How to deal with dandruff

Suffering from little flakes of skin snow on your shoulders? Here are the myth-busting ways to treat dandruff.

Bouts of dandruff can be distressing, not to mention itchy and uncomfortable.

But what causes a flaky scalp, and how do you get rid of it?

What is dandruff?

Dandruff (pityriasis capitis) is a common but harmless scalp disorder that affects half the population at some point in their life, says dermatologist Dr Samantha Eisman.

“It’s more common in men and appears to improve with age. It presents with flaking skin on the scalp and can be itchy,” says Dr Eisman, of Sinclair Dermatology.

“Shedding of scale is not contagious, but can be socially embarrassing and inconvenient, especially when wearing dark clothes.”

What causes dandruff?

The cause of dandruff is not entirely known, says Dr Eisman, but it has been shown that an overgrowth in a naturally occurring yeast called Malassezia may be present.

“The metabolites of this yeast may cause itch and flaking,” she says.

“Problems with the skin’s natural barrier, which may be genetically predetermined, may cause the skin to become dry and can contribute to dandruff.”

Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene – but is more obvious with infrequent hair washing.

Insufficient hair brushing may also contribute as brushing regularly can decrease the scale build up.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dandruff but the condition can be controlled when adopting the correct measures.

What exacerbates dandruff?

“The severity of dandruff can fluctuate with the seasons and is generally worse in dry winters with lower humidity, but excessive sunlight can worsen dandruff,” explains Dr Eisman.

“Certain cosmetic products can irritate the scalp and contribute to dandruff.”

How to treat dandruff

Regular washing with an anti-dandruff or medicated shampoo may be all that is required to relieve the itch and decrease the scale.

These shampoos contain products such as zinc omadine or zinc pyrithione, selenium sulphide, piroctone olamine, antifungals, salicylic acid or tar.

Frequency of shampooing will depend on the severity of the dandruff and how quickly it responds to treatment.

Some products should only be used weekly while others can be used daily, so check the instructions on the packet.

Most shampoos will need five to 10 minutes of contact time with the scalp, before they are rinsed off, to be of benefit.

Generally it takes five to 10 washes to clear up dandruff and then shampooing will need to be maintained over time.

You’ll be able to work out over time how frequently to use these shampoos to best control dandruff.

Shedding of scale is not contagious, but can be socially embarrassing and inconvenient, especially when wearing dark clothes.

It’s a good idea to rotate shampoos after time, as they can stop working as the scalp gets used to a particular brand.

If one brand does not work, try another.

If the smell of the medicated shampoo is off-putting, try using a regular shampoo or conditioner afterwards to mask the smell.

If you have blonde, grey or white hair, do not use tar-based products, as these will discolour your hair.

There are also several natural agents that have claims to have antidandruff properties (tea tree oil, green tea extract).

Most people with dandruff do not require medical attention but if severe and non-responsive to simple measures, see a health care provider.

Other conditions that can cause scalp scaling and itch, such as psoriasis, fungal infections, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis, need to be excluded.

These conditions may require prescription-based treatments.

Dandruff shampoo school

Here’s how to wash dandruff-prone hair properly:

  • First make sure the strands are sopping wet. Next, massage a dollop of shampoo into the root area with fingertips to cleanse the scalp thoroughly (don’t scrub, you’ll only irritate the area) and stimulate circulation.
  • Rinse in body temperature water (if it’s too hot it will also irritate your scalp) until the water is clear. Squeeze out excess moisture, then apply conditioner to the ends (where your hair is the driest) working up the mid-lengths to your roots. You can comb it through and leave for one to five minutes to allow the conditioner to seal and protect the hair shaft.
  • Finally, rinse with cool water to close the hair shaft and help control the greasies and the frizzies.

More flaky-scalp fix tips:

Lighten up: Dark hair colours can make dandruff look more obvious. Consider going a shade lighter or adding highlights.

Hide in style: Styling tricks can also help to make flakes less noticeable while you’re treating the problem. Avoid ruler-straight parts and flat-ironed or blunt-cut hair, instead try using Velcro rollers to add volume and obscure the scalp.

More on caring for your hair:

Written by Nikki Yazxhi.