Dandruff – A Natural Approach
Causes of Dandruff
Dandruff is essentially the excessive production of flakes of skin on the scalp, or more rarely other areas – eyebrows and in men, facial hair for example. It is important to note that some flaking of the scalp is inevitable; after all, the scalp is made of skin and the skin sheds about a million cells every day. In fact, house dust is mostly shed skin.
Dandruff, then, isn’t a flaking scalp. It’s a scalp that is flaking abnormally quickly, or in big chunks, so that the flakes are obvious on your head and perhaps your clothes. Dandruff is usually an indication that something else is wrong; the severity of the underlying problem can range from the trivial to some fairly severe problems.
The first and probably easiest cause of dandruff to consider is scalp irritation caused by harsh chemicals, particularly harsh detergents. Most shampoos contain non-soap detergents, because soap is difficult to use if you have hard tap water; hard water and soap produce large amounts of “soap scum” which is an insoluble calcium salt of the fatty acids in soap. However, most detergents share at least one problem with soap; solutions of them are highly alkaline with a pH of about 10. Skin is naturally slightly acid, around pH 5.5. This means that detergent solutions can irritate the skin, a problem made worse by the fact that a lot of them remove too much of the natural oil of skin. Skin oils have the function of keeping the skin surface supple and also help to fight off bacteria and fungi. Incidentally, alkaline conditions make the hair dull as well, by changing the shape of the microscopic scales that form the surface of hairs.
Other chemicals that may cause problems with the scalp include hydrogen peroxide (used to bleach hair) and various chemicals in hair dyes.
Other reasons for dandruff include problems with diet, digestion and metabolism.
Too much or too little of various food components can cause scalp problems leading to dandruff. The list includes:
Fats and oils
· Most Important: Deficiency or imbalance in essential fatty acids
· Excess saturated fats
· Excess hydrogenated fats (the type found in most margarines and ready meals)
· Excess fried foods; this is because of the damaged fats found in fried food.
Vitamin and mineral deficiency
· Vitamins A, E and the B complex
Nutritional deficiencies caused by poor digestion
You could have a diet very high in essential nutrients, but if your digestion is poor, you will not absorb them. Fats and oils are particularly difficult to digest, and are extremely important to skin condition.
Poor diet generally
· Insufficient green vegetables
· Excess refined carbohydrates, particularly sugar
· Excess alcohol, straining the liver
· Citrus fruits
· Excess animal protein
Allergies and food intolerances
Certain foods commonly cause problems leading to inflammation, which can occur just about anywhere including the scalp leading to dandruff. The most common culprits are cows’ milk and dairy products, wheat and tomatoes.
As previously stated; poor digestion can lead to problems with insufficient oil in the body generally and the skin in particular, leading to dandruff. However, poor digestion can also lead to other problems, namely accumulation of toxins (from putrefaction of undigested proteins in the large intestine) and also overgrowth of fungi and other pathogens (for example Candida albicans) leading once again to toxin build-up.
Toxins of various types can accumulate in the body, leading to metabolic problems that can cause dandruff. The most common toxins are alcohol and artificial additives, but exposure to excessive levels of environmental toxins such as cleaning solvents and aerosol propellants can also be a problem.
One of the less common reasons for dandruff is a fungal infection of the scalp.
One of the places where this skin condition can show up is the scalp. If this happens, it often looks like very severe dandruff. Psoriasis is often caused by a liver under stress because of low-level infection or, more commonly, regular use of large amounts of alcohol or slightly excessive amounts of common drugs such as paracetamol (acetaminophen). It is fairly common for people who suddenly change to a vegetarian diet to develop psoriasis; the body can handle the fats in plant sources, but needs time to adapt to not having a supply of ready-made EPA and DHA, the forms of omega-3 oil that the body actually uses and are found in oily fish.
The reason why liver problems, or a liver under stress because of toxin build-up, often show up in the skin is that the liver does a lot of the processing of one biological chemical into another. If the liver is put under strain by having to do more detoxifying than usual, then these processes don’t happen properly and (for example) the skin doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to stay in good condition.
A fairly rare cause of dandruff is seborrhoeic dermatitis. This can be caused, among other things, by lack of biotin which can in turn be caused by disturbance of gut flora.
Natural Dandruff Treatment
The causes of dandruff suggest solutions.
Probably the first step to resolving dandruff, and one which often does the job on its own, is to remove irritants that may be the cause of the problem. This largely consists of ceasing to apply irritant chemicals to the hair and scalp. Shampoo should be pH-balanced; that is, made so as to be of roughly the same acid/alkali balance as the skin. Such shampoos are readily available. Another way of helping the pH balance of the scalp is to rinse the hair after shampooing with something mildly acidic; a traditional rinse for this purpose is diluted lemon juice. A side benefit of this approach is that it makes the hair shinier.
A more radical approach to this is not to use detergents on the hair at all. It can take several weeks; but if the hair is washed with plain water, it finds a balance and looks healthy and clean. A good analogy to this is the coats of animals. After all, they don’t use shampoo, and most animals’ coats look clean and healthy.
Someone with dandruff who uses a lot of treatments such as dye, perming solutions and bleach should probably consider not doing so. Or as a compromise, use hair dyes not containing artificial dyes, which are fairly easy to obtain.
Restore Oil Balance
Dandruff often goes with dry skin generally, and eczema; sometimes, it may happen that psoriasis shows up only on the scalp as severe dandruff. This problem is usually due to lack of essential fats in the diet, or imbalance in the two main types of essential fat; the two types being omega-6 and omega-3. It is far more common for omega-3 oils to be in short supply, for several reasons. First of all, the form of omega-3 of which the body finds it easiest to make use is the two fats EPA and DHA, found in the flesh of oily fish. Many people either dislike these types of fish, or find them difficult to digest, or avoid them for ethical reasons.
Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are found in a few vegetable sources, notably walnuts and especially linseed (flaxseed). However, these oils have to be converted in the body to usable forms and in addition are very susceptible to oxidative damage (rancidity). If you choose this way of getting omega-3, be aware that you will need to make sure of adequate consumption of the required nutrients to use them – notably zinc and B vitamins.
For all these reasons, to ensure the right balance of essential fats in the diet it is a good idea to eat moderate amounts of oily fish and also seeds and nuts, which provide omega-6 oils and also zinc.
As previously noted, zinc and B vitamins are needed for fat metabolism and various other nutrients (notably vitamin A) are also needed directly by the skin. In addition, many nutrients are needed to keep the digestive system in good order; and without a properly functioning digestive system nutrients are going to be in short supply. For this and other reasons, taking a good multivitamin/mineral complex will improve the health of the skin and the body generally.
Many people, increasingly many with advancing age, have digestions that don’t work all that well; for this reason, particularly for those over 40 or so, taking a digestive enzyme supplement may be necessary. Ensuring sufficient stomach acid is particularly important, especially for women after the menopause. However, acid supplements should be taken carefully; if you already have active gastritis or an ulcer, then acid supplements are a very poor idea.
Consuming large amounts of alcohol strains the liver, whose job it is to perform many of the metabolic steps needed for the health of the skin (and the rest of the body too). For this reason, keep alcohol consumption down to a reasonable level, particularly if you have dandruff or other skin disorders.
The usual remarks apply here. A diet of heavily processed, nutrient-depleted junk food is unfortunately fairly common and is never a good idea, particularly if you have an identifiable problem such as dandruff. Try to keep to a diet high in vegetables and fruit and fairly low in animal protein, particularly cows’ dairy and red meat. Things particularly important for people tending to dandruff are nuts, seeds and oily fish, as already stated.
It’s also a good idea to keep out of the diet things you know you are sensitive to, and possibly also those to which sensitivity is common. The main culprits here are cows’ dairy foods, wheat and tomatoes.
It’s obviously a good idea to stay off illegal drugs. However, all drugs are toxic and the liver needs to detoxify them; this particularly applies to paracetamol (acetaminophen). Obviously, many people need various prescription drugs but keep consumption of these to a minimum consistent with your medical needs. Consult your doctor. In my humble opinion, it is a very good idea to have your medication reviewed every so often by your doctor, if you are on long-term drug therapy. This particularly applies if you have an identifiable problem, even one as minor as dandruff.
One drug commonly used and often ignored is caffeine. Keeping consumption of this down is a good idea.
Several herbs support the liver. The most notable are milk thistle, artichoke and dandelion root.
To Sum It Up
To sum all this up, if you have dandruff: Use fewer chemicals on your hair and use pH-balanced shampoo. Clean up your diet with particular attention to nutrition and essential fat balance, and consume less alcohol and non-prescription drugs including caffeine – and also fewer prescription drugs, if possible.