Dandruff is a condition which creates dry, flaky skin on your scalp, which is noticeable on your head and shoulders. While it is not a serious condition, a lot of people find dandruff embarrassing because of how it affects their appearance. Some people associate dandruff with having poor hygiene, but while failing to wash your hair regularly can make dandruff symptoms worse, the condition is usually caused by a dry skin condition that’s affecting your scalp. You can get rid of dandruff by using an anti-dandruff shampoo. There are lots of different anti-dandruff shampoos available to buy over-the-counter or on prescription.
Dr. Daniel Cichi
Our Health Care Team
"While dandruff is not dangerous, it is a condition which can be very annoying and embarrassing to have. There are different types of dandruff which exist which are caused by different types of conditions, but they are all related to skin conditions that can affect your scalp and other parts of the body. There are many shampoos which you can buy which are specially designed to remove dandruff and keep it off your head. If you have trouble with dandruff, then it’s important to identify what type of skin condition you have that’s causing it, so you can pick the most effective shampoo for treatment."
What is dandruff?
Dandruff is a common skin condition which causes skin on the scalp to flake. Consequently, the white or grey skin flakes this condition creates end up getting stuck in your hair. The condition is not serious or contagious, but it can be embarrassing because of how it affects your appearance and it can be difficult to treat too. Dandruff is typically the result of a skin condition which can also cause your scalp to feel dry and itchy.
The signs and symptoms of dandruff usually include the following:
- Skin flakes on your hair or scalp. Flakes can also appear on your eyebrows, beard, moustache and shoulders.
- Dry and itchy scalp.
- When dandruff is caused by certain skin conditions, your scalp can become scaly and crusty. Your scalp could also develop a red or silver rash. If the latter happens, then it likely means your dandruff is being caused by the fungal infection known as ringworm. Ringworm can affect your whole body, but it can be mistaken for regular dandruff if it affects your scalp.
Cause of dandruff
Contrary to what some people assume, dandruff is not caused by having poor hygiene. However, your dandruff may become more obvious if you don’t wash your hair regularly. Stress and cold weather can also make dandruff more noticeable.
The symptoms of dandruff are linked to certain skin conditions which you may have. These include the following:
The most common type of dandruff is caused by this particular condition. Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis can include scaly, itchy and red patches on skin across the scalp, face and other areas of the body.
Eczema and Psoriasis
These are common dry skin conditions which can affect the whole body. Eczema and psoriasis can cause sore, itchy and flaky patches of skin on the scalp, leading to trouble with dandruff.
Contact dermatitis is caused by contact with something which irritates your skin. For instance, the shampoo or hair dye you’re using could be the culprit.
The fungal infection known as tinea capitis or ringworm can cause dandruff, and a treatment which contains antifungal medication is needed in response. Dandruff caused by ringworm can be confused with ‘regular’ kinds of dandruff because the symptoms are similar.
This is a skin condition which is common in babies (and some adults can get it too). It is harmless but can cause greasy, crusty patches to appear on the scalp, eyebrows and nappy area. Because of this, the condition can also cause dandruff as a symptom.
Dandruff usually affects the hair on your head, but it is also possible to have it on your beard too. Skin flakes formed on your scalp can possibly drop off and land on your beard hairs. Skin conditions can also potentially affect skin on your face, creating skin flakes around where your beard is as a result. If you have flakes on your beard but there is no red or irritated skin underneath, then you may just have dry skin. Not washing your beard often enough can also cause a build-up of oils and skin cells.
There is no cure for dandruff, but even if you have a condition which causes dandruff, it is possible to avoid having flakes in your head if you use effective treatment regularly enough. Dandruff is what dermatologists would describe as a recurring condition, because the factors which create dandruff are pretty much always present. So unless you maintain regular treatment, your symptoms will probably keep returning.
Most cases of dandruff do not require a consultation with a doctor and can be treated effectively with the use of over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo. Brands such as Head and Shoulders, Sebamed and Selsun offer popular and effective anti-dandruff shampoos. Regular cleansing with a shampoo to reduce oil and skin cell build-up may be all you need to avoid dandruff problems. There are medicated dandruff shampoos which can be considered if more regular shampoo options prove ineffective getting rid of dandruff. Adjustments to your hair care routine may also need to be considered to reduce dandruff symptoms.
Because dandruff can be caused by more than one type of skin condition, there are different types of anti-dandruff shampoos which exist. Their classification is based on what medication they contain.
The types include:
Pyrithione zinc shampoos
These shampoos contain an antibacterial and antifungal agent called pyrithione zinc, which is popularly used against seborrheic dermatitis. Shampoos with this agent are offered by brands such as Head and Shoulders and DermaZinc.
Some shampoos contain coal tar which can slow the speed at which skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. Neutrogena T/Gel is an example of a shampoo which contains this ingredient. Do note that shampoos with coal tar can cause discolouration if you have light-coloured hair. It can also make the scalp more sensitive than usual to sunlight.
Selenium sulfide shampoos
Selenium sulphide is an antifungal agent used in certain shampoo products. Brands including Selsun and Head and Shoulders offer shampoos containing this agent. It fights more severe cases of dandruff by preventing the formation of a fungus known as malassezia globosa.
Shampoos which contain ketoconazole are used to remove dandruff caused by fungi on your scalp. Ketoconazole can also be used as a treatment for psoriasis. Nizoral A-D is an example of an anti-dandruff shampoo which contains ketoconazole.
Shampoos with salicylic acid
Certain shampoo products contain salicylic acid, which is effective at dissolving dead skin cells and increasing moisture in treated areas. Brands including L’Oréal, Capasal and Neutrogena sell anti-dandruff shampoos which contain salicylic acid.