Although it's rarely a serious condition, dandruff can be annoying and embarrassing. If your solution to those ever-present white flakes has been to avoid wearing dark shirts, it may be time to consider a few reasons why dandruff forms and how it can be avoided.
This itchy, dry condition often begins in early adulthood and lasts through middle age. However, older adults can also get dandruff, and sometimes dandruff can last for your entire life [source: Mayo Clinic].
Dandruff can be caused by several different conditions, ranging from simple dry skin to disorders like eczema and psoriasis. Some people with extremely oily skin or skin that reacts strongly to hair care products may also develop dandruff [source: Mayo Clinic]. Only a dermatologist can determine what is causing a particular case, so if your dandruff doesn't go away with basic treatment, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a doctor. He or she can recommend an over-the-counter shampoo or prescribe a medicated shampoo or lotion.
Most dandruff cases will go away with home treatment, including washing hair with a shampoo designed to eliminate dandruff. Such antidandruff shampoos may include a variety of ingredients, so if you've tried one and been unsuccessful, switching to a new shampoo with a different active ingredient may help. If you're concerned about the chemicals in your antidandruff shampoo, alternate with a regular shampoo to lessen the effects [source: WebMD]. Make sure that you wash your hair every day -- this will help prevent oil and skin cells from building up and causing dandruff.
Although it can be frustrating and embarrassing, dandruff is typically easy to treat. The proper treatment, however, can depend on what the underlying cause of your dandruff is. Keep reading to learn more about the causes of dandruff.
Causes of Dandruff
Unlike many diseases, dandruff has a range of causes, but the result is nearly always the same: itchy, flaky skin that's visible in your hair and on your shoulders.
Dandruff basically occurs when the scalp sheds skin cells faster than normal -- the fungus Pityrosporum ovale often accelerates this process. The fungus is present on nearly everyone's scalp, but it can irritate some people's skin, causing dandruff [source: WebMD].
The most common cause of dandruff is simple dry skin, especially during cold, dry winter months. When your dandruff is associated with dry skin, the flakes are usually small and less oily than those caused by other conditions [source: Mayo Clinic].
Skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and contact dermatitis, can also result in flaking of the scalp's skin. People with seborrheic dermatitis have red, greasy skin covered in flaky scales, and this condition can affect other parts of the body that are rich in oil glands [source: MedlinePlus]. Psoriasis can also affect more than just the scalp -- it can occur on the knees, elbows and trunk of the body, and it presents itself when dead skin cells form thick, silvery scales. Having eczema -- red, itchy patches of skin -- on your scalp can lead to dandruff, but it doesn't always. Sensitivity to hair care products, or contact dermatitis, can also lead to irritation and a flaky scalp [source: Mayo Clinic].
You may be more at risk of developing dandruff depending on your age and hygiene. Keep reading to learn how to prevent dandruff.
How to Prevent Dandruff
If you have a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema that affects your scalp, dandruff may be difficult to prevent. But for many people, a few basic steps can reduce the likelihood of this itchy condition.
Shampooing daily can help reduce the amount of dandruff you experience, especially if you have an oily scalp. Make sure to rinse your hair thoroughly after shampooing -- soap residue can irritate your scalp. After you shower, be sure to brush your hair, starting at your scalp and working outward to distribute oil from the scalp along the hair strands [source: WebMD].
Stress can also cause dandruff. Stress affects the entire body, so it can make you more susceptible to many conditions and trigger or worsen dandruff symptoms. Managing the stress in your life is one way to decrease your likelihood of getting dandruff [source: Mayo Clinic]. Other simple steps for reducing your risk of dandruff include cutting back on hair styling products, which can build up on your scalp and increase oil, eating a healthy diet -- especially one high in zinc, vitamin B and certain types of fat -- and getting some sun [source: Mayo Clinic].
If you already have dandruff and want to improve your symptoms, see the next page to learn more about dandruff treatments.
How to Get Rid of Dandruff
Although there are a variety of causes for dandruff, most have the same solutions for minimizing it. Except in severe cases, dandruff treatment at home is often successful. Dandruff -- the shedding of dead skin cells on the scalp -- is a natural process, so you won't be able to actually stop it, but you can improve it to keep visible flakes from appearing in your hair and on your clothing [source: American Osteopathic College of Dermatology].
If you've tried washing your hair daily with a mild shampoo and haven't seen a decrease in dandruff, it may be time to switch to an over-the-counter medicated product. There are many different active ingredients, however, and each one may react differently with different people, so you may have to try a few to find one that works for you [source: American Osteopathic College of Dermatology]. Active ingredients include zinc pyrithione, which reduces fungus on the scalp; tar, which slows how quickly skin cells die; salicylic acid, which can eliminate scaly skin; selenium sulfide, which reduces the speed of skin cell replacement; and ketoconazole, a catch-all product that can work when others have failed [source: Mayo Clinic].
For best results, use a shampoo that contains one of the above ingredients daily until your dandruff is under control -- you can then begin using it two to three times a week to maintain your flake-free hair. Each time you shampoo with an antidandruff product, leave it on for at least five minutes to give the ingredients time to work [source: Mayo Clinic].
For more information on how to beat dandruff, visit the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Dandruff." (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/dandruff.html
- Mayo Clinic. "Dandruff." November 22, 2008. (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dandruff/DS00456
- MedlinePlus. "Seborrheic Dermatitis." (Accessed 10/13/09)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/152844.php
- Nordqvist, Christian. "What is Dandruff? What Causes Dandruff." Medical News Today (Accessed 10/13/09)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/152844.php
- Rockoff, Alan, MD. "Dandruff (Seborrhea)." MedicineNet. (Accessed 10/13/09)http://www.medicinenet.com/seborrhea/article.htm
- WebMD. "Dandruff -- Topic Overview." July 3, 2007. (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/dandruff-topic-overview
- WebMD. "Understanding Dandruff -- The Basics." (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-basics
- WebMD. "Understanding Dandruff -- Treatment." (Accessed 9/27/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-treatment