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Dandruff: Causes and Cures

Updated on October 29, 2016

What Is Dandruff

Dandruff (pityriasis capitis) are the tiny white flakes of dead skin which forms on the scalp leaving it itchy and inflamed.

Dandruff is non-contagious and can be caused due to excessive oil on the scalp, the fungus Malassezia, psoriasis or seborrheic eczema.


What Causes Dandruff

When oil, dust and grime builds up in our hair it can develop into dandruff. This is why it’s important to shampoo the hair and scalp and keep it clean.

The sebaceous glands found in our scalp can also cause dandruff if the oil it produces is allowed to accumulate in the hair follicles and mix with the dead skin.

To prevent this from happening it’s important to shampoo the hair regularly and apply the shampoo not only on the hair but the scalp too.

Dandruff sufferers should massage the shampoo into the hair with the tips of their fingers and not with the tips of their fingernails since this can damage the scalp.

Get rid of dandruff


Dandruff Treatments With Anti-Dandruff Shampoos

Identifying the type of dandruff one has is important since it helps to determine which anti-dandruff shampoo to be used.

Sulfate free shampoos are organic (does not contain harsh chemicals and perfumes) and recommended for oily scalps because it can be used daily to wash the scalp and hair.

Never apply conditioner directly to the scalp since this will result in the scalp becoming oilier. Instead, apply the conditioner to the hair strands and its ends.


Dandruff Treatment With Scalp Scrub

Using a scalp scrub once a week is ideal for people suffering from an oily scalp as the scrub helps to remove the dead scaly skin on the scalp. Scalp scrubs made with tea tree oil is a popular remedy.

To make a homemade scalp scrub mix into a paste 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar, a little conditioner and 2 drops of tea tree oil.

Massage gently into the scalp using the tips of the fingers for 3 – 5 minutes. Rinse in warm water to wash out the paste completely from the hair and scalp.

Then shampoo and condition as you normally would.

Does Acne Cause Dandruff

An oily scalp can also trigger off acne.

Oil from the scalp can make its way into the face causing the skin to break out in pimples.

Regularly washing the hair and scalp and using an oil-free face wash will reduce the break out of acne.


Malassezia-Associated Dandruff

Malassezia is a yeast fungus which exists naturally on the skin and scalp of humans. But it can cause dandruff if it grows and increases in number.

Malassezia can reproduce if it feeds on the oils produced from the hair follicles.

An oily scalp, unstable hormones, lack of Vitamin B in the diet and stress are some of the factors responsible for the growth of Malassezia.

Shampoos containing zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole are recommended for the treatment of dandruff caused by Malassezia.

Dandruff vs Dry Scalp, What's The Difference

Some folks claim the tiny flakes of dead skin on a dry scalp are dandruff and use anti-dandruff products to get rid of it but this can aggravate the condition and make it worse.

The scaly white flakes (which can make the scalp red, itchy and even lead to hair loss) found on a dry scalp is formed mainly due to the lack of adequate oils being produced and secreted by the sebaceous glands.

Other reasons for a dry scalp can be due to chemicals in shampoos which strip off the natural oils in the hair leaving the hair and scalp dry: using chlorinated water (hard water) to wash the hair: having a diet lacking in foods rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin B.

Shampoos containing tea tree oil or sulfur will help in treating dry scalp and so will getting a scalp massage once a week.

Scalp Psoriasis and Dandruff

Psoriasis in the scalp can cause dandruff leaving the scalp itchy with thick white flakes of dead skin.

If psoriasis is left untreated it can result in the thinning of hair and the thick dandruff flakes can even appear around the ear.

In some cases psoriasis can cause intense and severe itching which can result in bleeding of the scalp if scratched.

Psoriasis is not contagious but unfortunately it’s also not curable.

Although the exact cause of psoriasis is yet unknown, some doctors’ claim it’s inherited since members in the same family have been found to suffer from it.

A tar shampoo, shampoos containing salicylic acid or menthol is commonly used in treating psoriasis of the scalp.

A home remedy used to treat psoriasis is to apply warm olive oil or coconut oil on a piece of cotton and gently massage it into the scalp half an hour before bedtime. Warm baby oil or jojoba oil can be used too.


Seborrheic eczema (also known as seborrhoeic dermatitis) and Dandruff

Seborrheic eczema is a form of extreme dandruff resulting in severe itching and redness of the scalp.

The presence of both an oily scalp and the fungus malessizia on the scalp is believed to cause seborrheic eczema.

Seborrheic eczema is also found on the scalps of babies and is called cradle cap.

Shampoos containing ketoconazole, salicylic acid, coal tar, or zinc is commonly used to treat seborrheic eczema in adults.


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    • Suranee1969 profile image

      Suranee Perera 6 years ago from Kandy, Sri Lanka

      Thank you Cresentmoon2007 and SJKSJK for visiting and for your comments. I'm glad you found the information useful.

      Cresentmoon2007 - My daughter suffers from dandruff too and she tried a lot of the anti-dandruff shampoos sold here but none of them worked. I guess it may be because the shampoos were not Sulfate free which is recommended to treat dandruff caused by an oily scalp (as in my daughter's case).

    • SJKSJK profile image

      SJKSJK 6 years ago from delray beach, florida

      Thanks for this information. Very useful.

    • Cresentmoon2007 profile image

      Cresentmoon2007 6 years ago from Caledonia, MI

      Useful hub, there are many people who have dandruff including myself from time to time. Voted up.