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Understanding the Problem - What Causes Dandruff?

By Edited May 31, 2015 3 2

It's white, it's flakey and it's not snow. It is dandruff, the embarrassing white flakes that permeates and ruins nice hair styles and shoulders of t-shirts everywhere. Those flakey bits of dead skin are utterly harmless; however they are embarrassing and occasionally itchy. The uneducated masses think dandruff is caused by being dirty, thus it is frowned upon. However, dandruff isn't about your hair, or how clean it is. Instead, it is about the skin on your scalp.

 

dandruff

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is dead skin cells and that's all they are. The major problem with your body when you have a case of dandruff is that skin cells are growing and dying off too fast. The dead cells are expelled from the scalp in the form of the flakey white snow that everyone is familiar with. So yes, everyone has dandruff, it is just worse in some. For most people, their dead skin cells are done away with when they wash or brush their hair. However, when they grow and die off too fast, they become impossibly to keep up with.[1]

The answer isn't to wash your hair more, it is to find out what is causing it and treat that problem instead.

What Causes Dandruff?

Contrary to the popular belief, dandruff isn't caused by the scalp being too dry. A dry scalp would be itchy, but it wouldn't shed skin quite as bad as dandruff. As to what actually causes this affliction, there are a number of different reasons that people may develop cases of bad dandruff or even have it chronically.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

For those that experience frequent dandruff that appears in large clumps, their dandruff is likely caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis or Seborrhea. This is actually what doctors refer to chronic dandruff as. Worse yet, doctors aren't exactly sure what causes it. However it is, surprise, surprise, linked to the causes of normal dandruff.[2]

Sensitivity to Hair Products

The scalp, even though protected by hair, is actually quite sensitive. For those that experience minor to moderate dandruff, consider looking to your hair products as the cause. Most hair products have a whole army of chemicals that can cause the scalp to flake due to sensitivity or an allergic reaction. Sometimes these reactions can start suddenly to products that you have used for years. Consider switching hair products like shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, hair spray, or mousse out with another product or stop using them one at a time. This will help rule out whether or not another condition or just the chemicals in a certain product are causing the condition.

Malassezia

Occasionally, some will hear that dandruff is caused by yeast, making it a form of yeast infection. In some cases it is. However it is not the Candida fungus found below the belt that cause these flakey episodes but rather the Malassezia fungus, which is a different form of yeast.

Like Candida, Malassezia occurs naturally through the oils emitted from the scalp. For some, it irritates the scalp causing increased skin cell growth. It is unknown why is causes such reaction in some people. However, the reaction can also be due to an increase of this natural human body flora, which can be treated with the right medicated shampoo.

Nizoral AntiDandruff Shampoo, 7-Ounce Bottles
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Not your average Head and Shoulders of Selsun Blue. Nizoral is specifically aimed at treating the fungal cause of dandruff.

External Conditions

Dandruff isn't always a medical condition. When those flakes start showing, try considering what is going on at the time around you. This condition can be caused by external factors like extreme heat or cold. For most people, it usually acts up in the winter when the scalp gets too cold. This has led to the popular theory that dandruff is caused by dry scalp as the air is considerably drier in the winter than in the other months.

This condition can also worsen around times of stress. Stress tends to make almost all health conditions worse. Unfortunately, external factors like weather and stress are harder to treat, near impossible in fact. The best thing to do is work out what dandruff solution works for you and stick with it.

scalp Psoriasis

Psoriasis

For those that have dandruff that just won't go away and nothing seems to help it, it may actually be caused by Psoriasis. Psoriasis can be minor or can be even more unsightly that regular old dandruff.

Signs of Scalp Psoriasis include:

  • Patches of scalp that may appear scaly with a silver sheen, usually behind the ears or on the back of the scalp. In worse causes it can cover the whole head or inch past the hairline on to the forehead.

  • When trying to remove the scaly patches, the scalp may bleed and be red underneath.

  • Hair loss around the affected area, usually due to itching or picking at the area

  • Flaking, obviously

  • Itching, burning or soreness

Doctors have no tests that will be able to tell the difference, most will make a decision based on what they see. However, there are topical treatments that help treat this condition.

scalp eczema

Eczema

Those who have had Eczema outbreaks before will know them when they see them. However, for those that have never had one, it can look a lot like really bad dandruff save for some key differences.

Aside from a red, scaly, itchy scalp, Eczema can present itself with:

  • Blisters that will eventually turn into...

  • Oozing, weeping lesions on the scalp

  • The redness will spread beyond the scalp to the face, neck and ears if left untreated. It will also cause a discharge from the ear if it reaches the ear canal.

  • If the Eczema heals, the skin that was once afflicted can change colors to brown, gray, white or black

This isn't one of those things that you usually can ignore and it will go away. If left to its own devices, Eczema can be unsightly and in a very permanent way. Doctors can treat it quite simply with topical treatment much like Psoriasis.

MetaDerm Scalp Care Eczema, Psoriasis, Seborrhea Soothing Spray (32 oz) (4 oz. Spray Bottle)
Amazon Price: $19.99 $13.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 31, 2015)
Doesn't heal dandruff, but it does calm the itching and the desire to pick at your scalp. It's organic so it can be used with other treatments.

The key point here is that if over the counter or natural treatments for dandruff don't seem to be work, go see a doctor. Dandruff is a major self-esteem crusher and some of the worse medical conditions that cause it can be disfiguring. Don't let such a simple thing ruin you forever.

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Comments

Sep 22, 2014 1:22am
asereht1970
Having dandruff is also my problems. I have tried different brands of shampoos but still they return.
Nov 8, 2014 10:28pm
SilverandGold
You might want to ask your doctor if you can take fish oil capsules. It is good for the human skin as well as I give my pup some in the colder, dryer months and as needed during other times of the year. It does help her skin quite a lot. The vet recommended giving her some and it works pretty well for her.

But do talk to your doctor so consideration can be made as to appropriate kind and dose level that would be right for you, especially in case it would conflict with any other medication or health problem you have.

We get the fish oil in capsule form at Sam's Club and it costs far less than at specialty vitamin stores, but again, depending on what kind your doctor approves you could try.
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Bibliography

  1. "Dandruff." The Mayo Clinic. 16/08/2014 <Web >
  2. "Dandruff (Seborrhea)." San Francisco State University Student Health Service. 16/08/2014 <Web >

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