Dandruff: Causes and Treatment

Find out what causes dandruff and how to manage it with anti-dandruff treatments and some common home remedies.

Dandruff is a chronic scalp condition marked by itching and an excessive flaking of the scalp. While not serious, it can be an embarrassing and nagging cosmetic problem that affects your self-esteem.

With the proper anti-dandruff treatment, the condition can be controlled and managed effectively.

For mild cases of dandruff, daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser is all that is needed. For stubborn dandruff, stronger medicated shampoos can be used. In more serious cases, prescription shampoos may be necessary.

What Causes Dandruff

Malassezia, a yeast-like fungus normally present on the scalp, can cause irritation and lead to a large number of dead skin cells clumping together with oil on the hair and scalp, appearing as white flakes we know as dandruff.

Other factors that may cause dandruff include:
Increased oil production
Hormonal fluctuations
Stress; illness or suppressed immune system
Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease
Infrequent shampooing

Risk Factors

Age. Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age. For some people, it can be a lifelong problem.
Sex. Dandruff is more common in men. In addition to hormonal effects of the male hormone testosterone on the oil-producing glands, men also have larger sebaceous glands that produce sebum which makes the scalp oily.
Oily hair and scalp. Malassezia thrives on oily scalp, making those with excessively oily skin and hair more prone to dandruff.
People with some diseases and afflictions such as Parkinson's disease, stroke or heart attacks and those with compromised immune system are more susceptible to developing dandruff.


The signs and symptoms of dandruff include:
White, oily-looking flakes of dead skin seen on hair and shoulders
Itchy, scaly scalp

Home Remedies for Dandruff and Itchy Scalp

Common home remedies mostly work by gently reducing scalp inflammation to calm itchiness and persistent peeling. Remedies containing vinegar or crushed aspirin create a mildly acidic environment, which inhibits the growth of skin-irritating yeast on the scalp.

Apply these ingredients to the scalp as gentle home treatments:
Coconut oil
Apple cider vinegar, half diluted with water
Aspirin, crushed and mixed into a paste with water
Aloe vera
Tea tree oil

Stubborn Dandruff and Malassezia Scalp Treatments

For dandruff cases that are resistant to treatment with regular shampoos and home remedies, try medicated anti-dandruff treatment shampoos. Shampoo daily and leave the shampoo on for at least five minutes to allow the ingredients time to work.

A prescription-strength shampoo or more aggressive anti-dandruff treatment with a steroid lotion may be needed for more severe cases.

These include:
Zinc pyrithione shampoos containing the antibacterial and antifungal agent zinc pyrithione
Tar-based shampoos contain coal tar, which is especially suitable for those with seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis
Selenium sulfide shampoos help prevent cell turnover and is effective as malassezia scalp treatment
Ketoconazole shampoos contain ketoconazole which is a broad-spectrum antifungal agent


Dandruff may be prevented or controlled by making some simple lifestyle changes:
Learn to deal with stress effectively. Stress can trigger or exacerbate dandruff.
Shampoo regularly if you tend to have an oily scalp.
Avoid excessive use of styling products, such as hair sprays, styling gels, mousses and hair waxes, which can lead to a build up of oil on your hair and scalp, predisposing you to dandruff.
Maintain a healthy diet that includes zinc, B vitamins and essential fatty acids, which may help prevent dandruff.

Dandruff: Causes and Treatment

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