What is Dandruff?
Dandruff is a common condition that causes the skin of the scalp to flake off. It is not contagious or dangerous. But it can be embarrassing and difficult to treat.
Mild dandruff can be treated with a gentle daily shampoo. If that doesn’t work, the medicated shampoo may help. Symptoms may return later. Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. In children, seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap.
Symptoms of dandruff
They may include signs and symptoms of dandruff:
- Peeling skin on the scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or moustache, and shoulders
- Itching of the scalp
- A scaly, scaly scalp in infants with cradle cap
Signs and symptoms may be more severe if you’re stressed, and they tend to flare up in cold, dry seasons.
Causes of dandruff
The exact cause of dandruff is unknown, although some researchers believe that it could be caused by an overproduction of skin oil (sebum) in the sebaceous glands and hair follicles. A type of yeast (fungus) called Malassezia can grow in sebum with bacteria. This may be another factor in the development of seborrhea. Seborrhea occurs in people (such as teenagers) who have high hormone levels, which may also play a role.
Crusts associated with dandruff can sometimes be caused by conditions other than seborrhea, including:
- Dry skin, such as the kind caused by the cold, dry winter air
- Other skin diseases such as eczema, acne, or psoriasis can cause dead skin cells to accumulate on the scalp.
- Frequent use of shampoo or not taking it enough
- Using hair care products or hair dye that leave a dry, flaky residue or have a bad reaction to these products
Dandruff often runs in families. Men are more likely to get it than women. Other things can increase the likelihood of dandruff, such as oily skin, stress, or a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease, or a condition such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that harms the body’s immune system.
Although anyone can be prone to developing dandruff, it appears more frequently in males than females. It starts early in puberty and can continue into adulthood. Greasy scalp and hair can also increase your chances of developing this condition.
If dandruff and itching are severe and persistent, or if symptoms get worse, it may be a good idea to see a doctor. They may identify the underlying problem that will respond to a particular treatment. For mild dandruff without an identifiable cause, several over-the-counter products can help manage flaking and itching.
Before using anti-dandruff shampoos, individuals should try to remove as many scaly or flaky patches of the scalp as possible. This will make the shampoo more effective. Gently use a comb or hairbrush to remove scales or chips, then wash it with medicated shampoo. Take care not to remove the stains or plaque too hard, as this may irritate the condition.
Ingredients to look out for
Most anti-dandruff or anti-fungal shampoos contain at least one of the following active ingredients:
- Ketoconazole is an anti-fungal ingredient suitable for any age.
- Selenium sulfide helps manage dandruff by reducing the scalp glands’ production of natural oils. It also has anti-fungal properties.
- Zinc pyrithione slows down the growth of yeast.
- Coal tar has a natural anti-fungal agent and can reduce excess skin cell production. During long-term use, coal tar may stain dyed or treated hair. It may increase the sensitivity of the scalp to sunlight, so users should wear a hat outside. Coal tar may also be carcinogenic in high doses.
- Salicylic acid helps remove excess skin cells.
- Tea tree oil is found in many shampoos. It has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. One old study suggested that a shampoo containing 5% tea tree oil appeared to be safe and well-tolerated for treating dandruff. Do a patch test first, as some people react.
Dandruff shampoo is available online. There are also products available to treat dandruff in the beard area.
How to use the shampoo
How often a person needs to use medicated shampoo may depend to some extent on their hair type. The American Academy of Dermatology offers the following advice:
- For dark-skinned people: Use shampoo once a week with an anti-dandruff shampoo. Ask a dermatologist to recommend the appropriate option.
- For white people and Asians: Use shampoo daily, and use dandruff shampoo twice a week. If one shampoo doesn’t help, try another.
Some experts suggest using shampoo for a month to see if it works. The specified shampoo may become less effective over time. A person who feels their choice is losing their effectiveness may want to switch to a different shampoo with another ingredient. The length of time a person must leave the product on their scalp varies. Users should follow the instructions on the container.
It is a medical condition. A doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment for any of these underlying causes.
Complications rarely occur with dandruff, and most people do not need to see a doctor. However, dandruff can sometimes indicate a more serious medical condition.
People should seek medical help if:
- There are signs of infection, such as redness, pain, or swelling.
- Dandruff is severe and home treatment does not help.
- There are signs of eczema, psoriasis, or other skin condition.
- The scalp is very itchy.
Complications can sometimes result from treatment. If shampoo or scalp treatment irritates, the individual should try another product.