Look up there! It’s a bird. It’s a snowflake. No, it’s your dandruff!
Kidding aside, have you seen those anti-dandruff shampoo commercials where the person gets embarrassed about the white flakes on their shoulders? Well, that’s not actually dandruff.
In fact, a lot of people who think they have dandruff actually have a case of dry scalp. And it’s important to know the difference so you can appropriately treat the correct problem.
Dry Flaky Scalp
Dry scalp is characterized by those white, scaly flakes that you often see in anti-dandruff shampoo commercials. This condition is sometimes accompanied by an itchy and irritated scalp.
The possible causes are numerous. It could be caused by hereditary traits, stress, hormonal changes, lack of sebum, insufficient rinsing of shampoo, using too harsh a shampoo, over-washing the hair, using excessively hot water, vitamin imbalance, pollution, change in seasons, air-conditioning and central heating, and sometimes it can be a side-effect of medication.
- Gently brushing your scalp before washing your hair can help loosen dead skin cells.
- Use cooler water since hot water can strip the scalp of its natural oils and cause it to feel tight and dry.
- Choose gentle shampoos that will not excessively strip the scalp of its natural oils.
- Reduce the number of times you wash your hair in order to give your scalp the chance to produce enough sebum and to re-balance its own natural pH.
- Drink plenty of water regularly. Drinking too little water can cause the skin on the scalp to become dehydrated.
- Eat foods rich in vitamins A, B, zinc, iron and essential fats, which can help to alleviate the problem of a dry scalp.
- Avoid using anti-dandruff shampoos for treating dry scalp. Alcohol in anti-dandruff shampoos can dry out sebaceous glands even more.
- Look for calming serums and lotions that are designed to soothe and re-moisturize the scalp.
- Hair care products that contain tea tree oil can help soothe itchiness.
- Treatments with gentle exfoliating beads (like Kiehl’s micro-exfoliating scalp treatment) can help to exfoliate dead skin cells and product buildup.
- Make sure to rinse out hair care products thoroughly.
Dandruff should not be a cause for embarrassment as it has nothing to do with poor hygiene. It is a shockingly common scalp disorder, one that affects almost half of the adult population regardless of gender or ethnicity.
Dandruff is usually characterized by larger, greasy or waxy flakes or clusters of yellowish grey skin cells. It is a condition usually accompanied by itching.
There are three main factors that (when combined together) can contribute to dandruff:
- Overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands in the scalp.
- Metabolic by-products of a type of fungus called Malassezia.
- Individual susceptibility.
Having oily scalp does not necessarily mean you will get dandruff. Dandruff is the result of very rapid skin cell turnover. For people with dandruff, skin cells may mature and be shed in 2-7 days, as opposed to around a month in people without dandruff. Doctors are still uncertain as to why this happens.
One theory is that the fungus called Malassezia, which is normally present in most people, feed on sebum. Its byproducts then produces an inflammatory response in susceptible people. In other words, the flaky, itchy symptoms associated with dandruff may be the result of the immune system’s overreaction to the fungus.
Dandruff is tricky to diagnose because its symptoms easily blur with those of seborrhoeic dermatitis and other skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. If you are suffering from severe irritation or if the symptoms extend beyond the scalp, it’s very important to seek medical professional help to diagnose the root cause (ahem) of your problems.
Possible Treatments and Solutions
Although there doesn’t seem to be a solution that can make dandruff go away FOREVER, there are some treatments that can help to control it.
- Look for shampoos that contain Zinc Pyrithione (like Kiehl’s Anti-Dandruff Zinc Pyrithione Shampoo) which is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent that can help control the yeast population responsible for dandruff.
- Other ingredients that might also be of help are ketoconazole and selenium sulfide.
- If using dandruff shampoos, wash your hair between 3-5 times per week to help get the anti-fungal activity to the right level.
- If using natural remedies, look for oils that possess anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Examples are tea tree oil, neem and sandalwood.
- Avoid using natural oils that feed the fungus Malassezia responsible for dandruff. This oil, oleic acid is present in the popular four natural oils – coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil and castor oil.
- Don’t scratch! It might provide temporary relief, but in the long-run scratching can make matters much worse by leading to pain and inflammation.
- Rinse shampoo and hair care products thoroughly.
- Cut down on styling products. The buildup of greasy or waxy hair care products like balms, gels and jellies can make dandruff worse.
- Look at your diet and lifestyle. Diets high in saturated and trans fats can cause sebaceous glands to produce more oil, which feeds the fungus responsible for dandruff.
- Incorporate varied fruits and veggies that contain zinc and B vitamins, which may help to alleviate the problem.
So there you have it!
A concise summary of all the information that I gathered about the problems of dandruff.
Personally, I am still on the lookout for more lifestyle-based solutions that will make the problem of dandruff go away. FOREVER.
My hunch is that our scalp problems are linked with what we eat being somehow responsible for feeding and multiplying the yeast that contributes to dandruff. There may also be other factors in our diet and lifestyle which can trigger the inflammatory response of our immune system to this fungus. But that’s just my hunch.
I’ll keep you posted when I find more information on longer-lasting solutions for dandruff.
Hope this was helpful!
Haircare & Hairstyle by Nicky Pope
Dandruff vs Dry Scalp, What’s the Difference? – Brighter Sides
Scalp Matters: Treating Dandruff and Scalp Eczema – The Natural Haven Bloom
Dandruff: The most commercially exploited skin disease – Indian Journal of Dermatology