The Best Products For A Dry Scalp During Winter, According To A Dermatologist

Give your itchy scalp some soothing relief this winter with these recommendations from dermatologist Elyse Love.
Cln shampoo and Dove Dermacare Scalp shampoo.

With cold winter temperatures comes dry skin, prompting us to stock up on body creams, butters and moisturizers. But in addition to the skin on our face and bodies, our scalps also need extra TLC during the wintertime.

Several years ago, I experienced an extremely frustrating and embarrassing flare-up of seborrheic dermatitis, made worse by the harsh cold of winter. After trying almost every shampoo and moisturizer that existed, I made multiple trips to my dermatologist, who recommended a couple over-the-counter products to try and prescribed some medicated shampoo and oil to give me and my constantly itchy scalp some relief.

Though I haven’t had another flare-up of that magnitude since, I wanted to revisit my pesky problem to explore why our scalps become drier during the winter, why conditions like seborrheic dermatitis become worse in colder weather and which are the best products that help.

I reached out to New York City-based dermatologist Elyse Love, who pointed out that skin, including the skin on the scalp, has a harder time holding on to moisture in winter compared to summer.

“Our bodies are in constant equilibrium with the outside environment. High humidity means better moisture retention and in the winter, the outside humidity falls. We tend to spend more time exposed to dry heaters and long hot showers, and high winds can damage the skin barrier. All of these factors lead to drier skin in the winter,” she told me.

Learning that my beloved hot showers may be the culprit behind why my skin refuses to cooperate with me in the winter was humbling, but Love also said seborrheic dermatitis is more common than a truly dry scalp. Because our skin is drier in the winter, our scalps overproduce natural oils, causing irritation and buildup.

″[Both conditions] have opposite causes, but in fact can be difficult to distinguish clinically. A dry scalp is caused by decreased oil production on the scalp and typically occurs in people who also have dry skin elsewhere on the body,” Love said. “Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, is caused by overproduction of oil on the scalp and is more common in the winter and during times of high stress.”

Fortunately, there are skin and haircare products that can help treat both a dry scalp and more chronic skin conditions. Below are Love’s recommendations, which she said work best if left on the scalp for three to five minutes before rinsing and are followed by a hydrating hair conditioner. And of course, if these don’t provide full relief, it’s beneficial to consult with a board-certified dermatologist. I also included one product I personally use on a regular basis to treat my generally dry scalp.

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The expert's go-to: Dove DermaCare Scalp anti-dandruff shampoo
Love's common over-the-counter recommendation for both dry scalps and seborrheic dermatitis is this creamy shampoo from Dove that targets dandruff and provides hydration.

"It contains zinc for itch relief, oil balance and removal of flakes. The formula is gentle and works with all hair types," Love said.
For seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis: Cln shampoo
"This gentle shampoo contains salicylic acid to break down thick scales seen in seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis without irritating the scalp," Love said.

The Cln shampoo works best for normal and oily skin and hair types, and is recommended for use one to three times a week.
An alternative to prescription shampoos: Nizoral anti-dandruff shampoo
"Nizoral is a lower strength version of one of [the available] prescription shampoos. It contains ketoconazole to control excess yeast seen in seborrheic dermatitis," Love said.

This gentle shampoo is designed to be safe for color-treated, chemically processed and gray hair. It's salon-tested and has a thick lather for cleansing your scalp and leaves your hair with a fresh scent.
Editor's pick: Mizani scalp care calming dry scalp lotion
I wear a lot of protective styles like braids and twists, and sporting these styles during winter means more of my scalp is exposed to the cold, dry air. I discovered this cooling effect scalp lotion about two years ago and use it whenever my scalp gets itchy or if I notice it's more flaky than usual.

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