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Dandruff: What is it, Causes, Treatment and Prevention Tips


Dandruff is a common scalp condition which leads to an itchy, flaky scalp. Here is what you can do about it.

Dandruff is a common scalp condition. It causes the skin on the scalp to turn into white flakes. Dandruff is a form of inflammatory skin disease seborrheic dermatitis. It can happen due to an excess of skin oil in the oil glands and hair follicles, leading to an itchy scalp. There are medicated shampoos available for dandruff, as well as many home remedies that can provide you relief. Read on to learn more.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a very common scalp condition that causes flakes of skin to shed from the scalp. “These flakes are usually white or grey, and they can be small or large They may also be oily or dry. Dandruff can be itchy, but it is not usually serious,” explains dermatologist Dr Priyanka Kuri.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association states that the reasons for dandruff can range from medical conditions, and hair care habits as well as oily skin.

Symptoms of dandruff

Here’s what you might experience if you have dandruff:

  • Flakes of skin: This is the most tell-tale sign. The flakes can vary in size and texture, ranging from small and white to large, greasy, and yellow. They may also feel oily or dry.
  • Itchy scalp: Dandruff can make your scalp itchy, especially when it’s dry. Scratching can further irritate the scalp and worsen the flaking.
  • Scaly, crusty scalp: In severe cases, the scalp can become scaly and crusty. This might indicate a more serious condition like seborrheic dermatitis.

Causes of dandruff

1. Malassezia

A yeast-like fungus called Malassezia naturally lives on most adult scalps. “In some people, however, their body overreacts to this fungus, causing the scalp to shed skin cells faster than usual. This rapid shedding results in the visible flakes we associate with dandruff,” explains Dr Kuri.

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2. Sebaceous gland secretions

The Journal of Investigative Dermatology has published a study that states that Seborrheic Dermatitis and dandruff are the same disease. This is caused by sebaceous gland secretions. The glands secrete sebum which is an oil substance, that can cause dandruff.

Other causes can include washing your hair too much or using the wrong shampoo. This can lead to dandruff as well. The American Academy of Dermatology Association, states that some dandruff shampoos have coal tar, and this makes your scalp more sensitive to the sun. This can lead to flaking as well. Besides this, overbrushing your hair, and even your diet can lead to dandruff.

Dandruff vs dry scalp: What is the difference?

Dandruff and dry scalp both cause flaking, but dandruff results from the oily scalp and yeast overgrowth, leading to larger, oily flakes and potential for oilier hair. “Dry scalp, on the other hand, stems from lack of moisture, causing finer, white flakes that often accompany dry hair. While both can itch, dandruff might be itchier due to irritation,” says Dr Kuri. Remember, medicated shampoos target dandruff, while dry scalp benefits from moisturizing ones.

A woman itching her hair
Dandruff can lead to an itchy scalp but one must not scratch it. Image courtesy: Freepik

Home remedies for dandruff

Here are some home remedies for dandruff that you can try:

1. Apple cider vinegar (ACV)

ACV has natural antifungal properties that can help combat the yeast overgrowth sometimes associated with dandruff. According to a study, published in Pharmaceutics, ACV works as an anti-fungal agent that stops the growth of Malassezia. Mix equal parts ACV and water, apply it to your scalp, leave it on for 15 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly.

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2. Aloe vera

Aloe vera’s soothing and moisturizing properties can calm an itchy scalp and reduce flaking. A study, published in BioMed Research International, suggests that aloe vera is antibacterial and antifungal, and thus, helps prevent dandruff. Wondering how to stop dandruff with aloe vera? Apply fresh aloe vera gel directly to your scalp, leave it on for 30 minutes, and then wash it off.

3. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a great dandruff remedy as has antifungal and antibacterial properties that may help control dandruff. A study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, showed that using tea 5 % tree oil shampoo showed a 41 per cent improvement in dandruff of the participants in four weeks when used daily. However, tea tree oil can be irritating to the skin, so it’s important to dilute it with a carrier oil like coconut oil before applying it to your scalp. Must only be kept one to two hours before showering otherwise it will clog the pores.

How to treat dandruff

Wondering how do you get rid of dandruff? The best treatment options for dandruff depend on the severity of your dandruff and what works best for you. The American Academy of Dermatology Association, says that regularly washing your hair can reduce dandruff. Here’s a breakdown of some other approaches it suggests.

1. Use an anti-dandruff shampoo

Anti-dandruff shampoos are the most common dandruff treatment. These shampoos contain ingredients that target the root causes of dandruff, such as Zinc pyrithione, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties that help control Malassezia yeast overgrowth, Selenium sulfide, which helps reduce yeast overgrowth and slows down skin cell turnover. They also contain salicylic acid, which helps exfoliate the scalp and remove dead skin cells, and Ketoconazole, a stronger antifungal ingredient that may be helpful for severe dandruff. The shampoos also have coal tar, which can slow down skin cell turnover and reduce inflammation, but it can also discolour hair and have a strong odour.

2. Lather the shampoo well

It is very important to follow the instructions on the dandruff bottle. Some shampoos need to be lathered well and left to sit for a few minutes. Follow the instructions on your bottle for the best results.

3. Choose the right shampoo

You must choose the right shampoo for your hair type. If your hair is curly, you would need to only wash your hair when needed. If your hair is straight, it might need a daily wash. Using the right shampoo can work wonders. Also, if you have curly hair, only apply the shampoo on your scalp.

4. Protect hair from the sun

Don’t overexpose your scalp to the sun. Dandruff shampoos contain coal tar, and this, when exposed to the sun, can lead to flakes. You can wear a hat, or spray sunscreen on your scalp if you have thin hair.

Also Read: Best anti-dandruff shampoos: 5 picks for a clean scalp and clear hair

5. Manage stress levels and have a rich diet

Stress can worsen dandruff symptoms. Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation may be helpful. “While no specific diet cures dandruff, a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins might be beneficial,” says Dr Kuri

6. Prescription treatments

If over-the-counter options and lifestyle changes don’t provide relief, your doctor might recommend prescription-strength shampoos or medications. These might contain stronger antifungal or steroid ingredients to target persistent dandruff or underlying skin conditions.

A woman with white flakes on her T-shirt
White flakes of dandruff can fall on dark-coloured clothing. Image courtesy: Freepik

When to see a doctor?

While over-the-counter dandruff shampoos are a good first step, seeing a doctor is needed if you have the following symptoms:

  • If your dandruff persists for over four weeks despite regular use of medicated shampoo
  • Your scalp is excessively itchy or inflamed
  • You experience hair loss with the flaking,
  • You have a weakened immune systemIn certain extreme situations, dandruff can fall on the face and eyes and result in itch or irritation, especially around the eyelids and brows. “This can be uncomfortable and lead to redness or even temporary blurred vision if the flakes get into your eyes. In this instance, it is important to see the dermatologist immediately,” guides Dr Kuri.

FAQs

Should you scratch dandruff before washing your hair?

No, scratching can irritate your scalp and worsen dandruff. Your nails can also cause wounds in your scalp. Therefore, you must refrain from itching your hair

Is dandruff bad for your hair?

Dandruff itself doesn’t damage hair but scratching the dandruff can damage the scalp. Repeated itching can even lead to no hair growth.

How do I get rid of white buildup on my scalp?

The buildup will go if you use the right shampoo and conditioner, suited for your hair type. Try a dandruff shampoo with ingredients like zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide.

What kills dandruff faster?

Wondering how to remove dandruff in one wash? While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to kill dandruff fast, medicated shampoos with specific ingredients are generally the most effective for rapid improvement. The dandruff shampoo with ingredients like zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide and Ketoconazole can help manage dandruff.

How often should I wash my hair if I have dandruff?

How to fix dandruff with dandruff shampoos, and how often to wash your hair depends on your hair type and scalp condition but aim for a balance that removes flakes without drying your scalp.

Is dandruff contagious?

No, dandruff is not contagious, and does not spread from one person to another. Everyone already has the cause of dandruff, Malassezia, and the sensitivity to this causes dandruff.

 



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