What is Dandruff?

White to yellowish Grey flakes, commonly seen over the scalp skin, are medically called dandruff.

It is characterized by small white colored oily flakes of dead skin that appear attached to hair or shed to lie over shoulders.

The condition is usually itchy. As you itch, more of the dead skin cells get peeled off from the scalp and become visible over the hair.

Dandruff are commoner in males than in females. It is postulated that the male hormones, that leads to more of oil production in the scalp, is linked to dandruff formation.

Also, people who have oily skin are more prone to getting dandruff. The reason behind may be that the scalp fungus, that feed on scalp oil, flourish more on oily scalp.

Causes Leading to Dandruff


This is the commonest cause. During winter months, dryness in the air is more. Also, indoor heating is required. The skin of our body becomes dry and itchy. These factors cause peeling off of the outer layer of the skin leading to dandruff problem.

The problem tends to be less during rainy months and summers.

There is an urge to scratch it. Dead skin cells appears as flakes over the scalp.

This type of dandruff is not very oily to look at. The condition is itchy. Other parts of the body, including arms and legs, also appear dry and itchy.

The condition can be relieved easily by applying an emollient over the dry parts.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Sometimes, white or yellowish scales are seen over the scalp which are quite oily to look at. This may be seborrheic dermatitis.

Scalp skin is red and itchy. This condition is basically caused due to irritation of the skin against some stimuli. Inflammatory reaction is produced, which gives rise to oily dandruff.

Apart from the scalp, this may be seen over the eyebrows, armpit, behind the ears or the groin area.

Infrequent washing of the scalp

Skin over the scalp sheds on a regular basis. Also, it produces plenty of oily secretions for lubrication. The dead cells and excess secretions need to be washed away on a daily basis.

If not washed, dead cells and oil build up over the scalp and may appear as dandruff.

In such cases, the underlying scalp skin is not irritated and hence not red in color.

Frequent shampooing of the scalp

Too frequent washing of the scalp skin may make it dry and lead to shedding of the skin cells there. This appears as dry dandruff.

Skin Problems

Certain chronic inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis or eczema, may present with rough dry skin flakes over the scalp, that appears as dandruff.

You need to see a dermatologist to get this diagnosed.

Fungal infection

There are certain fungus that live over the scalp. In most individuals, the growth of the fungus is contained and there is no irritation to the scalp.

However, in some individuals, the fungus grows uninhibited and it irritates the scalp to make it look red. It causes the scalp to shed off more dead cells that appear as flaky dandruff.

Contact Dermatitis

This is an allergic condition where the scalp skin is allergic to some hair product being used. It may be your shampoo, styler, conditioner and so on.

The skin of the scalp is irritated and reacts by becoming red. The scalp skin may or may not be painful.

Managing  Dandruff

  • Daily cleaning of the scalp with a gentle cleanser is a general remedy for most cases of dandruff. This washes away excess oil and dead cells and reduces the chances of getting dandruff.
  • Zinc pyrithione shampoos (like head and shoulders)-  This chemical has mild anti bacterial and anti fungal action. Using this reduces the scalp fungus and may arrest dandruff in cases where it is caused by excess fungal growth. This shampoo also works in cases of seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Shampoos containing salicylic acid– This chemical acts as a scrub for the scalp. It is recommended that you use a conditioner after using this shampoo, as it may render the scalp dry.
  • Coal tar shampoos (neutrogena T) Coal tar retards the cycling of cells over the scalp, that is, the pace at which the cells are replaced. It is hence effective in cases of seborrheic dermatitis or psoariasis, where dead skin cells are repeatedly produced over the scalp.
  • Selenium sulfide shampoos- They reduce scalp fungus as well as retard the rate at which scalp cells are shed off. It is seen to be effective in most cases of dandruff.

Ketokonazol (Nizoral)- This is a broad spectrum anti fungal agent. It may be used when the primary cause of dandruff is fungal.

For a healthy scalp skin and hair, take plenty of simple proteins in your diet. Enrich your diet  with vitamin B, and essential minerals like, Zinc and iron. Staying in the sun for some time makes the skin healthier and problem free.