Hair Care



Dandruff is a common scalp condition characterized by itchy, flaking skin. It can be caused by various clinical factors such as seborrheic dermatitis, the yeast-like fungus Malassezia, or contact dermatitis due to sensitivity to hair care products. Non-clinical factors include age (it’s most common in young adulthood to middle age), diet deficiencies (particularly lack of zinc, B vitamins, and certain fats), stress, and weather conditions (dandruff can worsen in colder, drier months). While troublesome, dandruff is manageable with the right care such as over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos, stress management, and a balanced diet. For persistent cases, consult with a dermatologist for stronger treatments.


Dandruff is a common scalp condition characterized by the presence of flaky skin, typically seen as small white or grayish flakes, often with associated itchiness.

Clinical Factors:

  1. Seborrheic Dermatitis: This is one of the most frequent causes of dandruff. It’s marked by red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. It can affect your scalp and other areas rich in oil glands, like your eyebrows, sides of the nose, and behind the ears.
  2. Malassezia: Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the scalps of most adults without causing problems. However, in some people, it irritates the scalp which can lead to more skin cells growth. When these extra skin cells die and fall off, they appear white and flaky in your hair or on your clothes, which is what we perceive as dandruff.
  3. Contact Dermatitis: Some people are sensitive to certain ingredients in hair care products or hair dyes, which can cause a red, itchy, scaly scalp. Shampooing too often or using too many styling products may also irritate your scalp, leading to dandruff.

Non-clinical Factors:

  1. Age: Dandruff is more likely to occur in certain stages of life. It’s most common from young adulthood until middle age, though that doesn’t mean older adults don’t get it.
  2. Diet: Not consuming enough foods that contain zinc, B vitamins, and certain types of fats may increase the risk.
  3. Stress: While stress doesn’t cause dandruff, it can aggravate symptoms in some people. Stress impacts overall health and can affect your body’s ability to heal and respond to various conditions, including skin conditions like dandruff.
  4. Weather Conditions: For some people, dandruff may get worse during the fall and winter months, and improve during the warmer months of spring and summer. This could be due to drier air in the cooler months.



  1. White or Yellow Flakes: These are the most common symptom of dandruff. The flakes of skin are often visible in the hair and on the shoulders, especially after scratching the scalp.
  2. Itchy Scalp: People with dandruff frequently experience an itchy scalp. This can range from mild to severe.
  3. Redness and Irritation: In more severe cases, the scalp can become red and inflamed from constant scratching or as a result of seborrheic dermatitis, a condition commonly associated with dandruff.
  4. Dry Scalp: The scalp may feel tight and dry. This is often worse in cold, dry seasons and improved in warmer months.


Dandruff is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms. The presence of white or yellow flakes, an itchy scalp, and other symptoms listed above are often sufficient for a diagnosis. A dermatologist can generally recognize the condition by looking at the scalp.

In some cases, if the dandruff is severe, not responding to over-the-counter treatments, or if the dermatologist suspects another condition might be causing the flaking, a skin biopsy may be performed. This involves taking a small sample of skin from the scalp, which is then examined under a microscope. However, this is not a common procedure for diagnosing dandruff.

If the symptoms are not typical of dandruff, or if treatment isn’t working, it may be necessary to rule out other conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or a fungal infection.

Prognosis and Impact


While dandruff can be a chronic condition, it’s important to note that it’s not harmful to your physical health. Dandruff can usually be well-managed with the right care and treatment. The prognosis for most people with dandruff is good, but it can be a recurring condition. This means that even when the symptoms are under control, they may return in the future. Some people may experience periods of remission where the dandruff is less severe or even seemingly gone, followed by flare-ups where the condition worsens.


The main impact of dandruff is usually related to quality of life and self-esteem. Dandruff can be uncomfortable due to the itching, and the visible flakes can be embarrassing for some people, leading to a decrease in self-confidence. It might impact social interactions and cause stress, which can, in turn, potentially exacerbate the condition.

Moreover, constant scratching may lead to a vicious cycle of itch-scratch which can damage the skin, leading to possible secondary infections.

It is also important to note that managing dandruff requires consistent care, which can impact a person’s daily routine. Using medicated shampoos and other treatments may require more time and effort than a regular hair care routine.

However, with proper care and treatment, these impacts can be mitigated. There are many effective treatments available for dandruff, both over-the-counter and prescription, that can help manage symptoms and reduce the impact on a person’s life. 

Treatment Options

The effectiveness of these treatments varies from person to person, and what works best for you may depend on the severity and cause of your dandruff.

Over-the-Counter Shampoos:

Most people start by using over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. These can be quite effective and contain active ingredients like:

  1. Zinc Pyrithione: These shampoos are antifungal and antibacterial, which can reduce Malassezia, the yeast-like fungus that can cause dandruff.
  2. Selenium Sulfide: It slows the production and dying off of skin cells on your scalp and also has antifungal properties.
  3. Coal Tar: This slows down how quickly scalp skin cells die and flake off.
  4. Salicylic Acid: It helps eliminate scale, but may leave your scalp dry, leading to more flaking.
  5. Ketoconazole: An effective antifungal shampoo that is often used when other shampoos fail.

Prescription Treatments:

If over-the-counter shampoos aren’t enough, your dermatologist might prescribe stronger shampoos or scalp solutions. These can contain more potent concentrations of the active ingredients found in over-the-counter products or other substances like clobetasol (a potent corticosteroid) for reducing inflammation and itchiness.

Lifestyle Changes:

Managing your stress can help reduce dandruff flare-ups, as stress can impact your body’s ability to deal with skin issues. A balanced diet rich in zinc, B vitamins, and certain fats may also help manage dandruff. Be mindful to not scratch your scalp when it itches, as this can aggravate your skin and lead to more inflammation and itching.

Risks and Side Effects

Over-the-Counter Shampoos:

  1. Zinc Pyrithione Shampoos: These are generally well-tolerated, but in some cases, they can cause a mild allergic reaction, skin irritation, or discoloration of the hair.
  2. Selenium Sulfide Shampoos: These can cause skin irritation or discoloration of the scalp and hair, especially in blonde, grey, or chemically colored hair. It may also cause oiliness or dryness of hair and scalp.
  3. Coal Tar Shampoos: These may cause skin irritation and dryness, discoloration of the hair, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and in some cases, increased risk of certain types of skin cancer with long-term use.
  4. Salicylic Acid Shampoos: These may cause skin irritation and may further dry out the scalp, potentially leading to more flaking.
  5. Ketoconazole Shampoos: Potential side effects include hair loss, skin irritation, abnormal hair texture, dry skin, acne, or itching.

Prescription Treatments:

Prescription shampoos and scalp solutions may contain more potent ingredients and thus carry a higher risk of side effects. For instance, corticosteroids can cause skin thinning, skin irritation, and changes in skin color with long-term use. Other side effects can include burning, stinging, and tingling.

Lifestyle Changes:

Lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes or stress management techniques are generally safe, but sudden or drastic changes should be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider to ensure they’re healthy and appropriate for you.

FAQ Section

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a common scalp condition marked by flaking of the skin on your scalp. Dandruff isn’t contagious or serious but it can be embarrassing and sometimes difficult to treat.

What causes dandruff?

The exact cause of dandruff isn’t known, but several factors can contribute. These include dry skin, sensitivity to certain hair products, and a yeast-like fungus (Malassezia) that feeds on oils on the scalps of most adults.

Can diet affect my dandruff?

Yes, diet can play a role in managing dandruff. Not consuming enough foods containing zinc, B vitamins, and certain types of fats may increase the risk of dandruff.

How can I treat dandruff?

Dandruff can often be controlled by daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser. If that doesn’t work, try a medicated dandruff shampoo. If you’ve tried multiple shampoos and scalp treatments to no avail, it might be time to see a dermatologist.

Are there any side effects to dandruff treatments?

Side effects of dandruff treatments vary depending on the type of treatment used. Common side effects of medicated shampoos include skin irritation, changes in hair texture, or changes in hair color. Consult with a healthcare provider if you experience any severe or concerning side effects.

Can stress cause dandruff?

Stress doesn’t cause dandruff, but it can exacerbate symptoms in some people.

Does dandruff lead to hair loss?

Dandruff itself does not cause hair loss, but severe scratching due to itchiness can damage hair follicles leading to some hair loss. It’s important to manage dandruff symptoms effectively to prevent this.

Is dandruff contagious?

No, dandruff is not contagious. You can’t catch it from or give it to someone else.


  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Dandruff: How to treat.” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  2. Mayo Clinic. “Dandruff.” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. “Dandruff.” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  4. NHS UK. “Dandruff.” Accessed June 15, 2023.

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