Dandruff is an extremely widespread problem experienced by millions of people worldwide, though the condition is not contagious. In most cases, this is only a cosmetic problem – it does not cause health risks – however, people who suffer from dandruff often experience embarrassment and low self-esteem.
Dandruff is simply the excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp leading to whitish flakes visible on the head, neck and shoulders. All human skin cells have a life cycle – layers of skin cells die and flake off replacing themselves with a new layer. On the scalp, this process takes roughly one month. When skin cells excessively flake off the scalp, the condition is commonly referred to as dandruff, and in this case skin cells die quickly, and are replaced in about two weeks.
Symptoms of dandruff
Symptoms of dandruff are easy to recognise – they include shedding flakes of dead skin often accompanied by itching of the scalp. The flakes can range from small, dry whitish ones, to ones that are large, greasy and yellow. In extreme cases, with excessive itching, there may even be redness of the scalp.
Causes of dandruff
Over the years, dandruff has been attributed to a number of causes including, hormones, stress, poor hygiene, oily scalp, dry scalp, family tendencies and the use of too many hair styling products. Though it may be that these factors aggravate the problem, but none have been proven to be the cause of dandruff.
One credible theory, that is widely accepted, suggests that the cause may be a fungus called Malassezia (previously known as Ptyrosporum ovale). Though certain strains of Malassezia are found on healthy scalps, it is believed that the Malassezia globale and certain other strains of this fungus, combined with skin oil (or sebaceous secretions) and individual susceptibility are responsible for dandruff.
Did You Know?
- Dandruff affects about 70% of the American population. They spend $300,000,000 annually trying to get rid of it
- Physicians still debate what causes dandruff. Many researchers believe that it results from excessive growth of the yeast Pityrosporum Ovale that normally resides on everyone’s scalp.
- Dandruff growth increases during winter compared to summer for most people.
- Some people think that dandruff begins to increase at the early stages of hair loss. However, this does not necessarily mean that there is a "cause-effect" relationship resulting in the thinning of hair
- One of the common myths about dandruff is that it is contagious when in fact dandruff cannot be passed on by sharing combs, hairbrushes or pillows
Treatments for Dandruff
Dandruff can be treated depending on the severity of the problem. In mild cases, simply increasing the frequency of shampooing may solve the problem. There are a number of ‘anti-dandruff’ shampoos available in the market, with different active ingredients. These normally contain one of the following ingredients:
- Zinc pyrithione: This agent is known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Tar base: Coal tar (a by product of the processes in coal manufacture) helps by slowing down cell turnover
- Salicyclic acid (lonil T): These are scalp ‘scrubs’ that eliminate scale
- Selenium sulphide: Shampoos with this ingredient slow cell turnover and may reduce the number of malassezia
- Ketoconazole shampoos: This is a relatively new ingredient used against dandruff because of its antifungal properties.
With such a variety of treatments available, consumers are often confused about which one to buy. For the most part, the process is one of trial and error to find a product that suits a particular individual and sometimes may also mean switching between one variety and another. See also harmful ingredients in toiletry products to understand what not to buy.
The most common side-effect of anti-dandruff shampoos is dryness of the scalp, which can be controlled by using conditioners.
Home remedies for dandruff
There are also a number of home remedies that claim to help in curing the problem of dandruff. Some of the popular ones are:
- Vinegar: Massage about a ¼ cup of vinegar into the scalp and leave for about 10 minutes before washing the hair normally
- Tea Tree Oil: Using Tea Tree Oil, which is available in many shampoos is reported to be an effective remedy for dandruff
- Olive Oil hair mask: Mix Olive Oil with almond oil and rub the mixture into the scalp. Leave on for several minutes before washing the hair normally
- Aloe Vera: Rub Aloe Vera gel into your scalp, leave it for 10 minutes and wash hair with a mild shampoo.
- Lemon: Mix 15 ml of coconut oil with a few drops of lemon juice and massage it into the hair. Leave it so for the night and wash off the next day.
Of course along with these remedies, a balanced diet along with a stress free lifestyle is recommended.
Dandruff as a symptom
Extremely severe and chronic dandruff that does not respond to antidandruff shampoos or home remedies could be a symptom of a more serious problem such as:
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Apart from dandruff on the scalp, people suffering from seborrheic dermatitis may experience heavy scaling and dandruff around the nose, eyebrows and ears. In severe cases, there may also be redness, crusting and itching of the affected areas.
- Eczema: People suffering from eczema experience severe itching, blistering and oozing skin that eventually thickens or turns scaly.
- Psoriasis: Along with dandruff, people suffering from psoriasis may also have raised red bumps, covered with white flaking scales on the scalp, elbows, knees and buttocks.
- Fungal infection: Dandruff with itching and flaking accompanied by red or greyish patches with possible hair loss could be a symptom of a fungal infection
- Other causes: These may include allergic reaction to certain hair products such as hair dyes and shampoos or allergies to certain medications may also cause dandruff
In case the dandruff problem is chronic and severe, and does not respond to self care in approximately 3 weeks, it is a good idea to consult a dermatologist. Also, if there is severe itching and redness accompanying dandruff, it is advisable to check with a doctor before trying any over the counter treatment.
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