Dandruff: Common Causes, Treatment and Prevention

December 02, 2018

Common causes of dandruff, treatment and prevention. Dandruff is a common phenomenon in adults. Learn how to get rid of it.

Dandruff is a common scalp condition in which small pieces of dry skin flake off, making your scalp itchy. It can happen to anyone at any age but is not common in children. It tends to be seasonal and is usually most severe during winters and mildest during summers.

Dandruff is not dangerous, does not cause baldness and is not contagious. Normally skin regularly sheds old dead skin cells. These dead skin cells are shed from the scalp in much larger numbers and as they are shed, clump together with oil (sebum) produced from the glands surrounding hair follicles, making them visible. Human scalp is very androgen sensitive and sebum-rich. Dandruff flakes are caused by the increased turnover rate of skin cells on the scalp.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • White, oily skin flakes, trapped in the hair and caught on clothing.
  • Occurs on the eyebrows, beard as well as on the neck and shoulders regions.
  • Scaling skin can be itchy.

What causes dandruff?

Though the exact cause of the increased skin turnover rate in dandruff is unknown. It is thought to be linked to the overgrowth of a tiny fungus (yeast). This fungus is called Malassezia (mal-a-sea-zee-a). This fungus makes the skin cells grow much faster, so there are a lot more dead cells and these mix with the hair oils to make bigger flakes. What causes the overgrowth of this fungus is still unknown.

Things that may contribute to the development of dandruff include:

  • Hormones
  • Oily hair and scalp
  • Infrequent shampooing, inappropriate hair conditioners or poor rinsing
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  • Allergy or hypersensitivity
  • Some medical conditions (e.g., Parkinsons disease)
  • A weakened immune system

Not all flaky skin from the scalp are dandruff, sometimes the flaking and itching that appears like dandruff may actually be a skin condition, like Seborrheic dermatitis, Psoriasis, Contact dermatitis, Fungal infections of the scalp, or an Eczema.

When to consult a dermatologist?

  • When your scalp is red, oozing, bleeding or paining.
  • If there are patches of acute/chronic hair loss.
  • When a regular non-prescription anti-dandruff shampoo does not help.

How to treat & prevent it from recurring?

  • Shampoo your hair daily, if you have an oily scalp.
  • Save your daily hair washing until after your exercise workout.
  • Limit use of hair styling products that make your hair and scalp more oily.
  • If your scalp is dry, use a leave-on conditioner which act as a moisturizer for your scalp.
  • Avoid using hair gels and other products that contain alcohol, which tends to dry out the scalp.
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  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques to manage stress.
  • Eat regularly, healthy meals, including plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains. Limit foods high in fat, sugar or salt.
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  • Though dandruff can disappear without treatment, many a times it may need specific medicated shampoo. Sometimes dandruff may take many weeks of treatment to improve.


Article by Dr. Kranthi Kumar Varma, M.D (Dermatology)
Consultant Dermatologist, CallHealth

Have a question? Consult Dr. Kranthi online.

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