What Is Dandruff? Dandruff Explained 2019

Woman with curly hair wearing sunglasses with yellow background.

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.

However, 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.


A dry scalp is probably the chief reason for dandruff. While dry skin dandruff flakes tend to be of the smaller and less noticeable variety, it is still dandruff and has the potential to be just as uncomfortable and inconveniencing as the other types.


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 oils, 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.

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.


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.

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. Many hair and scalp issues can be traced to a pH imbalance. The scalp’s acidic pH level helps it keep away fungus, bacteria, harmful chemicals and substances. It acts as a shield, a filter of sorts. If the pH is unbalanced, it means 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.