Your whole body continually sheds outer layers of dead skin. Usually the process isn’t noticeable, but when the scalp sheds skin in large clumps, flakes (dandruff) can collect in the hair with dirt and oil. The condition may be a form of seborrhea. Mild dandruff isn’t so much a medical problem as it is a cosmetic concern.
Symptoms of Dandruff
- Dry, flaking, white skin scales on the scalp that collect in the hair and fall onto the shoulders. Scaling may also occur in the eyebrows, causing redness and flaking. Scales may be accompanied by mild itching.
What Causes Dandruff?
Dead skin cells are typically shed almost invisibly, but in some people, skin-cell turnover may increase rapidly, and the visible flakes called dandruff appear. People with oily scalps tend to be more susceptible to dandruff, probably because oil helps the growth of yeast that is thought to be instrumental in scaling.
Other factors that may trigger dandruff are dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, fungal infections, psoriasis, stress, poor scalp hygiene, and not using the right amount of shampoo or conditioner.
What If You Do Nothing?
Dandruff may be an unsightly nuisance, but it’s generally not a cause for alarm; dandruff does not signal hair loss, for instance.
Home Remedies for Dandruff
- Start with regular shampooing. An ordinary shampoo may work if used often enough—usually every two to four days—but consider daily shampooing for more serious cases.
- Try a dandruff shampoo. Dandruff shampoos may control the problem for a few days longer, usually by helping to slough off the scales. Look for these effective antidandruff ingredients: zinc pyrithione, sulfosalicylic compounds, selenium sulfide, or coal tar. While there is some concern that hair dyes containing coal tar may be carcinogenic, dandruff shampoos have much smaller concentrations of the substance and are considered safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, tar shampoos can give hair a brownish tinge—a consideration for people with blond or silver hair. Use special care with products that contain any of these ingredients—they can hurt your eyes. And since continually using any shampoo may leave a residue buildup, alternate your chosen brand with another dandruff shampoo or regular shampoo.
- Avoid using chemical-based hair products that can worsen the dandruff.
- Manage or reduce of stress. Dandruff is worsened by stress.
- Have a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet and regular exercise can help reduce dandruff.
There’s no way to prevent dandruff from forming, but frequent shampooing can remove excessive scalp buildup and keep it under control.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your physician if dandruff doesn’t improve within two weeks after following self-help measures, or if more extreme symptoms develop. Severe flaking, crusting, itching, and redness may be signs of medically treatable problems.
What Your Doctor Will Do
After taking a careful history and performing an examination, your physician will determine whether or not you have dandruff, a fungus infection of the scalp, or seborrhea, a skin condition that triggers dandruff-like scales. Prescription medications may be recommended to treat the problem.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media