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Why Is My Scalp So Dry? Hard Water May Be The Answer


If you have a dry scalp, complete with itchy skin and hair that’s getting more difficult to manage, you’re likely looking for answers. From dandruff and dry hair to scalp psoriasis and dermatitis, the root of your hair problems might be surprising: Your water could be to blame.

When you have hard water, the excess minerals can reverse the cleansing and moisturizing effects of your shampoo and conditioner. This can leave you with dry, damaged hair and irritated skin.

So, how can you treat a dry scalp? Here’s everything you should know about how to fix scalp dryness caused by hard water.

What Causes Dry Scalp?

A healthy scalp leads to healthy hair. But if you notice white flakes, dead skin, dryness and irritation, you know something’s not right.

First, it’s important to note that dry scalp and dandruff may feel, look and seem similar, but they’re separate issues. If you have scalp dryness, what you’re actually experiencing is a lack of healthy moisture in your skin. Dandruff, on the other hand, is caused by a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis (sometimes known as “cradle cap” in infants), and it may be triggered by excess oil and the fungus Malassezia. Unlike dry scalp, dandruff can’t be cured — although it can be treated with medicated shampoo.

If you’re not dealing with dandruff, it’s time to learn what else could be causing your flaky scalp. Here are a few potential explanations:


Some people notice that the weather has a significant impact on dry skin and scalp problems. Humidity, cold and sudden temperature changes could all cause frustration in your hair care routine.

Hair Product Interactions

Many hair products work to remove natural oils, which can be good in some ways and detrimental in others. For example, these products might cause contact dermatitis, particularly if you have sensitive skin, which may lead to scalp irritation and dryness.

Excess Heat Treatments

If you use heat treatments (or even just have your home’s heater turned up too high), you could be drying out your hair and scalp without even realizing it. This kind of warmth can cause moisture to evaporate, leaving you with itchiness and flakes of dead skin.

Other Health Conditions

A number of health conditions and decisions can cause dry scalp in ways you might not expect. For example, while scalp ringworm and psoriasis have clear connections to scalp care issues, you might not think about medication side effects, the beginning stages of skin cancer and other less-obvious causes. While scalp dryness may not be serious on its own, it could be a sign that something else is bothering your body and overall well-being.

In fact, you may want to head to the doctor in some cases. If your scalp irritation comes with constant itching, a red rash, swelling or pain, your primary care physician or dermatologist may need to provide further instructions.

Tap Water

Your water itself might be to blame for dry, itchy scalp issues. This includes both the hardness and pH of your water supply. The two go hand in hand, as the pH of your water can determine the amount of the hard-water minerals your hair will pick up.

What other problems could be hiding in your tap?
Try our Water Solutions Finder to see for yourself.

Hard water is saturated with high levels of calcium and magnesium. These minerals can leave a layer of film on the surface of your skin when mixed with soaps, shampoos and conditioners.

Unfortunately, this means that your hair-washing may be counteractive. Rather than removing dirt and bacteria, excess calcium and magnesium can leave a film of scum on your hairline. The hard water film can cause skin to become irritated and lead to dry, dull hair. In fact, one study found that hard water directly damages hair.

Those with colored hair may be at an even greater risk of hair damage. You may notice yellow and green tints, dull appearance and stripped color. In fact, hair discoloration is one of the most obvious signs of hard water in your home — but it certainly isn’t the only one.

Other Signs of Hard Water Hair

If you have “hard water hair,” you’ll likely know about it. That’s because the symptoms start to become noticeable when trying to brush or style your hair. The most common issues include:

  • Thinning hair
  • Breakage
  • Split ends
  • Hair loss

Why does hard water do these things? It’s not because the water itself is necessarily unhealthy; in fact, the main causes of water hardness — calcium and magnesium — are already in your body and perform many critical functions. That’s part of the reason hard water generally isn’t considered a health concern and is safe to drink and cook with.

The problem arises when these minerals have a chance to build up in your water, dissolve in the water itself and interfere with your soap and shampoo. They interrupt the work of your skin’s natural oil, which is supposed to help create a healthy scalp, and that prevents moisture from getting to the right places. Those same minerals can cause problems elsewhere, too — including stiff laundry, soap spots on dishes, buildup around your faucets and even reduced performance and lifespan in your water-using appliances.

Download our Hard Water Solutions Handbook for tips on treating these effects.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep hair frustration at bay while you’re fixing the underlying hard water problem.

Top Solutions for a Dry Scalp

When it comes to dry skin and an itchy scalp, the best solution is prevention. That’s why you may want to start with a free, in-home water test to determine your water’s hardness level. From there, you’ll get personalized recommendations on the best water softener for your needs. The right system will depend on how much water you use, how hard your water is, whether there are brine restrictions in your area and more.

Water softeners work by attracting, trapping and flushing out the minerals responsible for water hardness. When mineral content is reduced, you’ll likely notice that your soap and shampoo work better, your home is easier to keep clean and your scalp feels more comfortable.

While you’re choosing a water softener and having it installed, try these tricks to care for your hair:

Apply Natural Oils

When your skin’s natural oil is interrupted by mineral buildup, your scalp needs a little help staying moisturized. Fortunately, coconut oil, olive oil and other items in your kitchen could be a simple remedy for scalp dryness. This can help keep your skin more comfortable and your hair easier to manage; it may also help prevent the formation of split ends.

To get the full benefits, be sure to massage these oils into your scalp and leave them for around 15 minutes. Take the excess oil and work it down your hair, making sure to get all the way to the ends.

Make a DIY Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

Apple cider vinegar is a health powerhouse — especially for hair. Hard water can disrupt your hair’s natural pH, but the acidity in apple cider vinegar can help bring it back into balance. Use this substance just like any other rinse and wash it out when you’re finished. Just don’t use too much, as it may irritate a sensitive scalp.

Try Natural Masks

Bananas, yogurt and eggs, avocado and aloe vera are natural products that can do wonders for your scalp and hair. High in moisture and important nutrients, these items are probably already in your home and can be made into individual products by mushing (bananas and avocado), combining (yogurt and eggs) or rubbing into your skin (aloe vera).

Switch Your Shampoo

Some parts of your hair care routine may be irritating your scalp. Try a gentle shampoo and conditioner combo, cut out products that aren’t strictly necessary and limit your heat treatments for a while. This can help your hair “bounce back” while you’re eliminating the hard water problems that may have caused scalp irritation in the first place. Remember, if you have dandruff flakes, you’ll likely need a medicated shampoo instead; that’s because dandruff has a different underlying cause.

Change Your Washing Routine

If you wash your hair frequently, you’re giving those hard water minerals lots of chances to build up on your scalp. Consider changing your routine until your water is softened — but give yourself plenty of time to experiment and see how long you can go between hair washes.

Make Healthier Choices

A seemingly unrelated choice can have significant impacts on your overall health, and your scalp and hair are no exception. For example, managing stress can help improve scalp health and may sometimes prevent hair loss. You can also quit smoking, drink more water and make other smart choices to do your body a favor.

Better Water for Better Hair

Not sure what to do for your dry scalp? Ditch the overpriced hair treatments. The cure for a dry, itchy scalp might just start with your water. Softening your water supply can help combat the damaging effects of hard water, gently cleaning your hair and skin and leaving you with a fresher feeling after every wash.

A professional water test will tell you everything you need to know about the state of your home’s water supply. This includes your home’s water hardness levels, comparable levels in your local area, recommended systems and more.

Schedule your free, in-home water test and consultation today.

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