You might have an enviable head of hair that is thick and shiny and a wardrobe that is fashionable and well-kept. But if you have dandruff, your mane and attire may go unnoticed. Instead, the focus may be on those flakes lingering on your shoulders, back and scalp.
Dandruff is a very common, generally harmless scalp condition that affects at least 50 percent of the human population [source: P&G Beauty Science]. Frustratingly, there are many possible causes of dandruff. Sometimes either dry or oily skin can be to blame. So can skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. In some cases, a yeast fungus called malassezia or an oily skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis can cause the flaking.
The good news is that dandruff is usually quite easy to treat. The hair care aisle at your local drugstore or supermarket probably has a number of shampoos, conditioners and special preparations designed to eliminate the embarrassing condition. There are even prescription solutions available. But as with many other health conditions, prevention is usually the best treatment. So, if you're prone to the itchy scalp and telltale flakes of dandruff, learn how to keep them at bay with a few simple preventive measures. In no time, your luxurious locks and trendy threads will once again steal the show.
Exposure to sunlight is a remedy recommended for a number of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis. Medical experts believe that spending a little time in the sunshine may also be beneficial in treating dandruff [source: Mayo Clinic]. But as treatments go, this one can be a little tricky because too much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer. In fact, it takes only a few minutes for the sun to start damaging your skin [source: Skin Cancer Foundation]. Therefore, you should spend only brief amounts of time in the sun as a treatment -- sunbathing isn't recommended. In addition, you should be sure to protect the rest of your body with clothing and sunblock.
Another caution: Some anti-dandruff treatments, such as coal tar shampoo, can increase your scalp's sensitivity to UV light. So, if you're currently using any anti-dandruff treatment, you should check to see whether it mentions sun sensitivity as a precaution. If so, you may need to avoid exposure to the sun, tanning booths and sun lamps.
As you'll see in our next section, the great outdoors and indoors have a bigger effect on your dandruff than you might think.
Buy a Humidifier
While there is some debate as to whether dry skin is a true cause of dandruff, one thing there is no controversy about is the phenomenon of winter dandruff. If you've ever had dandruff, you know that it tends to worsen during dry, cold-weather months. It's believed that the reduction of humidity in the air (both outdoors and indoors) during winter can add to the buildup of dry skin that occurs with dandruff.
One of the simplest ways to increase your exposure to humidity during winter months is to buy a humidifier. Ideally, you should have a humidifier in all of your main living and working spaces. Just don't let your humidifiers create other health problems. Make sure they're cleaned out frequently and thoroughly dried when they're not in operation -- or else they can breed bacteria and mold.
Keep reading for more easy ways to possibly prevent dandruff.
Is there any health condition stress doesn't make worse? It seems that whenever you seek to improve your health -- no matter what condition you're dealing with -- you're advised to reduce stress. It's no different with dandruff. Medical experts believe that stress may trigger or worsen the condition [source: Mayo Clinic].
As anyone who's ever dealt with stress knows, reducing it is often easier said than done. The tips on doing so, however, are pretty straightforward:
- Work on a positive attitude.
- Improve your time management.
- Set and accept limits in your life.
- Practice breathing and meditation techniques.
- Spend time on hobbies and recreation.
- Engage in regular physical activity.
- Eat a healthier diet, and cut out excessive sugar and caffeine.
- Seek social support from friends, family, support groups, and religious and community groups.
- Talk to your doctor or therapist for more possible stress management strategies.
Dietary changes can not only help you reduce stress in your life, they can also help you prevent dandruff. Keep reading to learn what you should be eating to help maintain a healthy scalp.
Diet has long been known to play a role in healthy skin and hair. When it comes to dandruff, in particular, foods that contain zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and B vitamins may be beneficial [sources: Mayo Clinic]. If you'd like to try incorporating more of these into your diet, try eating more of the following foods:
- Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, dairy products and fortified cereals
- Omega-3 fatty acids: coldwater fish such as salmon and halibut, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, broccoli, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, cauliflower, kiwi and cantaloupe
- B vitamins: eggs, fish, milk, whole-grain cereals, legumes, broccoli, cabbage, white potatoes, sweet potatoes and lean beef
Because dry skin can be a cause of dandruff, drinking more water and consuming more fruits may be helpful. If you're looking for foods to avoid as a method of dandruff prevention, there are really no hard and fast rules.
Diet is an inside-out approach to preventing dandruff, but in our next section, we'll look at preventive measures that affect the scalp directly.
Adjust Your Shampoo and Styling Products
Take a look in your bathroom cabinets. What do you see? Hair spray, mousse, gel or wax? A spray to straighten your hair or a cream to help curl it? Mists to detangle and reduce frizz? If you're like many women (and quite a few men) you have no shortage of hair styling and care products. And while all of those specialty sprays, lotions, creams and gels may improve your look, they may also create an unwelcome and unattractive side effect: dandruff. These products can build up on your scalp and flake off, and they can also lead to oiliness or sensitivity in your scalp, which can lead to the itching and flaking of dandruff.
If your hairstyle can handle it, try to eliminate hair styling products from your beauty routine. Or, at the very least, cut back on them. If you do continue using them, thoroughly wash your hair at the end of the day. In fact, frequent shampooing, in general, is another easy way to keep dandruff away. Regular shampooing may help keep dandruff-causing oils and skin cells from building up on your scalp [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you're prone to dandruff, try washing your hair daily for prevention.
If you'd like to learn more about dandruff's causes and treatments, keep reading for lots more information.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Dandruff." (April 22, 2010.)http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/dandruff.html
- Bouchez, Colette. "Good Fat, Bad Fat: The Facts about Omega-3." WebMD. December 12, 2008. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/good-fat-bad-fat-facts-about-omega-3
- Brody, Jane. "Personal Health; Cold weather means blizzards of dandruff." New York Times. October 6, 1993. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/06/health/personal-health-cold-weather-means-blizzards-of-dandruff.html?pagewanted=all
- Casey, John. "Beat the Itch of Winter Skin." WebMD. March 6, 2009. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/beat-itch-winter-skin
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- Procter and Gamble. "Dandruff Mysteries Revealed with Genome Sequencing." (April 22, 2010)http://www.pgbeautygroomingscience.com/dandruff-mysteries-revealed1.html
- Skin Cancer Foundation. "Position Statement: Vitamin D." (April 24, 2010)http://www.skincancer.org/images/stories/press-releases/scf_vitamindpositionstatement.pdf
- WebMD. "Coal Tar Shampoo-Topical: Precautions." (April 22, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-151769-Anti-Dandruff+Coal+Tar+Top.aspx?drugid=151769&drugname=Anti-Dandruff+(Coal+Tar)+Top&source=3
- WebMD. "Dry Skin: Lifestyle and Home Remedies." November 26, 2008. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dry-skin/DS00560/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
- WebMD. "Humidifiers: Moisture in the air eases skin, breathing symptoms." September 27, 2008. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/humidifiers/HQ00076
- WebMD. "Stress Management." September 20, 2009. (April 22, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management
- WebMD. "Understanding Dandruff: The Basics." November 30, 2009. (April 22, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-basics
- WebMD. "Understanding Dandruff: Treatment." November 30, 2009. (April 22, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-treatment
- Wellsphere. "Natural Treatment for Seborrheic Dermatitis, Cradle Cap, Dandruff, and Itchy Scalp." May 29, 2008. (April 22, 2010.)http://www.wellsphere.com/healthy-eating-article/natural-treatment-for-seborrheic-dermatitis-cradle-cap-dandruff-and-itchy-scalp/9909