Many people have this chronic scalp disorder, which is marked by itching and excessive flaking of the scalp. Although dandruff isn’t contagious and is rarely serious, it can be embarrassing and surprisingly persistent.

The good news is that dandruff can usually be controlled. Mild cases of dandruff may need nothing more than daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser. And stubborn flakes often respond to medicated shampoos. What’s more, researchers have identified a yeast-like fungus that may cause or aggravate dandruff, a discovery that may lead to better treatments.

What Is Dandruff?

First you should know that a person’s entire body surface continuously sheds dead skin cells. The skin itself sheds every twenty-four days. Dandruff is the result of the normal growing process of the skin cells of the scalp. Shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp at an excessive rate, is the result of the normal growing process of the skin cells of the scalp.

In a normal scalp, the process of sloughing off old cells and manufacturing of their replacements is very orderly and complete. In the dandruff scalp, there is mass disorder and often the departing cells are not dead before leaving the scalp.

There appear to be two different causes of dandruff: internal and external.

Internal Causes

  • hormonal imbalance
  • poor health
  • poor hygiene
  • allergic hypersensitive
  • lack of rest
  • emotional stress
  • excessive consumption of sugar, fat, starch
  • improper nutrition
  • heredity predisposition

External Causes

  • excessive use of hair sprays and gels
  • improper use of hair-coloring products or excessive use of hot hair curlers or curling irons
  • cold weather and dry indoor heating
  • stress and anxiety.
  • infrequent shampooing of the hair or inadequate rinsing of the scalp.

Additional Causes Of Dandruff

Dandruff is usually seasonal. It is most severe during the winter and mildest during the summer. Dandruff scales usually occur as small, round, white-to-gray patches on top of the head. Scaling can occur anywhere on the scalp, in the hair, on the eyebrows, the beard and can spread to the neck and shoulders. Dandruff is often known as “dry scalp”, but people with oily scalps tend to suffer the most. An oily scalp also supports the growth of P. ovale. Since dandruff is a natural process, it can not be eliminated. It can only be managed and controlled.

Signs and symptoms

For most people, the signs and symptoms of dandruff are unmistakable: white, oily looking flakes of dead skin that dot your hair and shoulders and an itchy, scaling scalp. But it’s not quite that simple – many conditions cause excessive skin scaling, including:

  • Dry skin. Simple dry skin – the kind you get in winter when the air is cold and rooms are overheated – is by far the most common cause of itchy, flaking skin. But flakes from dry skin are generally smaller and less oily than those caused by dandruff.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This condition, a frequent cause of dandruff, is marked by red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. Seborrheic dermatitis affects not only your scalp but also other areas rich in oil glands, such as your eyebrows, the sides of your nose and the backs of your ears, your breastbone, your groin area, and sometimes your armpits.
  • Psoriasis. This skin disorder causes an accumulation of dead skin cells that form thick silvery scales. Psoriasis commonly occurs on your knees, elbows and trunk, but it can also affect your scalp.
  • Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp). This disorder, which causes a scaling, crusty scalp, is most common in newborns, but it can occur anytime during infancy. Although it can be alarming for parents, cradle cap isn’t dangerous and usually clears up on its own by the time a baby is a year old.
  • Contact dermatitis. Sometimes sensitivities to certain hair-care products or hair dyes can cause a red, itchy, scaling scalp.


The aim when treating dandruff is to reduce the level of the yeast pityrosporum ovale on your scalp, and slow down the reproduction of skin cells.

Dandruff responds well to the use of medicated or anti-fungal (anti-yeast) shampoos, and there is a wide variety available from pharmacies. You will need to experiment until you find the best one that works or you.

Dandruff shampoos are usually classified according to which active ingredients they contain, with most containing one or more of the following ingredients:

  • zinc pyrithione reduces the production of yeast,
  • selenium sulphide suppresses the natural oils (sebum) produced from your scalp glands,
  • coal tar contains a natural anti-fungal agent, however, caution is advised if you have coloured or treated hair as long term use has been known to stain hair,
  • ketoconazole the broadest of all the anti-fungal ingredients in its effectiveness to reduce and shed the scalp of cells means it may work for you when other dandruff shampoos have failed,
  • salicylic acids also known as scalp scrubbers, shed the scalp of the cells rather than slow the reproduction down, however, this can make your scalp dryer than before you used the treatment.

The dandruff shampoo should be massaged into your scalp and left on for 3-5 minutes before being thoroughly rinsed. Your hair and scalp should then be shampooed using the shampoo 1-2 times a week. Your dandruff should improve within a few weeks of starting treatment, but is likely to reoccur if you stop the treatment.

Severe Cases

In severe cases dermatologists will prescribe a special ointment or lotion to treat the problem. It is generally agreed that drugstore products which contain zinc pyritheone or selenium sulfide are the most effective in ridding the scalp of dandruff flakes. If a scalp shows signs of redness, swelling, scabbing, or gooeyness – accompanied by flakes, in all likelihood there could be another scalp disease involved like psoriasis or ringworm (yucky, but can be treated).

Complementary and alternative medicine

While there are many purported home remedies for dandruff, one therapy that seems to be effective is daily shampooing with tea tree oil. Tea tree oil, which is extracted from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal agent. It’s now included in a number of shampoos found in natural foods stores. The oil is generally well tolerated but may cause allergic reactions in some people.

Sources: Cool Nurse, MayoClinic

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