What causes it?

Dandruff is an overabundance of a natural process that occurs in everyone. The skin cells covering our bodies are constantly being replaced by new skin cells. When old skin cells die, they dry up and fall away. Generally, this process is usually slow enough and unseen, but dandruff occurs when the process is accelerated.

In most people, the skin over the entire scalp replaces itself approximately once a month and the process remains invisible as long as you wash your hair and scalp regularly. However, in some people, the replacement of old skin cells speeds up, making it more difficult to keep up with the pace. When the process accelerates to every 10-15 days, visible dandruff occurs. If it accelerates further (every five days or less), severe dandruff results.

Does seborrhoeic dermatitis affect dandruff?

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a skin condition that causes an itchy, scaly rash and accelerates the process of shedding and replacing dead skin cells. It may be responsible for more severe cases of dandruff. It is commonly found on the scalp, although it can also affect the eyebrows, eyelids, nose, and even appear around the ears or on the chest. The condition may be caused by Pityrosporum ovale, a naturally occurring, yeast-like organism that is present in all human skin, but, when, overabundant, can accelerate the rate at which old skin cells are shed and replaced.

Can dandruff be treated?

Dandruff cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. The first step is to increase the rate at which dead skin cells are removed from the scalp. In mild cases of dandruff, this can be accomplished by washing your hair more frequently - for example, every day rather than every two or three days.

In moderate and in some more severe cases, this increased frequency of shampooing should be combined with the use of medicated, over-the-counter dandruff shampoos.

How do over-the-counter medicated shampoos work?

Anti-dandruff shampoos help control dandruff by:

What if over-the-counter products don't work?

If your dandruff is severe and/or seborrhoeic dermatitis has affected other areas of your body in addition to the scalp, you should see your doctor. Your condition will be evaluated and you may need a prescription for one of a number of stronger treatments, which include anti-dandruff shampoos, salicylic acid, coal tar or topical steroid preparations (applied to the skin). In severe cases, you may need to be referred to a dermatologist.

What can I do?

Back to top of page