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Dandruff

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Dandruff is very common, and is simply the sloughing off of skin cells from the scalp in scaly clusters.

Symptoms

  • Visible flakes of skin on the scalp or in the hair, which can sometimes also be seen on clothing.
  • The scalp may be itchy, and scratching it may break the skin, causing small sores to develop.
  • Severe dry or greasy dandruff accompanied by an itchy scalp may indicate the presence of the skin condition seborrheic dermatitis. The scalp tends to be red or yellowish and inflamed, and is scaly. It can also affect the eyebrows, ears, sternum, and nose. When seborrheic dermatitis occurs in babies, it is referred to as cradle cap, and is characterised by a crusty yellow scalp.
  • Psoriasis on the scalp may also cause symptoms that resemble dandruff.

Causes

The shedding of skin cells from the scalp is a normal physiological process, just as it is in other parts of the body. In dandruff though, the cells that are sloughed away are more visible.

Seborrheic dermatitis occurs in parts of the body where many oil glands (sebaceous glands) are present. It appears to be due to a fungal infection with the yeast Malassezia furfur and tends to be worse in patients with serious health problems (such as HIV and Parkinson’s disease) and when sebum production is increased. 

Seborrheic dermatitis may also be exacerbated during times of stress, and during the winter months. Hereditary factors may also be involved.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Anti-dandruff shampoo will help treat most forms of dandruff, however many such products contain harsh chemicals, and some are not safe for children to use. Look for a natural product, such as one based on tea tree oil, which has additional antimicrobial and healing properties.
  • Do not scratch or pick at the scalp as this may break the skin, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
  • Preliminary research suggests that lotions containing aloe vera may be beneficial for seborrheic dermatitis .

Important notes

Consult your healthcare professional if your dandruff is greasy and yellow, and does not respond to over-the-counter dandruff shampoos and lotions - you may have seborrheic dermatitis and need more aggressive treatment to relieve the itching and flaking.