What Causes Dandruff?

By:    Published: August 7, 2011

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Dandruff can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. There are plenty of treatments and prevention methods out there for those who suffer from dandruff, but it helps to understand just how this condition occurs in the first place. Read this article to learn more about why dandruff occurs, what causes it and the typical symptoms you might notice.

Dandruff Explained

Dandruff is a chronic skin condition that is also known as seborrhea. It is most commonly associated with the scalp, but it can actually affect other areas of skin as well. Normal skin sheds dead cells at a rate of about 30,000 to 40,000 cells per day. With dandruff, however, dead skin cells shed at a faster rate due to a heightened production of oil in those areas of the skin. These dead cells form small clumps, which become noticeable once they fall off.

The good news about dandruff is that it won't harm your health. Fortunately, it is a skin condition that, although embarrassing at times, can usually be treated effectively with over-the-counter medication and special shampoos and conditioners.

Causes of Dandruff

Dandruff is a fairly common condition, with more men being affected than women. In many cases, the skin is simply producing excess oil which causes the increase in dead skin cells being shed. However, there are several other factors which can come into play to cause dandruff including:

  • Shampooing: Not shampooing often enough may lead to dandruff. It's a common myth that shampooing frequently could dry out the scalp and make dandruff worse.
  • Stress: Some people who have high stress levels tend to develop dandruff over time.
  • Hormonal changes: In some cases, a hormonal shift could lead to dandruff.
  • Allergies: An allergy to a certain shampoo, hair gel or other skin product could be the cause of dandruff.
  • Weather: Cold and dry weather often triggers or exacerbates dandruff.
  • Diet: A diet that lacks enough B vitamins or zinc may lead to dandruff.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating can possibly trigger or exacerbate dandruff.
  • Weakened immune system: A person who has HIV or AIDS or is undergoing chemotherapy typically has a weakened immune system. People with this condition are more likely to develop severe dandruff. However, having dandruff will not negatively affect their health in any way.
  • Neurological disorders: Certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, could increase the chances of developing dandruff.

How to Tell if You Have Dandruff

The most common symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Dry, white flakes of dead skin, usually found in the hair and on the shoulders
  • Oily, yellow scales of dead skin which often remain on the scalp
  • Itchy scalp
  • Redness and warmth on the scalp
  • Bleeding from constantly scratching or picking at the scalp

To check if you have dandruff, look at your scalp in the mirror (or have a friend or family member inspect your scalp for you). Look closely for red, dry patches of skin or tiny yellow clumps of dead skin. Scratch your scalp gently to see if any dry, white flakes appear or fall out.

Another good test to check for dandruff is to take a shower and wash your hair with regular shampoo. After the shower, comb out your hair and look at your scalp. People without dandruff usually wash out any excess dead skin cells while shampooing. If you still have noticeable flakes on your scalp right after a shampoo, you may have dandruff. If you have any concerns about your dandruff or how to treat it, see a doctor.

A Few Tips for Prevention

Although many people develop dandruff naturally (rather than as a result of anything they've done), there are a few ways you can try to prevent it or keep it from getting any worse:

  • Don't scratch your scalp. If you feel a particularly severe itch, give a very gentle rub or scratch as relief.
  • Shampoo often. Wash your hair on a regular basis to prevent excess oil and skin cells from building up on your scalp. Be sure to always rinse your hair thoroughly.
  • Don't use too many hair products. These can make dandruff worse by collecting dead cells.
  • Learn to manage your stress well. This reduces the chances of developing dandruff and enhances overall health.
  • Get the right nutrients. Include enough zinc and B vitamins in your diet.

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