You might remember that scene from the 80s classic, The Breakfast Club, where Allison passes the time in Saturday detention by drawing a snowy landscape and then decorating it by shaking the â€śsnowâ€ť from her hair. Many of us experience dandruff, or small pieces of dead skin from the scalp, especially in winter when the air grows drier. And since we likely don’t have a â€ścreativeâ€ť use for it like Allison’s character, it’s just a bit of a nuisance, showing up in our part and settling on our collars and shoulders like a conspicuous blizzard.
The good news is, like many pesky skin conditions, dandruff is harmless. But it can be itchy, not to mention embarrassing. In this blog, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of dandruff, as well as some effective treatments for minimizing those annoying flakes.
What Causes Dandruff?
Short answer: a lot of things! It’s perfectly normal to notice a small amount of flaking on a regular basis due to the natural skin cell shedding process. However, with dandruff, skin cells die off and shed at a faster rate. A normal skin cell shedding cycle takes around a month for healthy adults. Those who experience dandruff could have a cell turnover cycle that lasts as little as two days, creating a â€śsnowstormâ€ť of white flakes throughout the hair.
An immune system response could cause dandruff, says Dr. Joel Schlessinger.
Dry skin is the number one culprit for dandruff, which is why it’s so prevalent during the winter months. The skin over our entire body tends to grow dry, tight, flaky and irritated, and our scalp is no different. Other chronic dry skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, can cause dandruff, as well as a very common fungus called malassezia. Malassezia lives on most healthy scalps without issue, but doctors believe that in some patients, an immune system response to it can cause or exacerbate dandruff.
Over-shampooing can also dry out the scalp, as can sensitivity to certain hair products, mostly those that contain fragrance and other common irritants. Remember, dandruff is rarely a hygiene issue. It can certainly be unsightly, especially when we wear our favorite black sweater, but it doesn’t mean those who struggle with it are unclean in any way.
You should be able to treat dandruff at home without a prescription, but we do recommend staying away from natural home remedies. â€śBotanicalâ€ť or â€śnaturalâ€ť doesn’t always mean it’s good for your skin, and certain oils and extracts are known to be irritating. Instead, explore dermatologist-approved products with ingredients that are proven to be effective.
Discover anti-dandruff treatments recommended by Dr. Joel Schlessinger.
One such ingredient is coal tar, a substance that, for reasons that are largely unknown, helps reduce itchiness and inflammation, possibly by reducing the production of new cells. Though coal tar once had the reputation for being sticky and unpleasant to use, formulas have come a long way in the last few decades. Tarsum Professional Shampoo is a richly foaming gel that helps diminish flaking with 2% coal tar. It may be used as a shampoo or full strength treatment as needed.
Zinc pyrithione is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ingredient that is often used to treat mild to moderate eczema. It’s found in the majority of drug store anti-dandruff products, making it a common option for treating seasonal flakes. We like Derma Topix Zolidyne Shampoo, which contains 2% zinc pyrithione, plus the gentle exfoliator, citric acid, to relieve itch and eliminate dry skin.
You may have noticed salicylic acid listed as the active ingredient in your acne cleanser. That’s because it’s known as one of the best ingredients for purifying pores and ridding skin of bacteria, oil and other impurities. Salicylic acid similarly treats dandruff by acting as a mild exfoliator, dissolving debris, clearing hair follicles and promoting a more balanced, healthy scalp. PHYTO Phytheol Intense Anti-Dandruff Treatment Shampoo is suited for even severe cases. It features 2% salicylic acid to treat dandruff and coconut oil to nourish, hydrate and revitalize tired tresses. Another favorite salicylic acid formula at LovelySkin is CLn Shampoo, an anti-bacterial option that also works to treat conditions like staph, folliculitis and eczema.
How often you’ll need to use a treatment depends on how severe the dandruff is, but generally, twice a week is a good place to start. You can alternate with your regular shampoo or work in extra treatments in the evenings if you wish.
If you’re still experiencing an itchy scalp and daily flaking, even after trying a few over-the-counter products with different active ingredients, it may be time to visit your dermatologist. Your dandruff could be caused by another skin condition entirely, and your physician can recommend prescription-strength shampoos and topical treatments.
Do you have a question about dandruff for Dr. Schlessinger? Let us know in the comments section.