So, how do you treat dandruff? How do you get rid of those annoying, embarrassing flakes? People want to know exactly what it is and how to treat it. A lot of us know what it is because a lot of us live with it. But actually, a lot of use think we know what it is and we might not actually have it.
Dermatologists try to reassure their patients who come in complaining of dandruff that it’s something that’s very normal, it’s extremely common. Dandruff is not life threatening and it’s something that can be controlled. You can treat dandruff with the right tips. So, let’s talk a little about dandruff. Let’s talk about what it is, who gets it, why we get it, and how to treat it.
What is dandruff?
The medical term for dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis, and that is when you get a kind of greasy, scaly, flaky, itchiness of the skin. Dandruff occurs in areas where there is hair. Because on a hair follicle, there is an oil gland attached. What those sebaceous glands do is they secrete oil to lubricate the skin and they kind of escape from under the skin through our hair follicles.
That’s why we see it very commonly on the scalp, but we see in a lot of hair bearing areas. We’ll see it in the eyebrows, and kind of around the nasolabial folds. What we’ll see is a little bit of redness, some scaly kind of greasy, flaky scale that can be itchy. We also see it in men if they have a lot of hair around the chest. They can have some seborrheic dermatitis there as well –and that is all dandruff.
Who gets dandruff?
Dandruff can occur in all ethnicities, in all ages, but we probably see an increase in dandruff in people who are going through puberty. They have more hormones going through their system. They have more oil production and that is usually associated with dandruff.
Many of you guys might know that babies can get seborrheic dermatitis. Yes, they get dandruff. It’s in the form of cradle cap, where you get this thick scale on your scalp. Cradle cap is a really common condition in babies. It is not life threatening and it usually clears up without seeing a doctor, but there are prescription medications if you have a tough case.
What causes dandruff?
Dandruff is a very chronic condition. It is something that comes and goes and it’s not something that we can treat right away. There’s no magic pill or magic cream that doctors can give you that can make it go away and have it never come back. We know what dandruff looks like, but we don’t know exactly what causes it.
There’s a lot of theories concerning dandruff. We think that maybe it has something to do with a fungus that lives in our skin. This fungus is called malassezia. Also, we think that people that are more sensitive to it can get more flakiness, more of this greasy, flaky, kind of scale.
Genetics plays a role and it has a lot to do with whether we have parents who have really oily skin or have really dry skin. Whether they are really hairy or not very hairy at all, all these sorts of things come into play. So, certainly, genetics can play a role in how much dandruff you might get. Even your environment can affect your level of dandruff. If you live in a really humid environment, if you live in a really dry environment, these things can actually factor into how bad your dandruff is.
Is what I have really dandruff?
Dandruff is probably an overused term. You really want to know whether you have dandruff or something else. I think sometimes people think that they have dandruff but they might have another condition, another skin condition that creates dry skin and flaking on the scalp.
There are certain medical conditions that can cause a dry, flaky, scalp which is very similar to dandruff. One of the main ones is psoriasis. It’s a condition where you get those kinds of red patches on your skin, mainly, a lot of times in your elbows or on your knees. But one of the very common areas that you get that is actually on your scalp. You can get those thick patches of skin with big flakes that come off and that’s not dandruff –that’s psoriasis.
You probably need to see a dermatologist to get a firm diagnosis, but that is something that people may mistake for dandruff. A condition called tinea capitis can cause the same kind of look. Usually, that’s associated with a bald patch of hair. Those kinds of things are treated differently.
How to treat dandruff?
Because we think that dandruff is caused by a yeast or a fungus, there are many over-the-counter medicated shampoos that really specifically target this. So, that’s why they have ingredients like ketoconazole, ciclopirox, zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, coal tar, and salicylic acid. Most of these are anti-fungal or anti-yeast medications and some of them are really targeted to kind of exfoliate or decrease the flakes on our skin.
We can also use steroids to treat dandruff. Topical steroids will help decrease inflammation, decrease the desire to scratch the area. One of the big mistakes that people make is they think that a dandruff shampoo is not working for them, but actually, they might not be using it properly. You really have to remember that it’s not your hair that you’re treating when you treat dandruff. You’re treating your scalp. So, you want to massage that dandruff shampoo into your scalp.
You don’t really have to care about getting it onto your hair. You can use your regular shampoo to wash your hair so it smells nice, but use that anti-dandruff shampoo to massage your scalp. Let it sit for five minutes, let it soak in into that area, and help to destroy that yeast or that fungus, or whatever might be there that’s causing you to have dandruff.
If what you have is truly dandruff, you actually want to wash your hair more often. Washing your hair more often is not drying out your skin to create more of those flakes. If you wash your hair more often, you are removing some of those oils that are secreted by the oil glands, which are creating the greasy, flaky, scale that is dandruff.
So in general, the more often you wash your hair, probably the less dandruff you’re going to have. I’m not talking about washing your hair five times a day or anything. You could wash once a day. Pay attention to that. If you notice that you tend to be getting a little bit more flaking or a little bit more dandruff, wash it a little more often.
So, it’s important to identify or if you feel like you’re using some over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo or any kind of topical treatment to treat dandruff, and it’s not working, please see a dermatologist. So, that’s it! There are treatment options available for dandruff that are right there out in the supermarket or in the pharmacy. You just need to know how to treat it the right way. But of course, a clean scalp must also have a strong and beautiful hair. Know how to have beautiful and healthy hair with the proper care tips.