Rodan + Fields / Blog / Hair Concerns

What Is a Scalp Treatment?

Woman applying Rodan + Fields Scalp treatment to hear hair in the shower

When you’re dealing with issues with your hair—whether it’s a dry scalp, flaky scalp, oily scalp, or something else, it can be hard to know where to start. But when it comes to scalp care, you have a lot of options when it comes to hydration or treating an oily scalp. 

Here, we break down the top causes of scalp problems, types of scalp problems, and the treatment options available.  

Causes of Scalp Problems 

There are numerous causes of scalp problems. Here, Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green breaks down a few of them.  

Seborrheic dermatitis 

Seborrheic dermatitis refers to a skin condition that causes irritation and inflammation of the skin. “It is also referred to as scalp eczema,” she says. “It is characterized by scaly, pink areas of skin with associated itchiness and often affects areas with a high concentration of sebaceous glands.” 

Dr. Green adds that this can cause dandruff and may be linked to a family history, an inflammatory reaction, increased androgen level, increased skin lipids, or an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast. “Seborrheic dermatitis is often triggered or worsened by stress, cold & dry weather, oily skin, and other skin disorders like rosacea, psoriasis, and acne.” 

Contact dermatitis 

Contact dermatitis appears when the skin on the scalp comes into contact with an irritant in soaps, shampoos, and hair dyes. “It is characterized by rash, itchiness, burning, and even blistering,” Dr. Green says. 


Folliculitis refers to when the hair follicles become infected with bacteria, fungus, or virus. “It is characterized by small lesions similar to acne and often occurs on parts of the body with a high concentration of hair follicles,” Dr. Green says. “There may be associated itchiness and pain. The infection can be caused by bacteria in swimming pools, viruses like herpes simplex, or wearing tight clothes that cause friction.” 

Head lice 

Lice are small parasitic insects that cause itching and red bumps on the scalp, Dr. Green explains. “They can also affect the neck and shoulders. They commonly affect children but can affect adults as it spreads quickly through combs, brushes, hats, and bedding.” 

Types of Scalp Problems 

Two of the most common types of scalp problems include an oily scalp and a dry scalp. Here’s what to know about each:  

Oily scalp 

Oily scalp occurs when the sebaceous glands in the skin are in overdrive and produce too much sebum. 

“A little oil on the scalp is nothing to be concerned with, as sebum is vital in protecting and supporting healthy hair,” Dr. Green explains. “However, too much oil can lead to your hair and scalp feeling greasy or dirty. The oil glands may produce too much sebum if they recognize that the scalp is dry, which can happen when you overwash your hair, stimulating sebum production to hydrate the scalp. An oily scalp can also be attributed to a genetic predisposition.” 

Dry scalp  

Dry scalp occurs when the skin on the scalp lacks moisture. “The skin becomes irritated and flakes off, looking very similar to dandruff,” notes Dr. Green. “A dry scalp can be triggered by cold and dry air, contact dermatitis when using a product containing irritants, age, and using harsh products that strip the skin’s natural oils.” 

Scalp Treatments 

Oily scalp treatments 

If you’re dealing with dandruff and that’s what’s causing your oily scalp, research shows that fish oil can be a great over-the-counter remedy. You can also look for an oily scalp shampoo with ingredients like water, sodium laurel sulfate, benzoyl peroxide, selenium sulfide, sodium sulfacetamide, and ketoconazole. Rodan + Fields Defrizz+ Oil Treatment locks in hydration, while protecting against color fade + thermal damage. Finally, while there isn’t scientific evidence to support it, anecdotally many people find that apple cider vinegar works well for an oily scalp.  

Dry scalp treatments 

Treatments for dry scalp will depend on the diagnosis and scalp condition, according to Dr. Green. “For psoriasis, a corticosteroid ointment or cream may be recommended to reduce itching, redness, and scaling as well as medicated shampoo and salicylic acid,” she says. “For contact dermatitis, it is best to avoid products containing the irritant. Folliculitis may require antibiotic intervention to treat the infection and reduce inflammation.

Best Products to Treat Scalp Problems 

Here are the best products to treat scalp problems, according to Dr. Green:  

A gentle shampoo for dry scalp 

A gentle shampoo is key when you’re dealing with dry scalp. “Use a gentle shampoo that does not strip the scalp’s natural oils, and use a moisturizing conditioner to bring hydration to the skin,” she says. “Avoid products containing bleach and alcohol, as these can dry out your scalp and cause irritation.” 

A water-based shampoo for oily scalp 

A water-based shampoo that contains benzoyl peroxide, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, sodium sulfacetamide, and sodium lauryl sulfate can help with an oily scalp. “Anecdotal evidence has shown that fish oil, aloe vera, probiotics, tea tree oil, and apple cider vinegar can help reduce sebum production and, therefore, oily scalp,” Dr. Green says. 

An anti-dandruff shampoo for seborrheic dermatitis.  

These contain ingredients like ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, coal tar, and resorcinol.” If the problem persists, seek advice from a board-certified dermatologist who can perform a thorough assessment and prescribe the appropriate medications,” Dr. Green suggests.