If your scalp is itching and you are noticing flakes of skin in your hair, you may be suffering from dandruff. It’s not a serious or contagious condition. However, its causes and treatments may not be quite as obvious as you think. Before you reach for an over the counter dandruff shampoo, read this article to make sure you’re not making your dandruff worse.
Causes of Dandruff
Skin is constantly being shed from your scalp but when it is excessive and bothersome it is called dandruff.
Dandruff is commonly caused by:
- Dry skin: Using a shampoo without following up with a quality conditioner can dry your scalp and lead to dry, flaky skin. It is similar to using low-quality soap on your skin without using a moisturizer or lotion afterward. Dry skin cracks, itches, and flakes more easily than skin that is properly moisturized and protected.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: One of the most frequent causes of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis literally means irritation of sebaceous (oil secreting) glands which causes red, greasy patches covered in white or yellow scaly skin. It can affect the scalp as well as the T zone of the face.
- Microorganisms: Malassezia is a fungal yeast that lives on most adults’ scalps and feeds off of dead skin and oils. For some, it can be an annoying irritant and cause overgrowth of skin cells leading to dandruff.
- Infrequent shampooing: If you are not washing your hair regularly enough, oils and dead skin cells can build up on your scalp and result in dandruff by attracting microorganisms that feed off of oils like Applying oily substances (such as certain hair products) can also make dandruff worse.
How to Get Rid of Flakes
There are a variety of anti-dandruff shampoos on the market. Regardless of their differing ingredients, their primary function is to clean the hair and scalp. Beyond this, each product contains one or a combination of ingredients designed specifically to counteract the effects of itching and flaking caused by dandruff. Here is a rundown of some effective active ingredients that you should look for in anti-dandruff treatments.
- Ketoconazole (HairOmega® Shampoo): Ketoconazole is an anti-fungal medication that also has anti-inflammatory characteristics. It can be used to treat scaly skin or fungal conditions such as ringworm. It may be applied as a topical cream or a medicated shampoo. If you are using ketoconazole shampoo to treat dandruff, then you should notice some improvement within the first 2-4 weeks. When used in conjunction with a DHT blocker and minoxidil, it can improve hair regrowth more than using the other products alone.
- Zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders Shampoo): Zinc pyrithione is a combination of zinc and the anti-fungal substance pyrithione. It is the most commonly used treatment for dandruff and may also be used to treat seborrheic dermatitis. You should notice some improvement within 2-3 weeks.
- Selenium Sulfide (Selesen Blue Shampoo): Selenium Sulfide is another antifungal agent used to treat seborrheic dermatitis and ringworm. When used twice weekly, selenium sulfide should improve these scalp conditions within two weeks. Selsun Blue shampoo contains selenium sulfide.
- Tea Tree Oil (HairOmega® Shampoo): Tea tree oil is a natural extract derived from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Shampoos containing essential tea tree oil can improve an itchy and flaky scalp within 2-3 weeks.
- Coal Tar (Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo): Coal Tar shampoo is used to treat dandruff and other scalp conditions which cause scaliness and itchiness. It encourages the scalp to shed dead skin cells, thus decreasing dandruff. Coal tar can have some side effects including burning or stinging, itching or discoloration of light hair. Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo is an example of a coal tar shampoo.
- Topical Steroids: In some circumstances, your doctor may prescribe topical steroids for severe dandruff. These creams are relatively mild as should be applied as directed by your doctor. It is usually applied daily and depending on the severity of your dermatitis, you should see results in 2-6 weeks.
Changing your Daily Habits to Prevent Dandruff
You will need to change your daily hair care routine to prevent dandruff from returning. Here are some tips to keep it at bay.
- Brush effectively: Proper brushing helps remove dead skin cells from the scalp. It also stimulates circulation, increasing the supply of blood and nutrients to the scalp and hair. Choose a good quality hair brush or use a wide-tooth comb and use twice daily.
- Use a medicated Shampoo: Anti-fungal shampoos, such as those containing selenium sulfide and ketoconazole, should be left on for five to ten minutes before rinsing off. Medicated shampoos can be used daily or at least two or three times per week until dandruff has cleared. To prevent dandruff from recurring, you can continue to use medicated shampoo once a week. There have been no reports of adverse effects from using medicated shampoos. In a few cases, individuals have reported mild irritation or burning sensation. Others have reported dryness of the hair. This can easily be compensated for with a good quality conditioner.You should use a conditioner every time after shampooing.
- Don’t scratch: Though you may be tempted to scratch, avoid it. Scratching with your nails or a brush can worsen the inflammation of your scalp and increase dandruff.
- Don’t skip SPF: Many people apply sun protection factor cream to their skin but forget about their scalp, which is equally prone to damage from the sun’s UVA rays. If you’re going to the beach, apply a leave-in conditioner with SPF beforehand.
- Don’t leave hair wet: Though you may think you are saving time by not drying your hair after a shower, not only is wet hair more susceptible to damage, it also encourages sweat to accumulate on your scalp while it is drying. This can promote itching and flaking. You should use a blow-drier on a low setting and hold it 6 inches away from your hair.
You don’t have to live with dandruff. Treat it straight away with a medicated shampoo. Shampoo and condition to avoid the build-up of oil and dead skin cells on your scalp, and avoid using products that will make your hair and scalp oilier. Before buying a shampoo or conditioner, check the ingredients on the labels to make sure they do not contain any harsh chemicals. When shampooing, don’t forget to massage the scalp to clean it and improve circulation.
When Flaking and Itching Isn’t Dandruff
If you have tried using a medicated shampoo for a week or two and you are not noticing any improvement, the culprit may not be dandruff. Sometimes harsh chemicals can dry out the scalp and cause flaking. If you think this might be the problem, you should use a gentle shampoo and conditioner, such as HairOmega® Shampoos and Conditioners. These products are free from harmful chemicals such as parabens. If this still doesn’t solve your problem, you may be suffering from psoriasis or skin inflammation. In this case, you will need to see a dermatologist who will be able to identify the condition and prescribe an appropriate treatment.