Itchy, Flaky Scalp: Dandruff vs. Scalp Psoriasis

The inconvenience, annoyance, and embarrassment that comes with an itchy, flaky scalp are enough to drive anyone crazy. Adding to that the uncertainty of what the cause is or how to treat it can be unbearable. The most common causes of an itchy, flaky scalp are dandruff and scalp psoriasis. Knowing which one you have is crucial to finding the right remedy for you. We’ve outlined the main differences between the two so that you can start treatment and get back to feeling comfortable in your own skin again.

Knowing the Difference

Dandruff affects half of the adult population in the United States making it one of the most common conditions in the country. Scalp psoriasis is less common, affecting 7.5 million Americans. Both are caused by a combination of factors and knowing these can help you determine which you might have.



If you have dandruff, you might notice that it comes and goes. That’s because there are two different types of dermatitis that cause dandruff: contact dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis. Contact dermatitis can flare up depending on the type of gel, shampoo, or chemicals that you’re using in your hair. Seborrheic dermatitis occurs when you have oil and dirt buildup on your scalp; it also can show up on your eyebrows, chest, and groin

When you have an itchy, dry scalp you will notice flakes that are typically thick and yellow or white in color. While it’s inconvenient and annoying, it’s more of a condition than a disease and it can be treated quickly and easily.

Scalp Psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is more serious. Those white specks on your black t-shirt might cause you to think that you have dandruff, but there could be a more pressing issue going on. Let’s take a closer look.

Scalp psoriasis is caused by an autoimmune disease where your skin cells are multiplying uncontrollably. This causes those thick, irritated patches on your scalp and can even cause those symptoms to spread throughout your body.

One of the main things to look for when trying to determine if you have scalp psoriasis or dandruff is the type of speck on your t-shirt. As mentioned, dandruff is flaky. Scalp psoriasis, on the other hand, is scaly. When inspecting those flakes, you’ll notice that they are more silvery and powdered than dandruff is. Another main difference is that scalp psoriasis symptoms are chronic and they, unfortunately, don’t go away without treatment.

Treatment Options

Unlike scalp psoriasis, dandruff is easier to treat. Through trial and error, you can try different shampoos and other hair products to combat those annoying symptoms. Scalp psoriasis, however, is better treated in a dermatology office.

Psoriasis treatment is one of our specialties. At Elias Dermatology, our extensively trained dermatologists understand the frustration and pain that comes with scalp psoriasis. We can get you on a treatment plan so that you feel like yourself again. Contact us today to make an appointment at either of our South Florida locations.