The Lowdown: Dandruff - What is it & what are the causes?

Struggling with dandruff? With 50% of the population also suffering, you're not as alone as you probably feel. 

What is dandruff?

Simply, dandruff is when small pieces of skin shed from the scalp, showing up as white flakes in the hair. Often this is paired with a red and itchy scalp.

Dandruff is easy to spot, but the root cause can be more difficult to define.

What are the symptoms of dandruff?

While some people will only get dry skin as a sign, others can get a variety of uncomfortable symptoms.

  • An itchy scalp
  • Greasy roots
  • A red scalp
  • Raised bumps along the hairline

Why do I have dandruff?

Dandruff can happen for a number of reasons, with the most common being a mild case of seborrheic dermatitis causing excess oil production.

seborrheic dermatitis

People with oily skin are more prone to dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of eczema which affects areas prone to excess sebum or oil production. 

The reason those with excess oils on the scalp tend to suffer more with dandruff is the presence of a yeast called Malassezia Globosa. This yeast occurs naturally on everyone's scalp, but causes an overproduction of new skin cells when there's excess sebum present. This can take the production of new skin cells down from a month to a mere two to seven days. Leading to old skin being discarded and giving those pesky flakes.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin irritation cause by an allergen or irritant. It normally results in an itchy or painful rash. It can be made worse by certain ingredients in shampoos, conditioners or hair dyes.  

Dry Skin

If your skin tends to get dry in winter, and you notice your dandruff worsening in the colder months, it's likely the result of dry skin. You'll tend to find dandruff as a result of dry skin leads to smaller, less oily, flakes than dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis.

What makes you more likely to have dandruff?

Dandruff can affect almost anyone. Although certain factors can make you more susceptible.

Shampoo Habits

Both overwashing and underwashing your hair can make your dandruff worse. So how are you meant to know how often to wash? Everyone's different and it can depend on a number of factors, including the cause of your dandruff.

How often you need to wash your hair is also affected by your hair type. You need to keep your scalp free of a build of products, oils and skin cells. So we recommend playing around with the amount you shampoo to find the best schedule for you.

Age

Dandruff is most common between the ages of 20 - 50 years old. Yes, it seems it really is something you could grow out of.

Your sex

Men are more likely to suffer from dandruff than women. Maybe that explains the Head & Shoulders present in every man I've ever dated's bathroom? This is down to higher testosterone levels, which stimulates sebaceous glands and causes more oil production.

Stress

That's right. Stress can worsen many things, dandruff included. It seems like a vicious, unfair cycle. But many people only experience dandruff during stressful periods of their lives.

Other illnesses or disorders

Those with weakened immune systems, neurological conditions, or other skin disorders are more likely to experience seborrheic dermatitis.