Dandruff occurs when small bits of dry skin shed from the scalp. You might spy these flakes in your hair or on your shoulders. Dandruff may make your scalp itchy, too. It is a communal problem, but it is not as simple as it seems. Dandruff is quite tricky to define because it overlaps with seborrheic dermatitis (a chronic form of eczema) and other skin conditions that lead to a scaly scalp. Here is what you need to know.
As with most skin conditions, there are various triggers that can cause dandruff to flare up.
- A yeastlike fungus (malassezia globosa) that feeds on oils on the scalps of most adults. During this process it produces oleic acid which can irritate the skin and set off an immune response that causes a rapid skin cell turnover and, you guessed it, dandruff flakes.
- If you are susceptible to skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis then you will probably have noticed dandruff too.
- Dermatitis (a general term for skin irritation) that is sometimes caused by products can also lead to dandruff.
- Stress can cause dandruff to worsen.
- Cold weather can trigger a dandruff flare-up.
- Whilst dandruff isn’t caused by poor hygiene, if you don’t shampoo your hair enough the flakes can build-up.
- Not all dandruff shampoos are alike. Some have different active ingredients, such as:
- Coal tar preparations (Denorex Therapeutic Protection, Neutrogena T/Gel, Scytera)
- Pyrithione zinc (Selsun Blue for Itchy Dry Scalp, Neutrogena T/Gel Daily Control Dandruff Shampoo, Head & Shoulders)
- Salicylic acid and sulfur (Sebex, Sebulex)
- Salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal )
- Selenium sulfide (Dandrex, Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength, Selsun)
- Ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral A-D, Xolegel)
You may need to switch between types of shampoos if one type controls the dandruff at first but later loses its effectiveness. And if you decide to try a shampoo that has coal tar in it, you’ll need to use care. Coal tar treats dandruff by making the skin cells on your scalp die and flake off more slowly, but there are things you should know:
- Some people have an allergic reaction to it.
- It can change the color of lighter-colored hair, fingernails, skin, and clothes.
- You’ll need to keep it away from any cuts, broken skin, or infections, as well as your eyes.
- It can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. You should stay out of the sun for 24 to 72 hours after using it.
Home Treatments for Dandruff
Aside from dandruff shampoos, a few other things may help control it. For example, managing one’s stress could help with flaking, or you might try some of these natural treatments. They’re either moisturizing or they might be helpful against bacteria or fungi.
Coconut oil. Start by rubbing 3 to 5 teaspoons of this into your scalp, then wait an hour and shampoo your hair.
Aloe vera. Rub a bit into your scalp just before you shampoo your hair.
Apple cider vinegar: Mix a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar with a quarter cup of water, then pour it over your scalp. Leave it in for at least 15 minutes, then rinse your scalp well.
Aspirin. Crush two aspirin and mix them with your shampoo, then shampoo your hair. Let it sit for 2 minutes then rinse it out.