How To Treat Dry Scalp For Curly Hair

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For us naturally curly girls, dry scalp is pretty much a way of life. Most days it feels like no matter how much or how little we wash our hair, our scalps wind up feeling flaky. Thankfully our curls are really good at disguising these flakes (at least until they fall all over black clothes), but there are much better ways to treat dry scalp for curly hair than just throwing it up into a bun, trying not to scratch, and hoping for the best.

According to TRESemmé celebrity stylist John D, curly hair is more prone to dryness than straight hair for a variety of reasons — some of which we can control, others that we're unfortunately stuck with. The best way to mitigate the pesky dryness problems, though, is figuring out what might be causing them and tailoring our hair routines to fix it.

"Dry scalp and dry hair can hand-in-hand," John D says. "Curly hair in particular is naturally more dry by nature, so it’s important to keep your hair and scalp nourished and moisturized."

As someone who spent the last month dealing with a bout of vicious dandruff (and spent a lot of money trying to get rid of it), I can attest to the fact that understanding the root of the issue is the only way to deal with it. Here are five reasons why your scalp may be dry under natural hair, and exactly what you can do to fix it.

1. The Structure Of Your Hair

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As stunningly gorgeous as curly hair is, it does present all of us curly-girls with some issues that our straight-haired friends are immune to. Curly hair is curly because of the shape of the cuticles on our heads that the follicles come out of — but that isn't always a good thing when it comes to oil distribution.

"Natural, curly hair does not wick oil from the scalp to the ends of the hair shaft as easily as straight hair," says dermatologist Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham. "The twists and turns of the hairs make this physically more difficult than for bone straight hairs."

This can be why your hair — and scalp — gets dryer faster. Sadly, there isn't much we can do about this, which is why embracing the right routine is imperative. More on that later.

Wearing your hair in a protective style, however, can help in putting oil at the scalp and treating the problem literally at root. Manipulating your hair into definitive parts can help in treating many scalp issues not easily reachable when hair is left natural, according to co-founder and CEO of Miss Jessie's Miko Branch says. This is one simple way to work with the structure of your hair instead of against it.

"While your hair is in those braids, you have really definitive parts where you can apply your products so you can really get to the root of what you're trying to do, which is moisturize your scalp," she says. "So, protective styling actually is a great way to get right to your scalp."

2. How Much You're Washing

DevaCurl The Kit For All Kind Curl, $30, Sephora

We all know that it's not totally necessary to wash your hair every day, but taking too many days off can actually turn your greasy scalp into a dry one.

"Because people with curly hair tend to wash their hair less regularly, the oil present at the scalp may accumulate and allow the natural yeasts to proliferate," says Dr. Hicks-Graham. "This then may lead to dryness, scaling and irritation — otherwise known as seborrhea or dandruff."

Finally — something we can control. Multiple experts we spoke to suggest routinely shampooing and conditioning with a gentle, sulfate-free product that offers moisture to the scalp and hair. Typically, this should be done on a weekly basis, depending on your physical activity level — if you're working out regularly, for example, you should be washing more often.

"One way to combat dry scalp is to use a great shampoo and conditioner that aid in adding moisture to hair during the foundational wash and care process," John D says.

As a TRESemmé ambassador, John D recommends using the brand's Ultimate Hydration Shampoo and Conditioner, which delivers moisture-rich biotin and Vitamin E to both hair and scalp.

3. Using Too-Thick Products

Bb. Curl (Style) Anti-Humidity Gel-Oil, $34, Sephora

While using moisture-holding products can aid in healing a dry scalp, thick products can be the enemy of a healthy head.

"If thick pomades are used to cosmetically enhance the shine of this curly hair, it can often trap this yeast and oil onto the scalp and make the problem worse," says Dr. Hicks-Graham. "Many people are moving away from the heavy pomades for this reason."

Along with being wary of thick products, Branch also cautions against product "cocktailing," or using too many products that don't agree with each other. This can cause buildup, according Branch, which can lead to a dry scalp.

"Depending on the ingredients, one or more of the products that a person is using might cause dryness or flaking," she says.

Rolanda Wilkerson, Ph.D., a principal scientist at Procter & Gamble, agrees that an over-use of products is something to avoid. According to Dr. Wilkerson, prolonging washing and allowing product build up can worsen the problem over time.

"Prolonging the frequency of washing, and using styling products that can build up on the scalp over time, can worsen the problem," she says.

Instead of using thick products that are known to cause build up, opt for a curl oil. This will help hydrate your scalp while also keeping your curls in place.

4. Skipping Exfoliation

LivSo Moisturizing Pack, $20, Livso

Just like your face, your scalp has dry skin that needs to be treated with moisture and light exfoliation.

"It’s important to have a regular scalp care regimen just as you would a skin care regimen for your face," Dr. Wilkerson says.

Dr. Wilkerson says a once-a-week hair mask, similar to a face mask, can help infuse moisture. She recommends Head & Shoulders Root Rejuvenating Pre-Wash Mask and Royal Oils Deep Moisture Masque, depending on your curl pattern and hair type.

"Products with anti fungal and anti-inflammatory properties are useful, as are ingredients for gentle scalp exfoliation," says Dr. Hicks-Graham. "The LivSo Shampoo, Conditioner and Moisturizing Scalp Lotion are helpful for these reasons."

If your haircare routine is optimized with all these tips, yet your scalp still feels dry, it's time to schedule and appointment with a dermatologist to get to the root of the problem.

This post was originally published on Sept. 18, 2018. It was updated and republished on July 2, 2019. Additional reporting by Katie Dupere.

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