What is dandruff?

Your skin continuously sheds layers, with the scalp shedding more than any other part of the body. Dandruff is an excessive amount of larger-than-normal flakes of scalp that stick to the shafts of the hair where they may accumulate a build-up of oil, dust and hair products. These flakes eventually fall on the collars and shoulders of clothes in large flakes. There may be associated irritation or itching.

Symptoms of dandruff
  • White scales and flakes on the scalp which fall onto the shoulders are clear signs of dandruff.
  • Some irritation or itch may be present.
What are the causes of dandruff?
  • The most common cause is the abnormal overproduction and shedding of dead skin from the scalp.
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a red, scaly and itchy rash that causes the scalp to shed skin cells excessively. The cause of this condition is thought to be overgrowth of a type of yeast known as malassezia. The malassezia fungus, formerly known as pityrosporum, lives on most healthy scalps without causing problems, but can cause dandruff when it grows out of control.
What you can do?
  • Massage your scalp for a few minutes each day to stimulate the circulation and loosen dead skin cells. This can then be followed by vigorous brushing to remove loosened flakes.
  • Wash your hair regularly with a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo. Suitable anti-dandruff shampoos include those containing ketoconazole, selenium sulphide, zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid or coal tar. Rinse well to eliminate any build-up of hair products. Many people find that regular washing is beneficial, however some people may find their scalp gets irritated by frequent washing.
  • Oily hair can often benefit from rinsing with fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar diluted in water.
  • A dry scalp can often benefit from a warm oil treatment used once a week. Massage olive oil, castor oil or linseed oil into your hair and scalp and warm in a hot towel for at least 10 minutes (preferably a few hours) before washing.
  • Avoid the excessive use of hair products (including dyes) and change shampoo if it is not proving effective. An allergy-free product may be of benefit.
  • Stress and negative emotions have been known to play a significant part in skin conditions such as dandruff, so relaxation techniques may be of assistance.
When to see your doctor?

Dandruff is usually more cosmetic than medical and is generally considered harmless. However, in some cases, dandruff may cause thinning of the hair and may be stress-related. Severe persistent dandruff may be a symptom of more serious conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or seborrhoeic dermatitis, and you should consult your doctor.

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