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Dandruff - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Dandruff is a skin condition that causes dry, itchy, and white flaky scalp. Read the article below to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. V. Srikanth Reddy

Published At September 22, 2022
Reviewed AtSeptember 22, 2022

What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a common scalp condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake. Although it is not infectious, it can be embarrassing as these white flakes shed off from the hair and accumulate in the hair or on the shoulder. Dandruff is sometimes misunderstood with other skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis (chronic eczema) that lead to a scaly scalp. People with dandruff may also have seborrheic dermatitis in body parts such as their ears, face, and chest. Various factors that trigger dandruff include age, stress, cold weather, and medical condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Dandruff?

The appearance of white flakes is the main symptom. The other symptoms may include:

  • Itchy and dry scalp.

  • Hair loss.

  • Skin flakes on hair, eyebrow, mustache, and shoulders.

  • Reddish to yellowish raised bumps along the hairline (severe cases).

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. Dandruff can occur due to several reasons, including:

  • Dry Skin - During winters, the dry and cold air dries out the skin, including the scalp resulting in dandruff. Dandruff caused due to dry skin generally has smaller flakes and is less oily than the flakes caused by seborrheic dermatitis.

  • Contact Dermatitis - The use of some hair care products or hair dyes may cause contact dermatitis, which is a skin irritation caused by either an irritant, resulting in a red, itchy, or painful rash.

  • Irritated, oily skin.

  • A yeast-like fungus called Malassezia that feeds on oils on the scalps causes dandruff.

  • Other skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

What Are the Risk Factors for Dandruff?

Although anyone can get dandruff, certain risk factors can make a person more susceptible. They include:

1. Shampooing Habits - People are at risk of dandruff already; not shampooing enough can worsen this condition. Some people say that frequent or over-shampooing can strip away the natural oils. However, this is a myth. Some hair care products or dyes can irritate the scalp and may cause dandruff; they can switch to mild, non-medicated shampoo.

2. Age - Dandruff begins in young adulthood and peaks around midlife. Teenagers and middle-aged are more likely to develop dandruff, which is less prevalent among the elderly. However, a type of dandruff called cradle cap is common among babies.

3. Sex - Men are more affected by dandruff than women. This is because androgen hormones, such as testosterone, stimulate sebaceous glands, producing more oil. This overproduction of oil leads to an increased chance of dandruff.

4. Oily Skin - People with oily skin are more likely to get dandruff. This is because a yeast called Malassezia globosa, which lives and feeds on oils on the scalp, causes skin irritation and excessive skin cell production. These extra skin cells die, fall off, and mix with the hair and scalp oil to form dandruff.

5. Neurologic Conditions - Certain conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury increase the risk of dandruff.

6. Weakened Immune System - Dandruff is more prevalent among those with HIV or AIDS and Hepatitis C.

7. History of Skin Conditions - Those with rosacea, psoriasis, or acne are more likely to develop dandruff.

How to Get Rid of Dandruff?

1. Pharmacological Treatment:

Dandruff is a treatable condition. Various over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications and special shampoos treat dandruff, including:

  • Mild Over-The-Counter shampoo - Washing hair with a gentle shampoo can reduce oil and skin cell buildup.

  • Dandruff Shampoo - Over-the-counter dandruff shampoo is the best alternative for those whose gentle shampoo is not of great help. Although most people with dandruff do not require a doctor's care, if your condition does not improve with regular dandruff shampoo, one must consult a dermatologist.

2. Home Remedies:

People can also consider home remedies to eliminate dandruff. Some of the options are:

  • Tea Tree Oil - Tea tree oil, an essential oil, contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol, which possesses potent antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oils containing high concentrations of terpinen-4-ol help suppress the fungal and bacterial growth on the scalp, thus reducing dandruff. Shampoos containing tea tree oil are also effective in reducing dandruff.

  • Aloe Vera Gel - Aloe vera has excellent healing properties. The aloe vera gel contains amino acids and antioxidants that may reduce dandruff.

  • Lemongrass Oil - Like tea tree oil, lemongrass oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce irritation or allergic reactions if applied directly to the skin.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Intake of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, and walnuts reduces the chance of developing dandruff.

  • Aspirin - Aspirin is an over-the-counter pain reliever that potentially reduces dandruff symptoms. It contains salicylic acid, an active ingredient commonly used in dandruff shampoos, which helps eliminate dandruff flakes.

  • Baking Soda - Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda exfoliates and removes excess skin cells and oil on the scalp. It also possesses antifungal properties. However, overusing baking soda can strip the natural oils from the hair as it has a very high pH level. So people should use it in moderation to avoid dryness of the scalp.

  • Zinc - The deficiency of zinc is a potential contributing factor to dandruff. Most dandruff shampoos contain zinc pyrithione because of their excellent anti-fungal properties growth. Try to eat foods rich in zinc, such as animal proteins, nuts, and whole grains.

  • Dietary Changes - Eat more fruits and vegetables as they are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. Avoid diets high in sugar, fried, processed, and fatty foods to reduce flaking. Biotin or Vitamin B7 is often recommended to minimize underlying dryness. In addition, intake of biotin-rich foods such as liver, egg yolks, nuts, salmon, and yeasts help support healthy hair, skin, and nails.

  • Reduce Stress - Stress plays a significant role in overall health. Although stress may not directly cause skin disorders, it can worsen or trigger existing ones. Prolonged stress can aggravate or worsen dandruff. Practicing yoga or meditation or going for a walk may help reduce stress.

  • Limit Friction - Limit the wearing of accessories such as hats and scarves made of synthetic materials.

  • Get Some Safe Sun - Spending time in the sun can be beneficial as sunlight helps suppress the fungus that causes dandruff.

  • Say No to Harsh Hair Products - Hair products such as styling gels, sprays, and pomades can build up on the hair and scalp, making it oily and more prone to dandruff.

  • Practice Good Hygiene - Avoid scratching and touching the scalp often, as it can introduce dirt into the mix that can worsen dandruff.


Dandruff is a skin condition that causes dry, itchy, flaky skin on the scalp. This condition can affect a person’s self-esteem and lower the quality of life. However, it is treatable and can be treated effectively with over-the-counter shampoos and lifestyle modifications. One can also help eliminate dandruff using natural home remedies.

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Dr. V. Srikanth Reddy
Dr. V. Srikanth Reddy



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