Authored by Revere Health

Dandruff: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

June 2, 2017 | Dermatology

Dandruff is a non-contagious, chronic scalp condition characterized by flaking of the skin on the scalp. It’s typically easy to spot due to white flakes that are visible on clothing or other surfaces.

Although it can be tough to treat in some cases, dandruff is not dangerous and can be controlled with the right steps.

Dandruff Symptoms

Symptoms of dandruff are easy to spot in most cases. Signaled by white, oily-looking flakes of dead skin present on the hair and shoulders, dandruff is often accompanied by an itchy, scaly scalp. Dandruff symptoms are often worse during fall and winter due to dry skin, which can be exacerbated by indoor heating.

In babies, a type of dandruff known as cradle cap can occur. This is a disorder that causes a scaly, crusty scalp. It can be alarming for parents, especially since it’s most common in newborns, but it’s not dangerous and will usually clear up by itself.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are several possible causes of dandruff:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This is a condition characterized by irritated, oily skin. Skin will appear red and greasy, and covered by flaky white or yellow scales. It can affect the scalp and other areas rich in oil glands, including the eyebrows, sides of the nose, backs of the ears, breastbone, groin area and sometimes the armpits.
  • Malassezia: This is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the scalp of most adults. In some cases, it will irritate the scalp and create more skin cell growth. These new cells die and fall off, and create white dandruff flakes.
  • Not shampooing enough: Oils and skin cells from the scalp build up over time if you don’t wash your hair often enough, which causes dandruff.
  • Dry skin: Flakes from dry skin are typically smaller and less oily than those from other causes, and redness or inflammation is unlikely. In these cases, dry skin is likely more noticeable on other areas of the body besides the scalp, as well.
  • Contact dermatitis: This is a sensitivity to certain ingredients in hair care products. It can cause a red, itchy, scaly scalp.

Anyone can get dandruff, but there are a few factors that raise your risk:

  • Age: Dandruff tends to begin during young adulthood, and continues through middle age in many cases. Older adults can still get dandruff, though, and it’s a lifelong issue for some.
  • Gender: More men than women have dandruff, leading researchers to theorize that male hormones may play some role.
  • Oily hair and scalp: Malassezia feeds on oils in the scalp, so excessively oily skin and hair raises dandruff risk.
  • Certain illnesses: Doctors aren’t sure why, but adults with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. The same goes for people with HIV or compromised immune systems.

Treatment and Risk Reduction

Dandruff can generally be controlled, although there are cases where it will take some trial and error to determine the proper treatment. Shampoos are some of the first lines of defense—daily cleansing with these can reduce oiliness and skin cell buildup. Shampoos are separated up based on the type of medication they contain.

It may take some experimentation to find the right shampoo for you. If any products you use start to irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction, stop using them right away.

In most cases, people can begin using these shampoos daily or every other day and then scale back to two or three times a week as needed. Some people find success alternating between shampoos, as certain types may lose their effectiveness if used solely. If none of the options you find have success, speak to your doctor or dermatologist about prescription shampoos or other treatments.

On top of basic shampooing, there are a few steps you can take to lower your risk of developing dandruff:

  • Manage stress: Stress can trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms
  • Give your scalp some sun: Sun exposure can actually be good for dandruff. Don’t sunbathe so heavily that you risk UV damage or skin cancer, however, and always be safe and wear sunscreen.

If you have moderate to severe dandruff that isn’t responding to basic treatments, speak to your doctor about options.

As Utah County’s leading dermatology practice, Revere Health Dermatology provides the best in skin care for our patients.



“Dandruff.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Dandruff: Learn The Basics.” WebMD.


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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.