If you have dandruff, you probably know all too well that this condition is both extremely embarrassing and sometimes very difficult to treat. What are real causes of dandruff, and how can it be treated?
Let’s start with the good news: dandruff is harmless and not contagious. Now, the bad news: the causes of dandruff are still unknown. Here are the factors that make the person more susceptible to this condition:
- Dandruff often begins in young adulthood (around the time of puberty); it can continue well into middle age.
- Males have dandruff more often than females.
- People who have an oily scalp and hair are more likely to have dandruff.
It might be that dandruff is caused by not a single, but several different factors:
- A hormonal imbalance (such as an excess of male hormones)
- A yeast infection (Malassezia). This yeast-like fungus lives on the scalps of most adults; it feeds on the oils produced by hair follicles. In some people, Malassezia starts to irritate the scalp and leads to dandruff.
- Seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrhea makes the skin oily, irritated and covered with scales. Seborrheic dermatitis often affects such areas as eyebrows, the backs of the ear, the sides of the nose, the groin area, eyebrows, and armpits.
- Insufficient shampooing / too frequent shampooing. The former can cause dandruff because of the build-up of oils and skin cells. On the other hand, if your skin is sensitive to certain ingredients in your shampoo, too frequent shampooing can lead to scalp irritation (contact dermatitis).
- Lack of zink and B vitamins in your diet.
- Dry skin.
Although some sources advise to treat dandruff with such substances as baking soda, mouthwash, lemon, salt, aloe vera, olive oil, and aspirin, it is much better to stick to trusted over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. Look for the products that contain:
- Ketoconazole – a powerful antifungal antibiotic (try Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo);
- Selenium sulfide – makes the glands in the scalp produce less natural oils (try Selsun Blue Dandruff Shampoo);
- Zinc pyrithione – prevents the fungus on your scalp from overgrowing (try Head & Shoulders or Jason Dandruff Relief);
- Salicylic acid – helps you to get rid of skin cells before they turn into flakes. However, this treatment sometimes makes your scalp even drier and aggravates skin flaking (try Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo);
- Coal tar – a natural antifungal compound. Shampoos that contain the coal tar can sometimes change the color of blond and gray hair. They can also make your scalp more sensitive to direct sunlight (try Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo).
- Tea-tree oil – known to have antifungal properties, however, might cause an allergic reaction.
To bring dandruff under control you might need to use an anti-dandruff shampoo every day. When there are fewer flakes, the anti-dandruff shampoo might be used less frequently (you can also alternate it with a regular shampoo). Unfortunately, dandruff shampoos often lose their efficiency after a while: if this happens, it might be reasonable to switch to another product with a different ingredient.
Finally, if your dandruff hasn’t improved after a month of using a special shampoo, and your scalp still looks red and swollen, you should visit a doctor.