Answers to your commonly asked questions on dandruff

Many people have different questions about dandruff.

Some of the most commonly asked ones are:

What is dandruff?

It is a common condition that affects the scalp and the skin on some other parts of the body. It is characterized by dry pieces of the scalp exfoliating excessively. Dandruff is also known as flaking.

You know those whitish or grayish flakes that fall from your hair as you comb it? That is dandruff.

Having dandruff can be so annoying and embarrassing, even though it is harmless and is not life-threatening.  It can be difficult to get rid of but with the right steps, it can be treated and controlled. This condition affects the scalp, not the hair.

Contrary to what some people think, dandruff cannot be spread from person to person (not contagious).

Even though dandruff doesn’t affect only the skin of the scalp, explanations will be made using the scalp because it is the commonest area where dandruff is seen. The explanations apply for dandruff on skin other than the scalp as well.

On which parts of the body is it seen?

It is seen more commonly in areas of the body that have more hair. So, it affects the nasolabial folds (that line that runs from the side of your nose to your mouth; also called laugh line), the hairy chests of some men, armpits, eyebrows and scalp.

Who does it affect?

Anyone can have dandruff, in spite of the person’s age, sex and race. But it is commoner after puberty than before puberty. And it is more commonly seen in men than women.

How does it come about?

Normally, to stay healthy, your skin is always producing new cells. As it does so, the old cells are pushed to the skin surface and are shed (they peel off).

When there is dandruff, the process is faster than normal. This makes the cells that are shed to be more than normal. This is why it is more noticeable. So, as the cells peel off, they pile up on the skin of the scalp and come off when you comb your hair or scratch your scalp. They usually get attached to hair strands or fall out of your hair (to your shoulders, clothing etc).

What causes dandruff?

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This is a common cause. It is a skin condition that makes the skin itchy, greasy, scaly and reddish.
  • Psoriasis: Is another skin condition that is also a common cause. In psoriasis, some skin patches are crusty, flaky and reddish; and they peel off as grayish flakes.
  • Some hair products: The scalp may be sensitive to certain ingredients in some hair products (like hair gel, hair dye, and sprays) making it become itchy and scaly. This is called allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Ringworm: Is a fungal infection of the scalp that can cause it. Ringworm is also called Tinea capitis.
  • Malassezia: This is a fungus that lives on everyone’s scalp. It feeds on the sebum produced by hair follicles and doesn’t usually cause problems. But, in some people, it overgrows and irritates the scalp causing it to shed more skin than normal.
  • Cold, dry weather can trigger or worsen it.
  • Stress has also been found to worsen it.
  • Dry skin.
  • Genetics: Some researchers suggest that it is associated with genetics. In other words, whether or not your parents have dry skin may play a role.
  • Some illnesses: People with certain illnesses, like Parkinson’s disease, have been found to be more likely to develop dandruff.

Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene! It is not caused by not washing your hair. What happens is that not washing your hair often makes it more obvious because the dandruff accumulates on the scalp.

Dandruff can be mild or severe. The mild form is easily treated and controlled. The severe form is more difficult, but not impossible, to treat.