Why do I have dandruff?

What causes dandruff and how to get rid of it


Spotted little white or grey flecks in your hair or on your shoulders?


Congratulations, it sounds like you have dandruff! Dandruff is a harmless but annoying condition, but luckily for you, it’s also really simple to manage.


Let’s have a look at what dandruff is, why you’ve got it in the first place, and what you can do to get it out of your hair!



What is Dandruff?


Dandruff is a common problem that causes little white or grey flakes of skin to fall into your hair and onto your shoulders.


Dandruff is usually harmless, but it can be noticeable, especially if you have darker hair, and some people can find it embarrassing.


You can also find that your scalp is itchy when you have dandruff, and when you scratch that itch you only release more of those annoying little skin flakes into your hair - you just can’t win!


If your dandruff is severe it can make your scalp red, swollen, and very itchy, causing a lot of discomfort alongside the flaky scalp.




Where can I get dandruff?


Dandruff usually appears on the scalp, although dry skin can happen anywhere on the body.


You may notice the dandruff flakes before you notice the difference in your scalp, although the itching can be another dead giveaway.


With that being said, your scalp isn’t the only place where you can experience dandruff, your beard and eyebrows can both get it too!


Beard dandruff


If you have a beautiful beard that you’re justly proud of growing out and caring for, you may be disappointed to learn that beard dandruff is a thing.


Unfortunately, your face can often get dry skin and dry skin means dandruff, so no beard is safe from those annoying flakes.



Eyebrow Dandruff


Your eyebrows are another common place where you can get dandruff, although it’s more common in babies than in adults.


If you get dry skin around your eyebrows then the flakes of skin can stick in your eyebrow hairs and cause dandruff there too.




What is the cause of dandruff?


Dandruff has a lot of different causes, which is why some dandruff treatments may work better for you than others.


If you have dandruff then it usually means that you’re suffering from dry, flaky skin on your scalp that’s getting caught up in your hair and falling onto your shoulders as it sheds.


It’s usually harmless and easily treated, but to get the best treatment for you you’ll want to know what’s causing your dandruff in the first place.


Let’s take a look at the most common causes of dandruff, what they are, and why they’re causing those annoying little flakes in your hair...


Seborrheic Dermatitis


Seborrheic dermatitis is one of the most common causes of dandruff, and it shows up in naturally oily areas of your skin, like your scalp or face.


When you have seborrheic dermatitis on your scalp or eyes it can create red, scaly or flaky patches that create dandruff in your hair, beard, or eyebrows.


The area can feel itchy and sore, but you should try not to scratch it as this can sometimes break the skin and lead to infection.





Ringworm, which is also known as tinea capitis, is a fungal infection that actually doesn’t involve any worms at all.


When you have ringworm, you may notice small, ring-shaped patches of scaly, itchy, or swollen skin which can appear anywhere on the body.


If your ringworm infection spreads to your scalp, then this can cause dandruff or even some hair loss if it’s left untreated.




Eczema is a common dry skin condition that causes flare-ups of itchy, dry, inflamed skin.


Eczema can appear in patches anywhere on the body, including the scalp, so this can cause dandruff in your hair, beard, or eyebrows, depending on where your eczema is.


Eczema is particularly common in children, who will often grow out of it as they get older, but it can appear in adults too, so don’t be surprised if it shows up when you get older.




Contact dermatitis


Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that’s caused by contact with a substance that irritates your skin, making it dry and flaky.


For example, you may have a flare-up of contact dermatitis after using a soap, shampoo or other hair care product that irritates your skin, leading to dandruff.




Psoriasis is a dry skin condition that causes areas of scaly, flaky, red, and sore skin.


The scalp is one of the most common areas where people experience psoriasis, and when you’re having a flare-up the flaky skin can cause dandruff.



How can I get rid of dandruff?


The best way to get rid of dandruff is to use an anti-dandruff shampoo, which you can pick up in the supermarket or from a pharmacy.


You use these shampoos just like any other shampoo, massaging it into the scalp where the active ingredients can get to work treating your dandruff.


When you’re shopping for an anti-dandruff shampoo, look for one that contains an active ingredient with antibacterial and antifungal properties, such as zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, and ketoconazole.


These shampoos will target the natural yeasts or bacteria that cause your dandruff and you should see an improvement after about a month, if not sooner.


If your dandruff is in your beard or eyebrows, then you can often use the shampoo to treat them too, but we’d recommend asking your doctor or pharmacist before doing this, as getting the shampoo in your eyes or mouth may be problematic.




Are there any natural remedies for dandruff?


If you want to reduce your dandruff then a good place to start is to de-stress.


Stress can make your dandruff worse, so make sure you take some time to relax and find an outlet for your stress.


Relaxing in the sunshine can help, as the UV rays can help to ease your dandruff, but make sure that you’re protecting your skin properly in the sun.


You may also want to avoid using too many hair care products, as they can build up on the scalp and cause irritation that leads to dandruff.



Can my baby get dandruff?


Babies often get a type of dandruff called cradle cap, which appears on their scalp and sometimes in their eyebrows or nappy area.


Cradle cap is caused by seborrheic dermatitis and causes greasy yellow crusts to appear on their skin.


Cradle cap won’t bother your kiddo and it will normally clear up by itself after a few months, but in the meantime, you can try to soften and clear away the crusts.


You can soften the crusts by applying baby oil or olive oil and gently rubbing it in. You can also leave the oil on their scalp overnight and then wash it away with a baby shampoo the next morning.


Once the crusts have softened you can gently loosen them and brush them away with a soft hairbrush.



When should I see a doctor?


You will usually be able to manage your dandruff yourself or with over the counter dandruff remedies from your pharmacist.


However, if your dandruff is severe then you may need to see a doctor so they can determine the cause of your dandruff and recommend an effective treatment.


We recommend going to your doctor if your anti-dandruff shampoo hasn’t worked to clear your dandruff after a month.


You should also see a doctor if your dandruff is very bad or if your scalp is red, swollen, or very itchy.




So that’s everything you need to know about your dandruff and where you can start to get rid of it.


If you’ve still got questions, remember to speak to your doctor or use our Ask a Pharmacist feature, where our pharmacy team can send you some advice quickly and discretely without having to make the trip to your local pharmacy.


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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