Skip to content

A Look at Different Scalp Types (+ Ways to Identify and Care for Them)

Devising a hair care routine without taking your scalp into account is superficial at best. Our scalps are often overlooked, but this sensitive skin plays an integral role in hair growth and health. Identifying your unique scalp type can unlock targeted haircare to keep those locks thriving. Here, we dive into the four scalp categories—oily, dry, combination, and normal—exploring how to recognize the signs, troubleshoot common issues, and build a tailored care regimen.

1. Oily/Greasy Scalp

An oily or greasy scalp occurs when overactive sebaceous glands generate too much sebum. This leaves hair looking rather limp and flat against the scalp. It can also mix with dead skin cells to cause dandruff and flakes.

Identifying Signs

  • Visible oil buildup at the roots
  • Greasy or matted hair with visible scalp in certain areas which gives the illusion of thin hair
  • Greasy dandruff (which can happen due to many scalp conditions too) and skin cell debris
  • Increased itching or irritation
  • Slowed hair growth

Caring for an Oily Scalp

Clarify Regularly

Use a clarifying shampoo containing salicylic acid 2-3 times per week. This helps lift residue, product buildup, dead skin, and debris to decongest clogged follicles and troubled areas without over-stripping natural oils.

Shampoo Sparingly

Cut back on shampooing to just every other day or twice a week. This helps regulate oil production so glands don’t kick into overdrive trying to overcompensate.

Target Roots

When shampooing, concentrate just on the roots rather than lathering from the scalp to the ends. Layer cleansing ingredients atop oily areas prone to residue accumulation so you don’t spread buildup down the lengths.

Condition Mid to Ends

Lightweight conditioners focused on detangling, not adding hydration, are best for oily hair. Apply from mid-shaft down to smooth and protect ends without encouraging more oil production up top.

2. Dry Scalp

Scalp dryness stems from inadequate sebum production. This leaves skin parched for moisture. Signs ramp up in cold weather when humidity plummets.

Identifying Signs

Look for these indicators of a thirsty scalp:

  • Red, irritated patches
  • Tight or flaky skin
  • Increased shedding
  • Frequent Itching or stinging
  • Lackluster hair

Choose Gentle, Moisturizing Formulas

Skip regular shampoos in favor of ones catered to dry, sensitive scalps. Look for ingredients like glycerin, aloe vera, honey, argan oil, coconut milk, and shea butter to moisturize without irritation.

Shampoo Sparingly

Cut back on washing to just twice weekly. This prevents moisture stripping so skin can better self-regulate and rebalance.

Mask Weekly

Apply a hydrating hair mask featuring oils, butter, or humectants once a week. Allow it to penetrate skin and follicles for 15-20 minutes before rinsing so ingredients truly absorb instead of quick washes.

Spot Condition

Zero in on conditioning mid-lengths to ends only, avoiding roots. This prevents contributing excess weight and oils to an already slick situation up top.

3. Combination Scalp

As the name implies, combination scalps display signs of both oily and dryness in different areas—often slick on the T-zone while the sides are dehydrated and flaky. This two-faced terrain requires a dual approach.

Identifying Signs

  • Patchy flakes across different areas of the scalp
  • Sections prone to oiliness while some patches feel dry and tight
  • Follicles respond differently to products across the scalp

Caring for Combination Scalp

Clarify Oil-Prone Areas

Use a clarifying shampoo containing ingredients like charcoal, salicylic acid, etc. on excessively oily areas of the scalp. This helps absorb and remove excess sebum without affecting other zones.

Hydrate Dry Patches

Alternate use of a gentle, hydrating shampoo containing oils and butter across any tight or flaky areas to inject moisture. Ensure it doesn’t contain heavy ingredients that may migrate.

Adjust by the Week

Assess scalp’s needs week by week. Clarify more leading up to the period if oiliness amps up. Hydrate more during winter if drier by nature.

Serum Dry Areas

On non-wash days, apply targeted scalp serums containing hydrating oils, aloe vera, or tea tree oil onto thirsty patches to moisturize skin and soothe irritation.

See a dermatologist for prescription treatment if issues spiral.

4. Balanced “Normal” Scalp

Normal scalps hit the sweet spot—not too oily or dry. With even sebum, moisture, and cell turnover, skin looks clear while hair appears healthy. But don’t get too carried away, even your normal scalp needs attention and a proper care routine to maintain equilibrium.

Identifying Signs of A Normal Scalp

Hallmarks of a balanced scalp include:

  • No redness or irritation
  • Flake-free
  • Natural hair luster/volume
  • No itchiness or sensitivity

Caring for a Healthy Scalp

Maintain Clarifying

Continue the use of clarifying shampoo 2-3 times per week to eliminate any dirt, residue, or buildup that may disrupt the skin’s balance. Alternate with a hydrating formula to cover bases.

Condition Consistently

Even if hair is finer, use conditioner regularly post-shampoo to smooth and protect strands. Just avoid getting heavy formulas near the root area which may encourage oil production.

Adjust Seasonally

During harsh winter months, bump up hydrating shampoo to combat likely dryness or irritation. Clarify more often in sweltering summer humidity to manage extra oil flow.

Visit the Derm At First Sign

Don’t wait if you notice redness, irritation, rapid oil rebounds, or increased shedding. Book an appointment with a dermatologist to assess and prevent brewing issues from escalating.

The Takeaway on Scalp Types

Scalp health lays the foundation for lush locks from root to tip. Know your scalp’s tendencies, unique characteristics, and problem triggers. This allows customization of targeted haircare regimens by scalp type.

Pay attention to your scalp’s needs across the seasons, using clarifying, moisturizing, and exfoliating products as required. Don’t hesitate to switch up formulas when hair throws new issues your way. Consistency is vital—especially when combating recurrent dandruff, sebum buildup, and damage.

If basic hair care feels like an uphill battle, seek professional guidance. Dermatologists and trichologists can assess underlying factors and provide prescription-strength scalp treatments for lasting relief.

Remember, scalp care should never feel like a chore. By understanding your special scalp needs, you can seamlessly incorporate cleansing, moisture, and protection into your self-care routine. Say goodbye to fuss and irritation—and hello to healthier, happier hair!

Dr Hamdan Hamed Abdullah

Dr Hamdan Hamed Abdullah

Dr. Hamdan Abdullah Hamed MBChB, co-founder of, is a UAE-based board-certified dermatologist. Committed to natural hair care, he's been quoted in MSN, Yahoo, The Mirror UK, Daily Mail UK, Chronicle Live, Gulf News, among others. He specializes in natural hair care, supporting individuals with a range of hair textures to achieve their hair goals