dandruff head pic

Dandruff

Dandruff got you scratching your head? Tired of people asking if it’s snowing outside? Dandruff can be irritating and embarrassing. Sound familiar, maybe like one of millions of dandruff shampoo ads you’ve heard over the years, well they’re right. Dandruff is a pain. Rather than try and sell you something though (I haven’t had the free time to build a hair product empire yet) let me tell you a little bit more about what’s causing your issues and what you can do to clear it up in no time. You probably won’t even have to visit a real doctor; you just get to hang out with Doctor Wellgood instead.

+   Symptoms

Thanks to the multitude of TV ads we all know the embarrassing and annoying symptoms of dandruff

  • White flakes of dead skin in hair or collecting on shoulders
  • Itchy scalp
  • It tends to get worse in autumn and winter when the air gets drier and people turn on their heating

+   Causes

So what’s causing all this trouble? Surprisingly not all dandruffs are made the same and there a few common culprits and few less common to have a look at. In general they are due to the shedding of dead skin cells though. Some lizards do that cool rejuvenating thing where you cut off a leg and they grow a new one? Well you can do that too! Not exactly, I wouldn’t take a chainsaw to any major body parts just yet but you do grow a completely new skin every 27-28 days. Over a month you consistently shed dead skin cells and grow new ones to replace those lost. Dandruff is an unfortunate by product of this process. Usually you lose cells without even noticing as they are very small particles. But when you lose them from your scalp they get all oily and clump together making them more obvious. People with dandruff tend to have a higher turnover of dead skin cells than others -an oilier scalp.

So there are a number of reasons why you may be affected by dandruff. Each has slightly different symptoms so may be able to work out what’s causing your troubles:

  • Dry Skin
    • This is the most common cause of dandruff and as noted above often gets worse in autumn and winter
    • Flakes tend to be small and not oily
    • Likely to have dry skin elsewhere too, especially elbows, knees, hands and face
  • Irritated Oily Skin which goes by the medical name of Seborrhoeic Dematitis (what a mouthful)
    • This is the next most common cause
    • Typified by red, greasy skin on the scalp with white/yellow scaly flakes on top
    • You may find you also get it in your eyebrows, at the sides of your nose and behind your ears
  • Sensitivity to hair care products
    • Anything that has paraphenylene diamine (PPD) in is worth avoiding
  • Not washing hair frequently enough
    • If you don’t wash your hair often enough you can get a buildup of dead skin and oil on your scalp
  • Malassezia Fungus
    • It may sound particularly gross (there is just something about the word fungus) but the truth is malassezia is found on the skin of everyone, even some animals, where it feeds on the oil from hair follicles
    • However, in some cases it gets a little out of control and decides to throw a party on your scalp at your expense
    • This is turn leads to an increase in the turnover of dead skin cells and your dandruff woes

+   Risk factors

There are a couple of things that make you more prone to dandruff than other. Some you can do something about and some you are just stuck with

  • Age
    • Young adulthood to middle age is the most common time to suffer from dandruff
  • Being of Boy
    • Guys are far more likely to get dandruff than girls and it’s not just as they don’t wash their hair as often
    • Guys tend  to have larger oil producing glands on their head and some of their hormones lead to dandruff causing conditions
  • Oily hair, scalp and skin
    • Some people are genetically just a bit more oily
  • Poor Diet
    • A diet low in zinc, vitamin B and good fats (like those found in olive oil, avocado and nuts) can lead to dandruff
  • Compromised Immune System
    • If you have a compromised immune system due to an illness you are more likely to suffer from dandruff

+   Treatment

Most cases of dandruff will not need to be seen by the doctor and can be treated at home with a regular shampooing routine or the use of a dandruff shampoo. It may require a little patience and persistence but results will likely follow. Start by using a gentle shampoo daily to reduce oiliness and the buildup of dead skin if this doesn’t work try out some dandruff shampoos:

Dandruff Shampoo

  • When using a dandruff shampoo lather twice. The first time lather out and rinse, this will get rid of dead skin on the scalp and in your hair. The second time let the shampoo sit for 5 minutes giving time for active ingredient to work
  • There are a variety of dandruff shampoos all with slightly different active ingredients: tar selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, tea tree oil and salicylic acid are some of the popular ones. You may find that one works better for you than another everyone is different
  • You may find after a month or so your dandruff stops responding to the shampoo you are using, have a go at a different one and rotate them if you have this problem
  • Some shampoos may have minor side effects
    • Tar based shampoos and those with selenium sulfide may lead to mild discolouration of blond, gray or coloured hair
    • Shampoos with salicylic acid do a great job of removing scaling skin but may also cause more dry skin and flaking. Use a good conditioner alongside to help rehydrate your scalp.
  • If you still have problems with dandruff after a 3 weeks – 4 weeks of using dandruff shampoo consistently go have a chat to your doctor. They can prescribe you stronger medicated shampoo or look to see if something else is the cause of your problems

Linked stories

See also in the Clinic