Would you be surprised to learn that dandruff affects about half the population? Indeed, it’s one of the most common skin diseases in humans. And though it may seem like it’s a hair thing, it’s all about your scalp.
If you’re tired of all the flakes, read on. We’ve got some solutions that will help.
What is Dandruff?
Dandruff is a scalp condition scalp that causes flakes of skin to appear in the hair and on your clothing. It’s often accompanied by dryness and itching.
What causes dandruff differs from person to person:
- Dry skin: People with dry skin are more likely to have dandruff at times.
- Yeast: if you’re sensitive to yeast in your diet, it can slightly increase your risk of dandruff.
- Hair-care products: Some shampoos and other hair-care products can trigger a red, itchy, scaling scalp. Frequent shampooing can also dry out the scalp and lead to dandruff.
- Medical conditions: People with Parkinson’s disease and some other neurological conditions are more prone to dandruff.
- Lack of brushing: Whenever you comb or brush your hair, you aid in the natural shedding of dead skin cells. If you don’t care for your hair regularly, dandruff can result.
In addition to these potential causes, certain skin conditions can also lead to dandruff. These include psoriasis and eczema. We’re going to focus on eczema for the rest of this post.
Seborrheic Dermatitis—or Scalp Eczema
You’ve likely heard of eczema. It’s a skin condition that causes the skin to become red, inflamed, itchy, and dry. It’s a very common skin disease, affecting over 30 million Americans at some point in their lives. It often affects children, developing on the cheeks and chin, but it can affect adults as well and may appear anywhere on the body.
If eczema develops on the scalp, that’s called scalp eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis (SD). When it attacks there, it causes dandruff, as well as inflammation and redness, though you usually can’t see those symptoms because of your hair. Other symptoms may include patches of greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. These symptoms tend to flare up more in cold, dry seasons.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes this type of eczema, but they believe it may have to do with a malfunction in the immune system. There is also a strong association between the condition and a certain type of yeast, which is normally present in the skin but often overgrown in people with SD.
Scientists know that those who have family members with the condition are more likely to get it themselves, while those who have oily skin, acne, or obesity also seem to be at a higher risk for developing it. The condition is also possible in people who don’t bathe or shampoo frequently enough.
Those who have SD on the scalp may have it elsewhere on the body too, but not always. It can also attack the eyebrows, eyelids, lips, side creases of the nose, the nasolabial fold, and forehead, as well as behind the ears. Other common areas are the trunk and all body folds.
The disease follows a cycle of flare-ups and remissions. The flare-ups are usually triggered by something, including:
- hormonal changes (such as those that occur during puberty)
- Harsh chemicals from detergents and soaps
- Some medications (such as psoralen for psoriasis, interferon, and lithium)
- Heavy sweating
- Exposure to an allergen
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the condition, so doctors focus on treating symptoms.
How to Treat Scalp Eczema
If you believe you may have SD, talk to your doctor. Some medications can help treat an itchy scalp and control flaking skin. Over-the-counter dandruff shampoos can do the trick, as they include medications that ease inflammation and help slough off dry, dead skin cells. There are also topical creams, ointments, and sprays that can be used to calm irritation and stop flaking.
For severe cases, doctors may recommend prescription shampoos or even oral medications. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a natural approach to prevent flare-ups, try these tips:
- Choose your shampoo products carefully. Harsh shampoos with sulfates, preservatives, and other irritants can make your condition worse. Choose products from companies that use organic and gentle ingredients. If you need a medicated shampoo, choose one that has moisturizers in it as well if you can. Once your symptoms subside, use medicated shampoo only 1-3 times a week as needed, and choose a moisturizing shampoo the rest of the time. You can also try adding a little tea tree oil to your regular moisturizing shampoo—it may help reduce inflammation and improve the health of the scalp.
- Shampoo after sweating. Perspiration can be a trigger for some people. If this is the case for you, make sure to always shampoo your hair after sweating heavily, such as after a workout.
- When you shampoo, scrub. When cleaning your hair, scrub with your fingers for at least a few minutes before rinsing. This helps loosen up that dead skin so it can be rinsed away.
- Cut back on excess products. Using too many products on your hair can result in product buildup, which can easily trigger dandruff. Limit your use of gels and sprays during a flare-up, and choose products that contain some beneficial ingredients for your hair.
- Get a little sun. There is some evidence that the sun may help control dandruff. Try to get out as often as you can, and allow your head to be exposed to the sun for 20-30 minutes. After that, wear a hat to lower your risk of burning.
- Eat more fatty fish. There is some evidence that fatty fish like salmon and mackerel can help boost levels of essential fatty acids in your skin that can help ease inflammation and dryness. Eat more foods rich in fatty acids like fish, nuts, and flaxseed, and consider taking a fish oil or krill oil supplement.
- Apply an olive oil soak. Olive oil can help moisturize your scalp and hair while reducing inflammation. You can add several drops of peppermint oil to help soothe the itch. Coat your scalp with the solution, leave on for about an hour, then use a brush to remove the scales from your scalp. Brush thoroughly, then shampoo as usual.
How do you reduce dandruff flare-ups?
Ranganathan, S., and T. Mukhopadhyay. “Dandruff: The most commercially exploited skin disease.” Indian Journal of Dermatology 55, no. 2 (2010), 130. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.62734.