What is dandruff?
Dandruff is a frequent condition of the scalp that causes flaking of the skin and itchy scalp.
What are the signs and symptoms of dandruff?
The most common signs and symptoms of dandruff include the following:
- white scales of dead skin in hair and on shoulders
- red, crusted, or raw areas on the scalp
- itchy scalp
What is the cause of dandruff?
Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but it’s most likely a combination of several things:
- an excessive production of the own fat of the skin (or sebum) by the sebaceous glands and hair follicles
- a type of yeast found on the skin, called Malassezia
Stress, cold, dry winter weather and some hair products can make dandruff worse.
Dandruff is not contagious. No one can pass it on to you, and you cannot pass it on to someone else.
How is dandruff diagnosed?
Health professionals can diagnose dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis based on its symptoms (such as an itchy scalp and skin flakes on the shoulders) and a physical examination.
How is dandruff treated?
The itching and flaking of dandruff can almost always be controlled. For mild dandruff, first try daily cleansing with a gentle shampoo to reduce oil and skin cell buildup. If that doesn’t help, try a medicated dandruff shampoo. You may need to try more than one shampoo to find the hair care routine that works for you. And you’ll likely need repeated or long-term treatment.
If you develop itching, stinging, redness or burning from any product, stop using it. If you develop an allergic reaction — such as a rash, hives or difficulty breathing — seek immediate medical attention.
Dandruff shampoos are classified according to the medication they contain:
- Pyrithione zinc shampoos
- Tar-based shampoos
- Shampoos containing salicylic acid
- Selenium sulfide shampoos
- Ketoconazole shampoos
You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing dandruff or to control it:
- Learn to manage stress. Stress affects your overall health, making you susceptible to a number of conditions and diseases. It can even help trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet that provides enough zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats may help prevent dandruff.
- Shampoo often. If you tend to have an oily scalp, daily shampooing may help prevent dandruff. Gently massage your scalp to loosen flakes. Rinse thoroughly.
- Get a little sun. Sunlight may be good for controlling dandruff. But because exposure to ultraviolet light damages your skin and increases your risk of skin cancer, don’t sunbathe. Instead, just spend a little time outdoors. And be sure to wear sunscreen on your face and body.
- Limit hair styling products. Hair styling products can build up on your hair and scalp, making them oilier.