Dandruff: Causes and Treatment
Dandruff is a common skin condition which around half of people will experience at some point in their lives. It doesn’t usually pose a threat to health, but it can cause a lot of irritation and embarrassment. It causes flakes of skin to appear on the scalp, which are often visible in the hair and can sometimes fall onto your shoulders.
What Causes Dandruff?
The body continually sheds dead skin cells as new ones are formed and this is generally a gradual, unnoticeable process. But sometimes this process speeds up and this is what leads to an excessive amount of dead skin cells on the scalp. The exact cause of this is unknown, and it’s not always clear what factors may be contributing to it.
One potential cause is seborrheic dermatitis – a common skin condition which causes oily skin. It can result in scaling and itching of the skin, from mild pink patches to widespread thick crusts of skin. If this is what’s causing your dandruff, you’ll most likely experience such symptoms across other areas of the body.
Dandruff may also be caused by malassezia – a type of fungus which normally lives harmlessly on the skin, but can sometimes grow out of control and accelerate new skin production.
In some cases, the condition might be caused by emotional stress, although the cause of this link is unclear.
For most, it’s difficult to pinpoint why they have developed dandruff. However, most experts agree that dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene, although it can be exacerbated by it.
Ways You Can Minimise Dandruff
Getting rid of dandruff is difficult, but there are certainly things you can do to minimise it. While not directly responsible for the condition, certain habits are known to make it worse. Here are a few things you should do:
- Don’t wash your hair too much or too little: A lack of washing can lead to a build-up of oil and dead skin cells, while too much washing will dry out your scalp or irritate it. Experts generally recommend washing your hair every two or three days.
- Be gentle with your scalp: Try to avoid scratching your scalp, and when you wash your hair, massage your shampoo in gently to avoid worsening the damage.
- Limit your use of hair products: Putting too much product in your hair can cause build-up at the scalp and, like over-shampooing, can cause irritation.
- Brush your hair regularly: People who do not brush or comb their hair often have a slightly higher risk of dandruff, because brushing your hair aids the natural shedding of skin.
- Find healthy ways to de-stress: Sometimes stress is unavoidable, but if you find the right ways to manage it and reduce it, you may notice it has a positive impact on your scalp.
Treating Severe Dandruff
Following the above tips may be all it takes for you to manage mild dandruff. However, if your symptoms are more severe, you may need to use an anti-dandruff shampoo. These are widely available at most supermarkets and chemists. Look out for these particularly effective ingredients:
- Zinc pyrithione: This kills certain fungi which are believed to be partially responsible for dandruff.
- Salicylic acid: This helps to soften and shed dead skin cells, reducing the amount which accumulate on the scalp. This ingredient can sometimes cause dryness of the scalp but you can combat this by following up your shampoo with a conditioner.
- Selenium sulphide: This slows the production of skin cells, while also killing fungi in a similar way to zinc pyrithione.
- Ketoconazole: This is another anti-fungal ingredient, and quite a potent one.
- Tea tree oil: This has anti-fungal and antiseptic effects which can help to significantly reduce dandruff.
When to See Your GP
In more severe cases of dandruff, you may need to seek the help of a doctor. If you’ve been using anti-dandruff shampoo treatment for a while to no effect, your scalp is extremely itchy, or you have red swollen patches, make an appointment with your GP.
Your GP may prescribe you a stronger anti-dandruff shampoo or a short course of steroid lotion. A steroid lotion may be able to minimise your symptoms by reducing skin inflammation and irritation. If your doctor thinks a fungal infection may be present in your scalp, a skin sample may be sent to a laboratory for testing.
While it is difficult to get rid of dandruff, knowing what may cause it or contribute to it can help you manage it. Do what you can to look after your scalp and look out for signs that you may need prescription treatment.