What causes dandruff and how to get rid of it

By Mosh

30 June 2019

minute read

Man with his arm on his shoulder

Like most blokes, you’ve probably given your head a good scratch only to find a bunch of flakes on your finger tips. Or you passed a mirror and spotted some unsightly white dust on your shoulders.

Dandruff is an extremely common condition. It affects up to 50% of all people! Even though most men experience dandruff at some point during their life, it’s still a humiliating problem. No one wants to date, promote, or hang out with the guy who sheds flakes wherever he goes.

What is dandruff? What causes it? How do you get rid of it? We explain everything in this article.

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a chronic scalp condition that causes unsightly flakes to appear and fall off the head. It’s not chronic or serious. The scalp often itches when the flakes break away from the skin. Some sufferers experience tenderness or slight redness on the scalp.

Dandruff isn’t related to hygiene. It’s possible to struggle with dandruff even though you are grooming yourself properly every day. That said, you can treat your own dandruff by spending more time washing your scalp and brushing your hair.

What Causes Dandruff?

Man with arm on back

You would think dandruff is one of those conditions we know well, but that isn’t the case. We don’t know the exact causes of dandruff.

The prevailing theory is that dandruff is linked to hormone production. This would explain why some people struggle with dandruff while others don’t, even when they live and work in the same conditions. Dandruff is also bad for some people during puberty when hormones are elevated and changing.

Age. You’re more likely to suffer from dandruff during your adolescence through middle age years. However, lots of people deal with it their whole life. Some babies even get it!

Diet. People with diets that lack B vitamins, healthy fats, and zinc are more likely to suffer from dandruff.

Mental and emotional stress. Your stress levels can play a role in a number of skin conditions, like acne and dandruff.

Infrequent hair brushing. Brushing your hair helps shed skin and move air across your scalp. If you don’t brush enough for your length and thickness of hair, the oil will build up and cells won’t break free.

Seborrheic dermatitis. This is a skin condition that causes rough and scaly skin on the scalp. The skin is usually greasy and red. It can also affect your eyebrows, the backs of your ears, and the sides of your nose. People who suffer from this are likely to deal with dandruff too.

Malassezia (fungus). Seborrheic dermatitis is sometimes linked with Malassezia, a fungus that lives on the scalp and eats the oils that are secreted by hair follicles. It’s not usually a big deal, but the fungus becomes overactive in some people and irritates the scalp. This forces the scalp to produce extra skin cells that die off and mix with scalp oil, forming dandruff. Malasezzia is considered normal skin flora, meaning it is normal to have it on the skin and scalp. However, some genetically-predisposed individuals react poorly to it resulting in inflammation and flaking.  

Certain medical conditions. Dandruff is common in people with HIV and Parkinson’s disease, as well as other neurological conditions. You’re also more likely to experience dandruff if you’ve had a heart attack or a stroke at some point in your life.

Dry and itchy skin. People with dry skin are more likely to suffer from dandruff. Dry skin is worse in the cold air, overheated rooms, and after using any soaps and skin products that dry out the skin. Dandruff flakes from dry skin tend to be smaller and more brittle.

Yeast. If you’re sensitive to yeast, you have a higher chance of experiencing dandruff. Yeast sensitivity can be especially bad during colder months because there’s less ultraviolet-A (UVA) light to counteract the yeast. (This isn’t much of an issue in Australia, but we didn’t want to leave it out.)

Skin conditions. Eczema, psoriasis, and ringworm are common skin disorders that increase your chances of dandruff.

Personal care products. It’s not uncommon for personal care products like soaps and shampoos to make your scalp red, itchy, and inflamed. These irritations can trigger dandruff.

While dandruff is certainly annoying and unsightly, it doesn’t come with any complications. It’s usually not necessary to consult a doctor unless you think the dandruff is unusually bad or painful.

If you notice blood in the flakes or on your scalp, swelling, or signs of eczema, psoriasis, or another type of skin condition, speak to your GP. These signs may indicate a deeper medical problem.

How Do You Treat Dandruff?

Hair being shampooed

There’s really no way to know what’s causing your dandruff. This is one of those conditions you have to treat to learn what causes it.

Fortunately, you don’t need to see a doctor. Most cases of dandruff can be treated at home. Here are some strategies to help.

1. Find Ways to Reduce Your Stress

Prolonged, chronic stress or sudden periods of traumatic stress can trigger dandruff in some people. If you notice that your dandruff coincides with stress, take steps to eliminate some stress in your life. This is especially important if you think stress plays a role in your hair loss as well.

2. Get More Sunlight

Sunlight can dry some of the oil on your scalp that contributes to dandruff. It also forces your skin to produce vitamin D, which is important for overall skin health. While the sun can reduce inflammation in the skin by local immunosuppressive effects, it also causes skin cancer and premature aging. That means wrinkles and spots! There are many other effective ways to treat dandruff that do not harm your skin.such as Vitamin D supplements (although have a chat to your doctor or a Mosh doctor online to see if this is suitable for you). 

3. Shampoo Your Hair More Often

Shampooing your hair will strip away a lot of the oil from your hair and scalp. You don't have to use a harsh shampoo, but you should use a mild shampoo more often.

Also, consider switching to a shampoo designed to treat dandruff. You can find plenty of over-the-counter varieties. Shampoos can only treat dandruff, so be wary of any products that claim they can cure it.

Here are some ingredients to look for in a dandruff treatment shampoo. Make sure whichever product you choose contains at least one of these.

  • Selenium sulfide - Reduces the production of natural oils by scalp glands. It is a very effective dandruff treatment.
  • Ketoconazole - A powerful antifungal that can be used at any age.
  • Salicylic acids - These help the scalp shed skin cells, but they don’t slow down the production of skin cells. You’ll find these in scalp scrubs. Be careful, however, because some acids can dry your scalp so much that flaking will get worse.
  • Coal tar - A natural antifungal, but it’s carcinogenic in high does (so don’t use it every day) and may make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight.
  • Zinc pyrithione - Slows the growth of yeast.
  • Tea-tree oil - This comes from the Australian Tea Tree. It’s been used throughout history as an antifungal, though there’s little scientific evidence to support its use.

For best results, we recommend speaking with one of our doctors (free). We offer a shampoo that's tailored to meet your needs. It can help with dandruff and even hair loss. Start by taking this short quiz.

Whatever you use, make sure to follow the product’s specific instructions. Some products are supposed to be left on for a few minutes, while others are supposed to be rinsed off right away.

Before you use a dandruff treatment or antifungal shampoo, make sure to remove any crusty or scaly patches on the scalp. These groups of dead skin and dried oil will prevent the shampoo from reaching the scalp.

4. Use Baking Soda

Baking soda is an exfoliant that’s useful for removing dead skin cells and reducing itchiness. It also has antifungal properties that might help if your dandruff is caused by fungus. Baking soda can inhibit 79% of different fungal growths that cause skin infections.

5. Consume More Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in skin health. They manage oil production and hydration while promoting wound healing. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids can cause a number of symptoms, like dry skin and hair that lead to dandruff. You can find them in sardines, walnuts, salmon, trout, mackerel, kale, bread, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Or you can just take a supplement.

6. Add Aspirin to Your Shampoo

Aspirin contains salicylic acid, one of the primary ingredients in dandruff shampoos. Crush two or three aspirin tablets into a fine powder and mix it into your shampoo. Leave the mixture in your hair for two minutes before rinsing well.

The Bottom Line

Dandruff isn't a serious condition, but it can be remarkably embarrassing. Don't stress about dandruff because many people get it and you'll eventually overcome it, but use the steps we outlined above to treat it right away.

P.S. Mosh doesn't just provide hair loss treatment programs; we also facilitate access to online sexual health treatment programs. Click to book a sexual health consultation with a doctor, get started today.

Tags: hair