DANDRUFF SYMPTOMSThe symptoms of dandruff are white flakes of dead skin in your hair and on your shoulders, and an itchy scalp. However, there are many reasons that you might be experiencing these symptoms. You might simply have dry skin, especially if your dandruff is worst in the winter. You might also have a more serious skin disorder called seborrheic dermatitis. This disorder can occur either on the scalp or on other areas of the skin, causing the skin to be covered in oily red patches and producing the scaling that appears in severe dandruff. Another disorder that might result in dandruff is psoriasis, in which dead skin cells cause an accumulation of thick silvery scales. There is also contact dermatitis, which occurs when your skin is sensitive to harsh chemicals that are sometimes found in shampoos or other hair-care products. Your sensitivity or your allergic reaction can cause a red, itchy or scaling scalp.
DANDRUFF CAUSESOne probable cause of dandruff seems to be a fungus called malassezia, which lives on the scalps of all healthy adults. Usually it causes no problems, but sometimes it grows out of control. It feeds on the oils that your hair naturally secretes, and when it does, it irritates your skin. That causes it to turn over cells faster, resulting in more dead skin cells to be gotten rid of. The cells clump together as they are disposed of, resulting in flakes of skin that are visible against the darker background of your hair. Doctors do not know what triggers an overgrowth of this fungus, but they do suspect that other secondary causes, such as increased oil production, hormonal changes, stress or illness, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke, a lower-functioning immune system, infrequent shampooing, or a genetic sensitivity to the melessezia fungus may contribute.
DANDRUFF RISK FACTORAny adult can get dandruff, but some people are more at risk for it than others. Age plays a role; people usually begin getting it in young adulthood and it continues through middle age. However, older adults can also get dandruff, too. More men than women have dandruff because men have larger sebaceous glands than women. In addition, some doctors suspect that male hormones can trigger dandruff. If your skin and hair are oily, you are giving the malassezia fungus more food, so those with oily hair and skin are at higher risk for dandruff. And as mentioned above, adults who suffer from neurological disorders are particularly susceptible to having dandruff. These disorders can include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain injuries, or stressful events such as heart attacks.
Dandruff is a chronic condition, meaning that it cannot be cured, but it can almost always be controlled. Sometimes, however, the treatment requires patience while you are waiting for it to be effective, or while you try different methods. The first step is to wash your hair daily with a gentle shampoo. In some cases, regular washing with a shampoo that doesn’t cause sensitive skin to react negatively is sufficient to treat dandruff. If, after some time, that doesn’t work, you should try an over-the-counter medicated shampoo. Different shampoos have different active ingredients, so you may have to experiment a little to find one that works for you. Your shampoo should have one of the following ingredients:
zinc pyrithion (found in Selsun Salon and Head & Shoulders)
tar (found in Neutrogen T/Gel)
salicylic acid (found in Ionil T)
selenium sulfide (found in Selsun Blue)
ketoconazole (found in Nizoral)
DANDRUFF TREATMENTDermatologists recommend that you try using one of these every day until your dandruff is gone; after that you can cut back to two or three times a week. You may have to alternate between two different types of shampoo in order to make sure each retains its effectiveness. If you follow this course of treatment, and you do not see an improvement in your dandruff, it may be time to consult with a doctor or dermatologist. They may be able to prescribe for you a prescription-strength shampoo or a steroid cream or lotion for your scalp.
DANDRUFF PREVENTIONDandruff is chronic, which means that you can’t cure it or prevent it, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and to keep it from becoming a problem for you. Some of these include:
Learning to manage stress. Stress complicates every aspect of your health and well-being, including the health of your skin or scalp. Relaxation and time-management techniques can do wonder for your overall health and for your dandruff.
Shampoo often. This is especially true if you tend to have an oily scalp, anyway, but removing excess oil will help reduce the production of dead skin cells.
Use fewer styling products. Hair sprays, gels, mousses, pomades and waxes can build upon your hair and make it more oily, or they can irritate the sensitive skin of your scalp.
Get out in the sun. Sunlight is good for your body in moderation, and that can be true of dandruff as well. More time spent outdoors can help relieve some of your skin’s natural oiliness.
Eat healthy food. You should make sure you’re getting enough zinc, B vitamins and essential fatty acids.
Shampoo with tea tree oil. You can order these shampoos online or buy them in health food stores, but this oil has been known for centuries to have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Science has caught up with folklore in this case, and tea tree oil has been shown to be very effective against dandruff when used in shampoos.