What is Dandruff?

 Overview  |  Symptoms  |  Causes  |  Diagnosis  |  Treatment

Anyone can be affected by dandruff. It is a common, non-infectious skin condition that affects the scalp producing visible flakes that cause the affected skin to appear dry and scaly. Mild dandruff can be treated quite easily, but with more severe cases, special medicated shampoo is recommended. More severe cases of dandruff may be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, a type of skin rash that causes patches of inflammation on the skin where there are sebaceous glands, including the face, scalp and in and around the ears.

Symptoms of Dandruff

The main symptom of dandruff is a flaky scalp; flakes may also be visible in your hair and on your shoulders. Sometimes itchiness may occur.

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff occurs when the skin renewal process is quicker than usual. The skin naturally renews itself. When this happens, old cells are pushed up through the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) where they eventually die and flake off. This process is usually invisible. However, when the renewal process is sped up – this could happen due to a number of reasons  – the dead skin cells begin to form in larger visible clumps, which we associate we dandruff. What speeds up the skin renewal process is unknown, although possible causes of dandruff are:

  • seborrheic dermatitis
  • not washing your hair enough or washing it too often
  • dry skin
  • malassezia – a type of fungus that usually lives on the skin and is harmless, but can for some cause irritation and dandruff
  • people with other skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis are more likely to suffer from dandruff
  • contact dermatitis – reaction from sensitivity to hair products
  • a weakened immune system

How is Dandruff Diagnosed?

Dandruff does not usually require a diagnosis as there are various over-the-counter products, which will work in most cases. However, if dandruff is severe or persistent, then it is worth seeing your doctor who will make a diagnosis based on a scalp examination.

Treating Dandruff

Dandruff is usually treated with an anti-dandruff shampoo. For mild dandruff, you can get medicated anti-dandruff shampoo over-the-counter from your local pharmacy. There are various types of anti-dandruff shampoo, all of which have different properties including salicylic acid, coal tar, ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, etc. If you have tried an over-the-counter shampoo and your dandruff is persistent, your doctor can prescribe something stronger.