What Is Dandruff, Why Do You Have It And How Can You Treat It?

Woman with curly hair wearing sunglasses with yellow background.

If you find that it’s snowing even in July, that might be a sign that you’re suffering from dandruff. No one likes to fall victim to those white flakes drifting from the top of your head- you’re not a human snow globe! If you ever want to wear dark colors again (after all, winter is coming), you’re probably wondering what to do. And maybe you’re too embarrassed to ask someone. Even though it’s a totally natural and common condition!

Plenty of people are ashamed of their dandruff, and it’s been known to cause self esteem problems in many. When you think you don’t look your best then you also don’t feel your best, and this can have tremendous negative implications for your mood and overall approach to life. But the truth of the matter is that dandruff should not be a reflection on the person, as it’s not even caused by poor hygiene (which many people mistakenly associate it with). There are plenty of things we’re self-conscious about, but dandruff should not have to be one of them. So if you’ve ever wondered what causes dandruff, why it suddenly pops up, and what to do about it, you’ve come to the right place. If you’ve become a flaky person recently but you don’t want to be one anymore, keep on reading to improve your hair care.

What Is Dandruff?

What is dandruff? It’s a broad term used to describe flaking and scaling of the scalp. Small amounts of flaking are a normal and natural part of the scalp’s cycle. When new skin cells arrive, the old cells die and fall out. The problems begin when excessive amounts of shedding take place and the dead cells become visible. Scientists have been studying dandruff causes for years and still have not determined a definitive cause.

Dandruff isn’t just an appearance inconvenience. Among the symptoms of dandruff is that uncomfortable itchy scalp feeling that distracts a person throughout the day. So if you’re experiencing itchiness, coupled with a flaky scalp, shoulders, or eyebrows, it’s a sign that you’re experiencing dandruff doom.

Although quite the inconvenience, dandruff isn’t anything to be too alarmed about. It’s overall harmless, and it’s not contagious.

What Causes Dandruff?

Certain factors are known to contribute to the scalp’s flaking, and understanding these can aid us with better understanding methods of dandruff treatment:

Woman holding her hair angrily.

Preventing dandruff before it begins is the best idea.

Dryness

If you suffer from a dry scalp, this is probably the chief cause of dandruff. While dry-skin dandruff flakes tend to be of the smaller and less noticeable variety, they are still dandruff and have the potential to be just as uncomfortable and inconveniencing as the other types.

Fungi

There is a yeast-like fungus named Malassezia which resides in the scalp and usually causes no problems. However, there are times when the fungus can get out of control and begin to grow. The Malassezia fungus feeds on the sebum, the body’s natural oil, which is secreted by the sebaceous glands and is filled with fatty acids. The sebaceous glands are found almost everywhere on the body, but they are most abundant in the area of the scalp and head, right by your hair follicles.

When the fungus grows, the scalp is then stimulated to produce more skin cells. The more skin cells there are, the more of them die and shed. The more of them shed, the more chances they have of becoming clearly visible. The dead skin mixes with the sebum, and the result is a greasier kind of dandruff. Not life-threatening, but also not too pleasant.

Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp. Symptoms include itching, dandruff, and even hair loss resulting in bald spots.

Weather

Woman smiling outdoors in winter clothes surrounded by snow.

Many people notice more dandruff in the winter.

Turns out that weather can also alter your scalp condition and cause dandruff. This is especially true in winter, when temperature conditions can become polarized. If you walk into a hot, well-heated room from a very cold environment, the sudden changes in temperature can cause itchiness and flaking to begin. The scalp is a very sensitive area of the human body, and it is easily affected by environmental changes.

Plus, the condition can be worsened by the side effects of winter. Specifically, people often wear hats during the cold months. Doing so can encourage the production of microbes which cause dandruff, as they do best at higher temperatures. So a warmer head = more dandruff danger. Also, the heating during the wintertime doesn’t help. It makes the air both dryer and warmer, making things worse for those prone to having a dry, scaly scalp. People might wash their hair less frequently in the winter months, which can exacerbate dandruff problems. And since we tend to notice dandruff most frequently on dark clothes, our flaky foes might be more noticeable at this time of the year.

Age

Age is also a factor in developing dandruff. It typically starts when a person is in young adulthood, and it can then continue through middle age. The prevalence of dandruff peaks at about age 20 and lasts until about age 50, although people both younger and older can suffer from dandruff as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic men are known to experience dandruff more than women, but it’s not certain if this is due to male hormones.

But adults are not the only ones who get to experience the joy (*insert eye roll here*) of dandruff. Babies can suffer from cradle cap (also known as seborrhea), which can cause redness and dandruff. Luckily, it will usually last just a few months and then go away on its own.

Illness

Certain diseases can make an individual more prone to suffering from dandruff. Parkinson’s disease and other diseases which affect the nervous system are examples. Specifically, an illness such as Parkinson’s disease can cause changes to one’s skin such as oily skin and flaking. HIV or a weakened immune system also seem to be linked to a higher rate of experiencing dandruff. It’s been found that as opposed to the 3% of the general public which experiences dandruff, 30% of those with HIV experience it. And individuals with HIV tend to suffer from seborrheic dermatitis, a more severe form of dandruff.

pH

PH scale diagram.

The pH scale.

This is a very broad generalization, but it is nonetheless relevant. pH (power of Hydrogen) levels range from acidic (0-7) to alkali (7-14). The pH levels in the body’s different regions are what regulate many organs and help the body’s different systems (respiratory, blood, nervous) run smoothly.

The scalp, hair, and sebum are around the pH 4.5 – 5.5 mark. Consequently, many hair and scalp issues can be traced to a pH imbalance. The scalp’s acidic pH level helps it keep away fungal infections, bacteria, harmful chemicals and substances. It acts as a shield, a filter of sorts. If the pH is unbalanced, it means that your scalp may be vulnerable to attacks that could cause hair and scalp problems.

Keeping the body’s pH levels in the right zone is essential for proper functionality. Many times, the body finds ways to balance itself out without requiring any outside assistance. Sometimes, however, intervention is necessary to restore the peace.

How To Treat Dandruff

For such an annoying problem, at least dermatology has come up with solutions for minimizing dandruff! You can opt for over the counter products, or you can try some home remedies if you prefer.

Shampoo

Woman shampooing her hair in the shower.

There are different shampoos you can try to get rid of your dandruff problem.

Your first step should be washing your hair each day with a gentle shampoo, in order to decrease oil levels and remove buildup of dead skin cells. If you have no luck with this method, try a medicated dandruff shampoo instead.

You might need to sample a few products before you find the one that’s the best fit for you. And remember that if you experience any adverse effects – such as stinging, itching, burning, redness, or hives – you should stop shampooing with the product immediately and speak with a dermatologist or health care professional. It might be that the shampoo is too harsh for you or that you are allergic to it.

Did you know that there are different kinds of dandruff shampoos which include different medications? Neither did I, until recently. One type of anti-dandruff shampoo is Nizoral, which is an antifungal shampoo that can help address redness, itching and flakes. You’re probably also familiar with Head & Shoulders, probably the most popular anti-dandruff shampoo out there, and Selsun Blue. There are shampoos which contain the antibacterial and antifungal zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid to eliminate scale, or the antifungal selenium sulfide. Other shampoos also contain coal tar in order to slow the death of skin cells on your scalp or ketoconazole to kill fungi on your scalp.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is used for many things relating to skin care, from helping with acne to treating infections to relieving athlete’s foot. But one of the major benefits of tea tree oil is – yup, you guessed it – treating dandruff. This is due to its antifungal as well as its antibacterial properties. It can fight the Malassezia fungus in order to reduce itching and flaking.

Green Tea

A cup of green tea.

Green tea might be able to help get rid of your dandruff.

Research has shown that green tea might just do the trick when it comes to getting rid of dandruff (and psoriasis!). A study found that treating animals experiencing inflammatory skin conditions with green tea helped slow the growth of skin cells and the presence of a gene which regulates a cell’s life cycle.

Green tea is jam-packed with healthy things. The theanine in it, as well as the Vitamin B, are good for your hair because among other things, they help to strengthen roots. And green tea has anti-inflammatory properties which can promote healthy hair too. So, whether you drink green tea or want to apply it directly to your hair in a rinse, it’s definitely worth giving it a try.

Self Care

How we take care of our minds and our bodies has an effect on every aspect of ourselves. So if you want to look for some other ways to improve your dandruff situation while also making yourself healthier overall, start with the basics. Start with self care.

Manage your stress by exercising, hanging out with friends, and making sure to get enough sleep. Anxiety can exacerbate a whole bunch of issues, and it can trigger dandruff or make your current dandruff status worse.

Go natural by using fewer hair products daily. Gels, mousse, hair sprays, etc. can all build up on your hair and scalp. This will make your hair oilier, making your dandruff issues worse.

Lastly, don’t forget to eat healthy! A diet rich in zinc, Vitamin B, and certain fats are essential for hair health and helping with dandruff.

Conclusion

Dandruff can be rough. It’s annoying, uncomfortable, and potentially embarrassing. It’s an easy way to have a bad hair day, and no one wants that!

There are plenty of things that can cause that troublesome dandruff to surface or worsen. But luckily, there are also things you can do to make it better. Each person is different, and as such everyone’s dandruff needs are different. But don’t let that stop you from playing around with different products and methods in order to get your dandruff under control once and for all. Once you find the right one, pair it with a conditioner for the ultimate great-hair look.