Dandruff is a common chronic scalp condition marked by itching and flaking of the skin on your scalp. Although dandruff isn't contagious and is rarely serious, it can be embarrassing and sometimes difficult to treat. The good news is that dandruff usually can be controlled.
Symptoms:For most teens and adults, dandruff symptoms are easy to spot: white, oily looking flakes of dead skin that dot your hair and shoulders, and an itchy, scaling scalp. The condition may worsen during the fall and winter, when indoor heating can contribute to dry skin, and improve during the summer.
A type of dandruff called cradle cap can affect babies. This disorder, which causes a scaling, crusty scalp, is most common in newborns, but it can occur anytime during infancy. Although it can be alarming for parents, cradle cap isn't dangerous and usually clears up on its own by the time a baby is a year old.
Causes:Dandruff can have several causes, including:
- Dry skin. Simple dry skin — the kind you get during winter when the air is cold and rooms are overheated — is the most common cause of itchy, flaking dandruff.
- Irritated, oily skin (seborrheic dermatitis). This condition, one of the most frequent causes of dandruff, is marked by red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. Seborrheic dermatitis may affect not only your scalp, but also other areas rich in oil glands, such as your eyebrows, the sides of your nose and the backs of your ears, your breastbone, your groin area, and sometimes your armpits.
- Not shampooing often enough. If you don't regularly wash your hair, oils and skin cells from your scalp can build up, causing dandruff.
- Psoriasis. This skin disorder causes an accumulation of dead skin cells that form thick, silvery scales. Psoriasis commonly occurs on your knees, elbows and trunk, but it can also affect your scalp.
- Eczema. If you have eczema anywhere on your body, it could also be on your scalp, possibly leading to the development of dandruff.
- Sensitivity to hair care products (contact dermatitis). Sometimes sensitivities to certain ingredients in hair care products or hair dyes, especially paraphenylene diamine (PPD), can cause a red, itchy, scaling scalp. Shampooing too often or using too many styling products also may irritate your scalp, causing dandruff.
- A yeast-like fungus (malassezia). Malassezia lives on the scalps of most healthy adults without causing problems. But sometimes it grows out of control, feeding on the oils secreted by your hair follicles. This can irritate the skin on your scalp and cause more skin cells to grow. The extra skin cells die and fall off, clumping with oil from your hair and scalp, making them appear white and flaky in your hair or on your clothes. Most often this eruption is identical to or closely resembles seborrheic dermatitis.
- Age. Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age. That doesn't mean older adults don't get dandruff. However, for some people, the problem can be lifelong.
- Being male. Because more men have dandruff, some researchers think male hormones may play a role in dandruff. Men also have larger oil-producing glands on their scalps, which can contribute to dandruff.
- Oily hair and scalp. Malassezia feeds on oils in your scalp. For that reason, having excessively oily skin and hair makes you more prone to dandruff.
- Poor diet. If your diet lacks foods high in zinc, B vitamins or certain types of fats, you may be more likely to have dandruff.
- Certain illnesses. For reasons that aren't clear, adults with neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. So are people recovering from stressful conditions, particularly heart attack and stroke, and those with compromised immune systems.
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