Hair Care Total

What causes dandruff?

Fighting the itchiness and flaking of scalp caused by dandruff? Find out why it occurs and what you can do to get back a healthy scalp.

Extract: If you can understand what causes dandruff, it may make it easier to work out how to treat it.

Skin conditions can be unpleasant by the very nature that they can be tricky to conceal making people feel self-conscious - and dandruff is no different.

Characterised by flakes of dead skin on the scalp, dandruff can not only be itchy and uncomfortable, but it may also cause the patient social distress if the flakes become visible on shoulders or in their hair as they can be difficult to conceal.

But what exactly causes it?

Dandruff presents itself when the skin on the scalp's natural renewal cycle speeds up. We are constantly shedding dead flakes from our bodies - this is what helps our skin to maintain itself as a healthy, natural barrier to the outside world - but when this process is sped up, it looks like excess flakes are being produced.

This leads to patches of dead skin on the surface of the scalp which come away into the hair and sometimes fall onto the shoulders and upper back of the individual with the condition.

While it is not always obvious why exactly the natural cycle of the skin is altered, there are several factors which it has been suggested may be linked to it happening.

Those with seborrhoeic dermatitis - a condition that causes oily skin, about which relatively little is known - may experience flaky skin in some areas of their body, including the scalp, which can cause it.

Meanwhile, if a fungus called malassezia that usually lives harmlessly on the skin grows out of control, this can cause the skin to speed up the rate at which it renews itself - thereby potentially causing dandruff to manifest.

It has been suggested that both of these potential causes could be linked to an immune response by the body, causing the skin to become oilier and thereby promoting fungus growth - something of a vicious circle.

Zinc pyrithione shampoo works by killing the malassezia fungi, while selenium sulfide shampoo and ketoconazole treatment will help to get rid of it too, if you think this may be what is causing your dandruff.

Other skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema may also come hand-in-hand with the scalp condition, as they cause skin to become dry and flakey.

However, if none of these are an issue it could be stimulated by something as seemingly simple as heightened emotional stress.

There are also things that you could be doing to yourself which could be making it worse - for example, not washing your hair enough or even washing it too much, especially with harsh products which are irritating the scalp. Similarly, some hair gels, mousse and other styling products may be aggravating it.

As with any skin condition, you need to take care of your body in as natural a way as possible in order to minimise the risk of flare-ups. However, it may be a good idea to speak to your GP about specialist shampoos and treatments that you can use. Ones that contain tea tree oil have been said to be particularly effective, but with something as personal as a skin condition, trial and error tends to be the best course of action in order to seek out the right treatment for your unique case.