white mask.
How do you get rid of a dry scalp?
There are countless ways to tend to a dry scalp, including at-home remedies. Use yogurt, aloe vera, or coconut oil and apply it to your scalp, letting it sit for 20 minutes. Rinse it out and follow up with your normal wash routine.
How do you fix a dry scalp fast?
The fastest way to fix a dry scalp is to eliminate any and all irritating ingredients. Opt for soothing products like hydrating serums or one of the easy at-home remedies listed above.
How do you fix a dry scalp around the hairline?
Use hydrating ingredients like yogurt, botanical oils, and aloe vera as a hairline mask. Apply these ingredients (choose one of the recipes above), and let it sit for 20 minutes. You can also apply a hydrating oil like coconut oil to the hairline and leave it on overnight before washing it out.
If you want healthy hair and supercharged hair growth, then you'll want to start at the scalp. A dry scalp is extremely common and has countless causes and even more DIY-friendly remedies. The best base ingredients include aloe vera, yogurt, coconut oil, and even eggs. However, make sure you're dealing with dry scalp, not dandruff—here's how to tell. Plus, how to do a scalp detox should you want a full refresh.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.