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What Is Dandruff? Learn All About Dandruff

by on June 22, 2016

What Is Dandruff? Learn All About Dandruff


MNT Knowledge Center

Dandruff is a condition of the scalp that causes flakes of skin to appear. Dandruff is a common condition, which is marked by itching. In some cases it can be embarrassing and not easy to treat.

Fortunately, dandruff can be controlled. In mild cases, the person need only find a suitable shampoo which contains a gentle cleanser. When the dandruff is severe, a medicated shampoo will be required.

Contents of this article:

  1. What is dandruff?
  2. Symptoms of dandruff
  3. Causes of dandruff
  4. Diagnosing dandruff
  5. Treatment options
  6. Possible complications of dandruff

Fast facts on dandruff

Here are some key points about dandruff. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • A significant number of people with dandruff find it improves as they get older.
  • It is estimated that about 50% of people in Western Europe and North America suffer from dandruff.
  • Dandruff is more common in men than in women, and in people with oily skin.
  • Some studies have suggested that diets that are too salty, sugary or spicy and accompanied by excessive alcohol may exacerbate dandruff.
  • Dandruff does not contribute to hair loss.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff on the top of a man's head
About 50% of people in Western Europe and North America suffer from dandruff.

Human skin cells are forever renewing themselves. As skin cells in the scalp are renewed, the old (dead) ones are pushed to the surface and then out of the scalp; they are literally expelled.

For people with dandruff, the new cells are produced at a faster rate than they die, resulting in more skin being shed, making dandruff more noticeable.

If the skin is exposed to extreme temperatures, the risk of developing dandruff is greater.

Dandruff can be chronic (long-term) or the result of certain triggers. People with dandruff may also experience irritation and redness on the scalp.

Excessive flaking may be caused by an underlying illness or condition, such as psoriasis, a fungal infection (Malassezia), seborrheic dermatitis, or even head lice.

Some individuals with severe dandruff may have social or self-esteem problems. Therefore, treatment may be important for both physiological and psychological reasons.

The word dandruff comes from (most likely) dand (origin unknown) and E. Anglian (England) dialect huff, hurf, meaning “scab”. This is probably linked to the Old Norse word hrufa, meaning “scab”. The Old High German word hruf means “scurf”.

A dry scalp does not cause dandruff

A myth – some people think their dandruff is caused by their scalp being too dry. They try to deal with this by not washing their hair with shampoo, or wash it less often, believing that washing worsens the problem. This is a myth (not true). Dandruff differs from a dry scalp in that it usually gets better when you shampoo more frequently (with the right shampoos).

Seborrheic dermatitis

This is a skin condition in which the skin becomes inflamed or flaky. Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp is a severe form of dandruff. When it affects the scalp most people refer to it as dandruff. When babies have it, it is referred to as cradle cap. Seborrheic dermatitis causes larger, greasier flakes than most other types of dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis affects not only the scalp, but the skin in other parts of the body too.

Symptoms of dandruff

The hallmark sign of dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, is white flakes on the scalp and in the hair. If the person is wearing dark clothes, the flakes will be more noticeable when they fall on their shoulders. The scalp may also feel itchy, tight or sore.

Adult individuals with seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp may have red, flaky, greasy patches of skin.

  • There are while flakes of skin on the scalp, and in the person’s hair
  • Flakes may be oily looking
  • Head may feel tight and itchy
  • Head may feel tingly
  • Head may feel sore
  • Red, flaky, greasy patches of skin (adults, Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp in adults)
  • Crusting and scaling rash on scalp (babies with Seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap)

Most cases of dandruff do not require a visit to the doctor. However, those who still find themselves scratching their scalp, if parts of the scalp become red or swollen, after a few weeks of self-treatment should see their doctor. The person may have severe seborrheic dermatitis or another condition that has dandruff symptoms.

Symptoms of dandruff in babies and children

Often referred to as cradle cap, signs and symptoms may appear when the baby is between 2 weeks and 6 months of age, especially between the ages of 3 to 8 weeks – this usually disappears after a few weeks; in some cases it may take months. Although cradle cap may be alarming to parents, it is not dangerous.

A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, drowsiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.

Next page:
Dandruff: Causes and Treatments

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  • Aggort
    June 26, 2016 at 3:28 am

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