Hair care

What causes dandruff and how to treat it?

Dandruff is a common chronic skin condition which causes grey or white flakes of skin on your scalp and in the hair. Seborrheic dermatitis and seborrhea are other names for dandruff.

Dandruff is not infectious or harmful, but it can be unpleasant and sometimes problematic to get rid of it. The flakes are visible if they fall from scalp on to your shoulders. Your scalp may also feel itchy and dry.

Its exact cause is not known, but many factors increase the risk. Dandruff is not related to poor hygiene. But it may be more noticeable if an individual does not brush or wash their hair often. Other risk factors comprise the use of inappropriate hair products or having certain skin or medical conditions. Several treatments are existing over the counter, but severe cases should be seen by a doctor.


The exact dandruff causes are still not known. There is a theory saying that it is linked to hormone production, as it often begins around puberty. Here are the 10 more possible factors of dandruff;

1. Seborrheic dermatitis

Dandruff includes flakes of skin which gather in the hair. Individuals with seborrheic dermatitis have oily, irritated skin. These individuals are more likely to have dandruff.

It causes dandruff by affecting various areas of the skin, counting the backs of the ears, eyebrows, the breastbone, and the sides of the nose. It makes the skin red, greasy and covered with flaky white or yellow scales.

Seborrheic dermatitis is linked with Malassezia. It is a fungus which generally lives on the scalp and feeds on the oils secreted by the hair follicles. Usually, it does not cause any problem, but it becomes overactive in some people. Thus, causing the scalp to produce extra skin cells and to become irritated. As those extra skin cells fall off and die, they mix with the oil from the scalp and hair, forming dandruff.

2. Not enough hair brushing

Regularly, brushing or combing the hair reduces the risk of dandruff. This is because it helps in the usual shedding of skin.

3. Yeast

People sensitive to yeast have a bit higher chance of dandruff, so yeast plays a part. Often, dandruff is worse during the winters and better during the warmer weather. That may be due to ultraviolet-A (UVA) light from the sun which counteracts the yeast.

4. Dry skin

Individuals with dry skin are more probable to have dandruff. Cold air combined with overheated rooms is a common cause of flaking, itchy skin. Dandruff which stems from dry skin has smaller, non-oily flakes.

5. Shampooing and skin care products

Some hair care products can cause a red, irritating, scaling scalp. But, frequent shampooing may also cause dandruff, as it can disturb your scalp.

Some people suggest that inadequate shampooing can cause a buildup of dead skin cells and oil, leading to dandruff. But evidence is lacking that this is accurate.

6. Certain skin conditions

People with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin ailments get dandruff more commonly than others. Tinea capita can cause dandruff. It is a fungal infection also known as scalp ringworm.

7. Medical conditions

People with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases are more susceptible to dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

One research found that between 30 and 83% of people with HIV have seborrheic dermatitis, then 3 to 5% in the general population. Patients recovering from a stroke or a heart attack and those having a weak immune system may be more likely to get dandruff.

8. Diet

Inadequate consumption of foods which contain zinc, B vitamins, and some types of fats may also increase the risk of dandruff.

9. Mental stress

There may be a strong association between stress and various skin problems.

10. Age

Dandruff is more likely to develop from youth through middle age, though it can be a lifetime. It affects men more than women, maybe due to hormone-related reasons.

Home remedies to treat dandruff

The main purpose of treatment is to stop dandruff by slowing the reproduction of skin cells or counteracting the production of yeast which might be the cause.

Basically, the strategy will depend on the severity of the condition and the patient’s age. But, there are some home remedies and lifestyle changes which can help people. These include;

  • Managing stress; stress can generate dandruff in some individuals. So, stress management can help better reduce its symptoms.
  • Shampoo more often; in case of oily hair and scalp, washing hair daily can help.
  • Sunlight: a slight sunlight exposure can be helpful.
  • Tea tree oil; some people believe that preparations which include tea tree oil aid reduce symptoms of dandruff but the evidence is little. It may cause allergic reactions in some individuals, so use it with extra care.


There are different factors which causes dandruff. Shampoos and other scalp products are obtainable over the counter at stores and pharmacies. These products can help control seborrheic dermatitis, but they cannot cure it.

Shampoos and scalp preparations

Before applying any anti-fungal shampoo, people should cautiously remove any scaly patches on the scalp. This increases the effectiveness of shampoo.

Ingredients to look out for

Most anti-fungal or anti-dandruff shampoos comprise at least one of the following active ingredients;
• Ketoconazole; it is an effective anti-fungal ingredient. Shampoos containing this can be used at any age.
• Selenium sulfide; effective at treating dandruff. This ingredient is very helpful in reducing the production of natural oils by glands in the scalp.
• Zinc pyrithione; it slows down the growth of yeast thus preventing further dandruff.
• Coal tar; it contains a natural anti-fungal agent. Treated or dyed hair may become stained by its long-term use. Tar soaps can also make the scalp sensitive to sunlight, so users should wear a hat when outside. Moreover, its high doses can be carcinogenic.
• Salicylic acids; it helps the scalp get free of skin cells. They do not slow the skin cells reproduction. Various “scalp scrubs” hold salicylic acids. Sometimes, treatment can leave your scalp dry thus make skin flaking worse.
• Tea-tree oil; this ingredient is derived from the Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia. It has been used to treat different causes of dandruff by acting as an antibiotic, an anti-fungal, and an antiseptic. But some people are also allergic to it.

The strategy is to choose a shampoo having one of these ingredients. And, shampoo your hair daily until the dandruff is under control. Then, they can be used less often.

Alternating your dandruff shampoo with usual shampoo may also benefit. A specific shampoo may not remain as effective after some time. At this time, switching one ingredient with another may be a good idea.

Furthermore, some shampoos are needed to be left on the scalp for around 5 minutes. This is because rinsing too fast will not give the ingredient proper time to work. Others should be washed at once. Users should also follow the instructions given on the bottle.

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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