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Dandruff: What is it and how do you treat it?

What is Dandruff?

‘Dandruff’ is a general term for scalp flaking. Most people will experience some degree of it during their lives. If you have a flaky / itchy scalp, please do not be embarrassed: you are not alone, and there are many effective products available to treat it.

Dandruff has varying degrees of severity, ranging from mild common dandruff, i.e. loose flakes, to more severe forms like seborrheic dermatitis. The most common type of dandruff is ‘pityriasis capitis simplex’ or ‘pityriasis steatoides’. It often comes and goes, and you may find it flares up under stress.

Mild to moderate dandruff is usually easy to treat with off-the-shelf shampoos, toners and scalp creams. However, a severe build-up of flakes may need to be treated with stronger prescription products, because it can cause severe discomfort and may eventually lead to some hair loss.

Make an appointment to see a Trichologist if you are concerned, or if your off-the-shelf treatment is not working.

Please note: common dandruff is a non-inflammatory scalp condition. It should not cause redness, unless you are scratching your scalp repeatedly. If your scalp is red, you may have a different scalp condition and should see a Trichologist.

Symptoms of Common (Mild to Moderate) Dandruff

  • Patchy or dust-like white flakes on your scalp
  • An itchy or irritated scalp
  • White flakes in your hair
  • White flakes on your shoulders

Possible Causes of Dandruff

  • Infrequent shampooing
  • A diet rich in fatty, salty or sugary foods (particularly cheese, white wine and champagne)
  • Hormonal changes and fluctuations
  • Psychological or physical stress
  • Cold or dry weather and climate
  • Pre-Menstrual Syndrome

The Simple Science Behind Dandruff

Your skin is shed and replaced constantly, but you usually do not notice it, because dead skin cells are washed away when you bathe, and rubbed off by your clothes.

The dead skin on your scalp is usually removed when you shampoo. However, scalp skin shedding becomes noticeable when there is an excess of it. This is usually caused by an imbalance of bacteria on your scalp, or if you aren’t washing your hair frequently enough.

Our skin is covered in millions of micro-organisms – bacteria and germs otherwise known as ‘skin flora’. Your skin secretions, such as sweat and sebum, usually form a protective layer that prevents bacteria from multiplying on your scalp. However, factors such as illness, stress, diet and hormonal fluctuations can disrupt this barrier. Bacteria may then multiply, which can lead to excessive shedding of your scalp skin, or dandruff flakes.

Products to Treat Dandruff

A common misconception is that dandruff is caused by a ‘dry scalp’. However, dandruff is usually found on oily scalps. Do not put or rub oil into your scalp as this will only make the flakes oiler and stickier.

For immediate relief, there are many retail shampoos, scalp toners and scalp masks available. We suggest you use our award-winning Flaky/Itchy Scalp Shampoo and Flaky/Itchy Scalp Toner daily until your dandruff has cleared, and then alternate every other day with your regular shampoo for a couple of weeks after.

A scalp mask, such as our Flaky/Itchy Scalp Mask, should also be applied once a week to help clear flaking and itching.

Shop our Flaky/Itchy Scalp heroes: 

Diet and Lifestyle

If you have mild to moderate dandruff, it is a good idea to look at your diet and lifestyle for possible factors. The condition of your scalp can often be improved by making simple changes.

  • Restrict dairy products for a few weeks, since dairy can exacerbate flaking and eczema.
  • Cut back on foods rich in salt, saturated fats, trans fats and sugar.
  • Try to make time for stress-relieving activities like yoga, meditation, general relaxation and fitness. These can sometimes help reduce the severity and frequency of stress- and hormonal-related dandruff.

When to see a Trichologist

If you have severe redness or discomfort on your scalp, especially when accompanied by hair loss, you should make an appointment to see a Trichologist as soon as possible. Using some or all of the above forms of treatment will clear up most forms of dandruff. If not, you may have one of the following conditions that can also cause scalp flaking and should see a specialist:

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