Dealing with a dry, itchy, irritated scalp? Learn the difference between scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff and how you can treat each of these conditions.

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Scalp Psoriasis Vs. Dandruff: Differences, Symptoms, And Treatment

Knowing the differences between scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff and the treatment options for each can save you from a lot of stress. While these two conditions share similar symptoms — such as a dry, itchy, irritated scalp — there are fundamental differences between them.

Understanding these differences can help you find the right treatment option for your scalp and set you on the path to better skin days. So let’s dive in.

Scalp Psoriasis Vs. Dandruff

What Is Scalp Psoriasis?

Woman with scalp psoriasis in her hairline

Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that can affect any area of the body. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it affects approximately 7.5 million people in the United States.

It’s also an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body’s immune system attacks itself. With this particular condition, the immune system goes after the body’s healthy skin cells, giving them a shorter life cycle than usual.

When you suffer from scalp psoriasis, your scalp can have red, scaly patches. These patches tend to be mistaken for dandruff, but there are notable differences between the two.

Here’s a closer look at the symptoms associated with scalp psoriasis:

  • Extreme itchiness, sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation
  • Thick, reddish, or silver-white patches on any area of the scalp
  • Less flakiness and more scaliness
  • Chronic issues
  • Spreading to other areas (e.g., the back of your neck, hairline, the skin around your ears, or forehead)
  • Temporary hair loss

What Is Dandruff?

Scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff on person’s head

Although dandruff is much more common than psoriasis (over 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from it), it is less severe. And while psoriasis might spread to other areas of the body, dandruff only occurs on the scalp.

Those with dandruff typically notice flakes falling off their scalp and clinging to their hair strands and clothing. While the itching and flaking might not look or feel good, the great thing about dandruff is that it’s generally not harmful to your overall health.

If you suspect you may have dandruff, some common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • An itchy scalp
  • Subtle redness in an affected area
  • Yellowish or whitish flakes
  • Dry, flaky skin


Man scratches back of head

Now that we understand the different symptoms of scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff, let’s talk about what causes each condition.

Scalp Psoriasis Causes

Psoriasis can start at any age, although it typically develops between the ages of 15 and 25 for most people.

There’s no specific known cause, but research is ongoing. There are, however, factors that can contribute to developing psoriasis. For example, it tends to run in families. Although some cases aren’t genetic, having a family member with the condition increases your chances of getting it.

Also, just because you may not have symptoms right now doesn’t mean you don’t have the condition. Unfortunately, some people live their lives with no idea they have scalp psoriasis until it flares up one day.

Common triggers that can cause a flare-up include stress, smoking, skin infections, cold or dry weather conditions, and skin injuries.

Dandruff Causes

Many experts believe that dandruff is caused by sensitivity to irritants formed when Malassezia breaks down the oils (sebum) on your scalp. However, a person's hormones can also play a role in developing dandruff.

Multiple external factors contribute to developing dandruff as well. These include:

  • Not shampooing often enough
  • Dry and cold weather conditions can make flakes more visible
  • A family history of dandruff
  • Using the wrong hair care products

Sometimes, what you’re dealing with is not dandruff, but seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis occurs when your scalp is very sensitive to sebum irritants. You may have more itching and flaking than someone with dandruff.

Additionally, the same seborrheic dermatitis can cause irritated, flaky patches on other areas of the body and it is sometimes mistaken for psoriasis. Talk to your doctor to help determine the difference.

We would be remiss if we discussed these skin conditions without letting you know how to deal with them. Here’s a look at effective ways to treat scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff.

How To Treat Scalp Psoriasis Vs. Dandruff

Treatment For Scalp Psoriasis

1) Visit A Dermatologist

Dermatologist looks at woman’s scalp to determine if it’s scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff

Many conditions show similar symptoms to those of scalp psoriasis. For example, in addition to dandruff, there’s also seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, eczema, cradle cap (in infants), and tinea capitis.

While they may have similar redness, flakiness, or patchiness, all of these conditions require different treatment plans. This makes getting a proper diagnosis the first step in the healing process.

During your consultation with your dermatologist, they may extract a small piece of your skin and send it in for testing. Once they have determined that you do indeed have scalp psoriasis, you can work together to find the best treatment plan.

Depending on the severity, they may prescribe medications or topical treatments to help with the symptoms. Your doctor may also share some natural remedies you can use at home.

2) Choose Products With Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid (SA) is a common ingredient used to treat various skin diseases, including psoriasis. It is great for exfoliating dead skin cells, and it contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Once your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis, be sure to look for hair products with SA.

Bodewell Psoriasis Scalp Relief Treatment helps relieve itching and flaking on the scalp. In addition, the SA it contains helps soften and exfoliate the dry, scaly, and thickened skin caused by psoriasis.

3) Choose A Healthier Lifestyle

Chef prepares healthy food on cutting board

Creating healthy habits can play a significant role in helping you manage your psoriasis symptoms.

In terms of diet, it’s best to:

  • Cut out saturated fats
  • Cut out red meat
  • Avoid sugars
  • Eat lots of fish, fruits, and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water

4) Avoid Triggers

Above, we highlighted that stress, smoking, skin infections, and dry weather conditions can all trigger psoriasis. It’s best to avoid these triggers whenever possible.

For example, if you’re under a lot of stress, try incorporating meditation or yoga into your daily routine. These calming activities help ease your mind and relieve stress on your body.

Massages are also great to help you relax, although you may need to call ahead and double-check that the oils they use won’t irritate your skin and potentially cause more flare-ups.

Treatment For Dandruff

1) Pick The Right Shampoo For You

Woman shampooing hair

It’s always best to look for products that are gentle on your scalp if you suffer from psoriasis or dandruff.

Our Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo with almond oil is formulated to gently treat your scalp. With pyrithione zinc and other beneficial ingredients, it helps reduce the flaking, itching, and dryness that’s usually associated with dandruff.

2) Research Active Ingredients

To effectively care for your scalp, it’s important to know the active ingredients in your hair care products. We recommend doing a bit of research, as some active ingredients may discolor your hair and make it more sensitive to the sun. Proceed with caution!

3) Seek Professional Help After One Month

If you have a normal case of dandruff, then your symptoms should improve after using the right shampoo for a while. Although if you stop using it altogether, the dandruff is likely to come back.

If you find yourself using dandruff shampoos for more than one month and your symptoms haven’t improved, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional. They may do some testing to see if there is an underlying problem.

Get The Right Treatment For Your Scalp

Woman brushing her long brown hair

It can be challenging to know whether you’re dealing with scalp psoriasis or dandruff. But since treatment for each can be different, it’s important to get the right diagnosis first so you know the best course of action.

When assessing your condition, remember that scalp psoriasis causes red, thick, itchy, and scaly patches on the scalp. It can also spread to other areas including the back of the neck, behind the ears, hairline, or the forehead.

Dandruff, on the other hand, can only be on the scalp. While it can also be itchy and cause skin irritation, it’s generally less severe and flakier than psoriasis.

If you have seborrheic dermatitis, our Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo at Bodewell can give you the soothing relief your scalp needs. And if you have scalp psoriasis, try our Psoriasis Scalp Relief Treatment, formulated to control scalp flaking and reduce itchiness, redness, and irritation.

Now that you understand the differences between scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff, the sooner you start your treatment the sooner you’ll be able to give your skin the relief it needs and live free from irritating skin conditions!

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