Dandruff and seborrhea

Specialty of Dermatology

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a common scalp disorder characterised by excessive peeling and flaking of the skin on your head. Dandruff is usually easily managed and is not contagious.

What are the symptoms of dandruff?

The main symptoms of dandruff are:

  • White flakes or scales of dead skin in the hair near the scalp
  • An itchy scalp
  • Seborrhoea (excessively oily scalp)

What causes dandruff?

Sometimes dandruff can be associated with other skin problems of the scalp, such as seborrheic dermatitis (irritated, oily skin which in babies is called cradle cap) or psoriasis.

Other causes can be:

  • Eczema
  • Allergic contact dermatitis (e.g. sensitivity to certain shampoos and hair products)
  • Dry skin
  • Not shampooing your hair enough (oils and skin cells can build up)
  • Tinea capitis (a fungal infection, also known as scalp ringworm)

Can dandruff be prevented?

Whilst dandruff can be treated, in terms of preventing its recurrence you should:

  • Avoid scratching your scalp
  • When shampooing your hair, do so gently, without scratching the scalp
  • Brush your hair daily
  • Wash your hair regularly (at least 2-3 times a week)
  • Avoid using colouring products on your hair
  • Avoid using styling products (gels, mousses) which can build up oils on your scalp
  • Expose your hair to the sun every so often

What is the treatment for dandruff?

The treatment of dandruff varies according to the severity of each case but includes:

  • Using medicated shampoos that contain either zinc pyrithione, coal tar, ketoconazole, salicylic acid or selenium sulphide two to three times a week or every other day until the dandruff is under control (usually within one month).
  • For more severe cases of dandruff, a dermatologist may have to prescribe a prescription-strength shampoo or steroid lotion.
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