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Dandruff Causes and Treatment

Updated on November 10, 2009

Dandruff white or grayish scales shed from the scalp. Dandruff is a symptom of a skin disorder, known as seborrheic dermatitis, which is the most common scalp disorder. Its cause is unknown. The disorder appears as irregular reddish patches, which may be sore and itchy, and is usually accompanied by excessive secretion of oil from the sebaceous glands attached to the roots of the hair. The extreme oiliness of the scalp may make the dead skin, or dandruff, that flakes off the irritated patches very greasy. It may also promote an increase in the bacteria and fungi normally present in the hair. When the itchy patches are scratched, these germs may enter the scalp and produce secondary infections. If the condition is severe and persists long enough, gradual permanent loss of the hair may result.

Dandruff Causes

Over a period of a few weeks, our skin totally replaces itself. New cells are produced deep in the skin, slowly move out as new cells are produced beneath them, thin out to form a hard scaly layer, and eventually slough off as we wash and our skin rubs on clothing or bedding. Dandruff is an acceleration of this natural process in which the rate at which cells are produced on the scalp is increased, so that the excess cells produced form a scale on the skin. The underlying skin may become inflamed and itchy. It is now thought that a fungal infection of the scalp causes this increased rate of cell loss. Emotional stress, overworking, hot climates and a poor diet all aggravate dandruff.

Dandruff must be differentiated from other skin diseases such as psoriasis of the scalp, which is a far more serious form of dermatitis, and other fungal infections.

Dandruff Treatment

The best treatment for mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis is frequent washing and brushing of the hair and scalp. Treatment of dandruff should involve good scalp hygiene, and one of the many anti-dandruff lotions or shampoos available. These include selenium sulphide, coal tar and zinc pyrithione. Resistant cases may be helped by steroid scalp lotions (a prescription will be required) and antifungal lotions. Most patients with dandruff have recurrences throughout life, with bad and good periods, often for no apparent reason. Control is normally possible by using one of the above methods. Severe seborrheic dermatitis may be treated with sulfur compounds, and germicidal substances are sometimes necessary to stop infections. Chronic cases can be difficult to treat, and a physician should be consulted.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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    • Health-n-Fitness profile image

      Health-n-Fitness 8 years ago

      I get dandruff occasionally. Though not that much that it can be seen as a problem. Mainly when I'm giving myself the occasional head massage while sitting in front of the computer will I notice it.

    • needful things profile image

      needful things 8 years ago from Poland

      A mild shampoo would do. the less stress the less dandruff... that's what I observed.