Dandruff Causes and Best Solutions

Dandruff is a condition that makes flakes of skin appear on your scalp. You're not alone if you're worried or embarrassed by dandruff. Those white flakes so symbolic on shoulders can affect all ages, including teens as well as adults.

If you have sensitive skin, you're more likely to develop dandruff. The scalp is not the only area where dandruff shows up. Besides your scalp, dandruff may affect any area that makes the oily substance called sebum, like your face and upper torso. Continue reading to learn more about dandruff causes and treatments, as well as how to prevent dandruff in the first place.

What Causes Your Dandruff?

When your scalp gets irritated, cell turnover increases, causing immature cells to come to the surface of your scalp, resulting in flakes called dandruff. Here are some specific reasons why you get dandruff:

  • Dry skin is the most common cause of dandruff. If you have dandruff because of dry skin, the flakes will be smaller and less oily. The white scaly patches will be scattered in the hair-bearing areas of your scalp.

  • Irritated, oily skin caused by overactive oil glands is a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis. Your scalp will be red and greasy with flaky white or yellow scales. The difference between seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff is that inflammation is present with seborrhoeic dermatitis. These white to yellow greasy scales can form on the scalp, ears, and face. In scalp of babies, it's called "cradle cap".

  • Build up of oils and skin cells due to not washing your hair regularly can be a reason why you get dandruff.

  • Psoriases may also be accompanied with dandruff. Psoriasis usually affects elbows, knees, palms, scalp or the groin area. Although dandruff and psoriasis may look similar, they're different skin conditions. They both share signs of red, scaly skin, but with psoriasis the scales are thicker and drier. With psoriasis, your scalp may itch and be sore, but with dandruff it may only itch.

  • Contact dermatitis caused by sensitivity to hair care products that irritate your scalp can cause itchy, red, scaly signs of dandruff.

  • Stress can make dandruff worse, specially if you think there's nothing you can do to stop it.

  • A fungus known as malassezia that is normal on most adult scalp, can cause irritation and lead to dandruff if their numbers increase. 

Why You Have Dandruff

It's estimated over 50% of the population complain of dandruff, but the good news is that although it may be difficult to treat, it can be managed. It's good to find out why you have dandruff to determine the best treatment for you. Some of the reasons why you may be at higher risk to get dandruff include:

  • Your age may have something to do with why you have dandruff. Puberty to middle age are the group that are most at risk. Older adults may get dandruff as well, but the risk of getting it is less.

  • More men tend to get dandruff than women. Male hormones may play a role and the fact that men have larger oil-producing glands in their scalp.

  • What you eat or don't eat affects your whole body. If you don't get enough zinc, B vitamins or certain types of fats, you may be at more risk of getting dandruff.

  • Certain chronic illness, such as Parkinson's disease, HIV infection, heart attack, stroke and anyone with a weak or compromised immune system is at a higher risk for dandruff.

Treating Dandruff with Medicated Shampoos and Drugs

How well you can control your dandruff problem may depend on how mild or stubborn the condition is. The following are dandruff treatment shampoos with active ingredients that are often recommended:
  • Zinc pyrithione is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It reduces the microbe on your scalp that causes dandruff.
  • Tar-based shampoos contain a by-product of coal derived during the manufacturing process. It helps dandruff by slowing down the skin cell turnover on your scalp.
  • Salicylic acid is often recommended to help eliminate scales. But be warned salicylic acid can lead to dry scalp and is a known irritant to those with sensitive skin.
  • Ketoconazole is an antifungal drug with broad-spectrum activity, which means it can stop different types of microbes.
  • For more stubborn dandruff, you may need shampoo or steroid ointments prescribed by your doctor.

Natural Remedies and Shampoo Solutions for Dandruff

Many people opt for natural remedies instead of drugs for dandruff solutions. The following are some that you can consider:

  • Tea tree oil has natural antifungal properties. It works best if the cause of your dandruff is fungal. One Australian study found tea tree oil treatment to be effective when 5% was added to your shampoo and used with each washing.

  • Eucalyptus also has antifungal as well as antimicrobial properties. Dilute it with your shampoo or conditioner.

  • Coconut oil has been reported to fight dandruff effectively. Add it to shampoo and use regularly if you have dry scalp.

  • Emu oil has anti-inflammatory properties and may be helpful as it's added to your conditioner, since it helps with dry scalp.

How to Prevent Dandruff

To help reduce the risk of dandruff, step up on the following:

  • Wash your hair regularly with a gentle non-irritating shampoo that is free of sulfates. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a harsh detergent found in most shampoos that tends to dry and irritate your scalp.

  • Take supplements of zinc, B vitamins, and essential fatty acids.

  • Avoid hair products that add build-up to your hair, such as hair sprays, mousses and hair waxes.

  • If you have dry scalp, add emu oil to your conditioner, whether you have dandruff or not.


Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Saunders Elsevier; 2012.

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2002 Dec; 47(6); 852-5

Medicated shampoos for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis [J Drugs Dermatol. 2008]

Read Sensitive Skin Care Articles


When I have wake up my head swelling alot

Waseem khan July 11, 2023

This post is very amazing because I’ve learnt hot to prevent dandruff and what the causes of dandruff..!!

Faith and Patience June 17, 2021

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