Dandruff: Causes, Treatments & Care

Dandruff Overview 

Dandruff  is a common medical condition affecting the scalp and most people experience it regardless of age or ethnicity. The most visible sign of dandruff is flaking of the skin cells on your scalp, which is sometimes accompanied by itchiness and redness of the scalp.

Dandruff can be located not just on any hair-bearing area, but also on a very small hair follicles in your eyebrows, ears, sides of the nose, and middle of the chest or back.

Although dandruff has been rarely serious, it can be embarrassing and sometimes difficult to treat  because it always keeps coming back. Dandruff can range from mild to severe.

Often, mild cases of dandruff can be addressed by changes in diet and lifestyle. More stubborn cases of dandruff may require medicated shampoos found in most drugstores. Many people resort to using chemical-based anti-dandruff shampoos to treat it, but there are many natural cures thought to prevent dandruff.

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History of Dandruff

The origin of the word “dandruff” dates back to about 1535-1545.  It was during the Middle Ages that the medical word for dandruff was applied to mean any disease of the human scalp. It was not until the late 19th century that medical researchers generally agreed that the presence of a fungus on the human scalp was responsible for dandruff. In the 20th century, our notion of dandruff once again changed, transforming it from being viewed as a disease into a typical scalp condition found widely in all populations.

What is Dandruff?


Dandruff is nothing more than just the irregular shedding of dead skin cells from your scalp. When these dead skin cells are large enough, they appear as visible white or grey flakes.

Dandruff is not a disease – it is just a common scalp disorder. For teens and adults, dermatologist refers  dandruff as  seborrhoea or  seborrheic dermatitis. While for babies, it is known as cradle cap.


Signs & Symptoms

In most people, it’s easy to spot dandruff symptoms  such as white, itchy flakes of dead skin cells that appears on the scalp or eyebrows. And for severe dandruff, the flakes may also appear on the ears,  nose, chin or in the centre of the chest or back.

The condition may worsen during the fall and winter, when indoor heating can dry your skin even more. Likewise, dandruff may improve during the summer months, thanks in part to the scalp’s exposure to sunlight.

The signs and symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Noticeable white flakes on shoulders of dark clothing
  • Itchy scaling that appears on the scalp, eyebrows, nose, ears, chin or in the centre of the chest or back
  • Rashes with dry flakes and red spots on eyebrows, chest or back, and beard

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff can have several causes, including:

  • Dry skin. Simple dry skin is the most common cause of dandruff. Flakes from dry skin are generally smaller and less oily than those from other causes of dandruff, and you’ll likely have symptoms and signs of dry skin on other parts of the body, such as your legs and arms.
  • Irritated, oily skin (seborrheic dermatitis). This condition, one of the most frequent causes of dandruff, is marked by red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. Seborrheic dermatitis may affect your scalp and other areas rich in oil glands, such as your eyebrows, the sides of your nose and the backs of your ears, your breastbone, your groin area, and sometimes your armpits.
  • Not shampooing often enough. If you don’t regularly wash your hair, oils and skin cells from your scalp can build up, causing dandruff.
  • Other skin conditions. People with skin conditions such as eczema — a chronic, inflammatory skin condition — or psoriasis — a skin condition marked by a rapid buildup of rough, dry, dead skin cells that form thick scales — may appear to have dandruff.
  • A yeast-like fungus (malassezia).  Malassezia lives on the scalps and feeds on skin oils of most adults, but for some, it irritates the scalp. This can irritate your scalp and cause more skin cells to grow. The extra skin cells die and fall off, making them appear white and flaky in your hair or on your clothes. Why Malassezia irritates some scalps isn’t known.
  • Sensitivity of hair care products (contact dermatitis).Sometimes sensitivities to certain ingredients in hair care products or hair dyes, especially paraphenylenediamine, can cause a red, itchy, scaly scalp. Shampooing too often or using too many styling products also may irritate your scalp, causing dandruff.

Common Factors for Dandruff

Almost anyone can have dandruff, but there are certain factors that appear to play the greatest role in the severity of dandruff. The risk factors for dandruff include the following:

  • Age. Dandruff usually begins in puberty and can continue through your early 20s and 30s. That doesn’t mean you can’t get dandruff later in life. In fact, it could be the case that the problem will stay with you for your whole life. Some babies also have dandruff, which is referred to as cradle cap.
  • Your sex (male or female). Because more men than women have dandruff, the conventional wisdom is that male hormones play a role in regulating dandruff. Men also have larger oil-producing glands on their scalps, which can contribute to dandruff. This makes sense: the more oil on your scalp, the more flakes you will get.
  • Oily hair and scalp. Fungus can feed on the presence of oils on your scalp. For that reason, having excessively oily skin and hair puts you at greater risk of having dandruff.
  • Poor diet. If your diet lacks foods high in zinc, Vitamin B or certain types of fats, you may be more likely to have dandruff.
  • Chronic disease.  People with Parkinson’ s disease or  a compromised immune system such as HIV/AIDS usually have a severe form of dandruff .

While not directly responsible, other possible risk factors for dandruff include:

  • toxic overload of the system by wrong feeding
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • overuse of harsh hair products such as shampoos, hair conditioners, hairsprays, gels and hair mousses
  • emotional stress and general exhaustion
  • other skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis
  • presence of candida; parasite
  • washing your hair way too much or way too little
  • exposed to extreme temperature (hot and humid or cold and dry)
  • constipation and decreased vitality due to preset infectious
  • recovery from chronic health problems such as stroke or heart attack
  • hormonal changes

Is Dandruff Contagious?

Dandruff may be annoying, but it’s not contagious. It’s a non-contagious skin condition that affects the scalp and results in tiny flakes, so you can’t “catch” dandruff from someone else, no matter how many flakes there are.


Dandruff can almost always be controlled, but a complete treatment for dandruff may take patience and persistence. In general, daily or every other day cleansing with a gentle shampoo to reduce oiliness and skin cell buildup can often help mild dandruff. The following are some of the most popular medications found in dandruff treatment shampoos:

  • Zinc Pyrithione – Shampoos such as Head & Shoulders contain the antibacterial and antifungal agent zinc pyrithione, which can reduce the fungus on your scalp that can cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Tar – Yes, common coal tar can work to cure dandruff. A tar-based shampoo such as Neutrogena T/Gel can help conditions such as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis by slowing how quickly skin cells on your scalp die and flake off.
  • Salicylic Acid – Scalp scrubs such as Neutrogena T/Sal help eliminate scales, but they may leave your scalp dry, leading to more flaking. Using a conditioner after shampooing can help relieve dryness.
  • Selenium Sulfide – Selsun Blue and similar shampoos slow your skin cells from dying and may also reduce any fungus on your scalp.

Dandruff Complications

People who have dandruff may be prone to other skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis. Researchers still aren’t sure why, but adults with neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.

So are people with HIV infection and those recovering from stressful conditions, particularly heart attack and stroke, and those with compromised immune systems. While that doesn’t mean dandruff could lead to these other conditions, it is worth keeping an eye on your dandruff problem if it doesn’t appear to be going away quickly – there might be a bigger problem than just fungus on your scalp.

Dandruff Natural Home Remedies

If you’re tired of trying out all of the good shampoo for dandruff on drugstore shelves, there are plenty of dandruff natural remedies that you can try. Just reducing stress in your life can help. Try these dry scalp home remedies:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Apple cider vinegar works for fixing just about anything, so why not curing dandruff? Cider vinegar  not only prevents itchy dry scalp, but also baldness or hair thinning, dry hair and of course eliminating dandruff.   Just mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle and then spray onto your hair after shampoo. After 15 minutes, rinse it out and you’re all set.
  • Tea Tree Oil – Tea tree oil, which comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree, is a remarkably potent anti fungal agent and that’s why some people look for shampoos that include this ingredient – it can help to break down the fungus that’s causing the dandruff. This dandruff natural remedy also helps to balance the pH levels and unclog the hair follicles. The only downside is that this oil may cause allergic reactions in some people and may not be suitable for women who are pregnant.
  • Aloe Vera – Aloe vera is by far the best dandruff treatment at home that you can try. The thick fluid found in the leaves of the aloe vera plant  contains a natural anti-fungal property that help get rid of dandruff Dandruff remedies - aloe veraand soothe any redness or irritation on the scalp.


  • Lemon Juice – By rubbing lemon juice into your scalp, you can help to restore the pH balance of your scalp, which helps to minimize any flaking. Rinsing and repeating 2-3 times with a 2 tablespoons of lemon juice may be all that’s required.
    Also Read: 10 Natural Home Remedies for Dandruff


Psychological Effects of Dandruff

There’s a reason why over-the-counter dandruff shampoos are so popular around the world – there’s a natural embarrassment that comes from the irritation, flaking and redness that can result from dandruff. The social convention is that dandruff is somehow the hygiene fault of the person, perhaps as a result of cleanliness habits, and that’s why it’s so embarrassing. But maybe you just have bad genetics that are responsible for a dry scalp or oil-producing glands.


Prevention Tips

In addition to regular shampooing, you can take the following  steps to reduce your risk of developing dandruff:

  • Minimize the stress in your life. Stress affects your overall health in ways that are just now being understood by medical researchers. One concern is that too much stress can help trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms. So take time out of your day to meditate or find your inner Zen.
  • Change your diet. There are some diet ingredients that are thought to reduce or end dandruff, and you definitely want to load up on these. Some to add to your diet include zinc, Vitamin B and certain types of fats. All of these may act to prevent the onset of dandruff.
  • Stop using unnecessary hair products. Your goal should be avoiding anything oily in your hair – and that means that hair sprays, styling gels, mousses and other products can all build up on your hair and scalp, making them oilier.
  • Spend some time in the sun. Sunlight may be good for dandruff. All you need to do is spend a little time outdoors, letting the rays of the sun do all the work, beaming down on your scalp.

With enough time and patience, the flaking and scalp irritation caused by dandruff can be controlled, usually by the use of over-the-counter shampoos that you can buy at your corner drugstore. More severe cases may be related to factors such as diet and stress, making them more difficult to treat without a long-term change in lifestyle. But there are plenty of natural remedies out there, as well as a handful of prevention tips that have proven successful.

  1. http://www.denorex.com/blog/the-history-of-dandruff
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2181905
  3. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-symptoms
  4. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/191260.php
  5. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/11/20/dandruff-is-caused-by-scalp-fungus.aspx
  6. http://www.embarrassingsolutions.com/hair-scalp/dandruff/10-natural-home-remedies-for-dandruff/
  7. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/dandruff-13/natural-fixes

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