Healthy Skin Care

5 Causes of Dandruff (And How to Treat Them)

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Let’s state the obvious: Dandruff is annoying, frustrating and even embarrassing. And while dandruff doesn’t necessarily come and go, it can get worse during the winter months (as if freezing temperatures weren’t enough to make us miserable).

Jungho Kwon, M.D., a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health System, is an expert on the causes of this condition and on what you can do to treat dandruff – or in some cases, even eliminate it all together.

Here are some common reasons why you may be experiencing an itchy scalp and those telltale white flakes:

  1. You have dry skin. Dry skin is one of the most common causes of dandruff. And unfortunately, if this is the root of your dandruff, you might see it get worse this time of year.“If dry skin is causing your dandruff, it’s easier to tell as other places of your body are most likely dry as well,” Dr. Kwon says. “And during cold months, skin becomes drier – which is why people tend to notice more dandruff at this time.”The remedy: You know the drill: moisturize. There are many shampoos (both medicated and not) that replenish moisture into your scalp and can alleviate — or even completely get rid of — dandruff.
  1. You aren’t shampooing enough. While it sounds unhygienic, not shampooing enough could be the cause of your dandruff.“When you don’t shampoo enough, oil accumulates and builds up on the skin and can cause dandruff,” Dr. Kwon explains.Before you freak out, this doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t clean yourself enough. It could be that you don’t use enough shampoo, or that the shampoo you use isn’t strong enough to break down the oil barrier that is contributing to your dandruff.The remedy: While the fix could be as simple as shampooing more frequently, you might need to take it one step further. Using a medicated over-the-counter shampoo a few times a week can help prevent any build up.
  1. You are allergic. From grass to peanuts, people are allergic to a wide variety of substances. Could an allergy to your hair care products be to blame for your flakes?It definitely can, says Dr. Kwon. If you notice any sort of scalp irritation such as itchiness or soreness after using a certain product, it could be because of a sensitivity you have.The remedy: First, stop using the suspected product. Aren’t sure what exactly it could be? Try using a process of elimination method to determine the culprit.
  1. You have a medical condition. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic medical condition that not only affects the scalp but also other areas of the body where oil glands are present. This condition is characterized by dandruff as well as redness of the scalp. It looks similar to other common skin diseases like psoriasis, eczema or even an allergic reaction.

    The remedy:
    If you can relate to these symptoms, talk with a doctor. Some tar-based shampoos work well to stop skin cells from overturning too quickly. Other medications and following a good skin care routine can also help. One thing to note: Tar-based shampoos may not be a great option for people with lighter-colored hair, as this type of shampoo can discolor hair, Dr. Kwon says.
  1. You have a yeast overgrowth. Malassezia is a fungus that lives on the scalp and skin of all people. For some, a sensitivity develops which can result in dandruff. Like seborrheic dermatitis, other skin conditions aggravated by malassezia include psoriasis and other types of dermatitis.The remedy: This is another condition that doctor-prescribed medication can help treat. Other over-the-counter shampoos and following a good skin care routine are also beneficial.

Treating dandruff is sometimes a matter of trial and error, Dr. Kwon says. And while not contagious, nor, in most cases, painful, dandruff can be a burden – especially during the winter months.

“Skin is prone to drying out during the winter months which can make dandruff worse,” Dr. Kwon says. “It’s important, regardless of the cause of your dandruff, to maintain a healthy skin care routine.”

To find a dermatologist, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Jungho Kwon specializes in general dermatology, skin cancer prevention and cosmetic dermatology. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in West Bloomfield (on Farmington Road) and Troy.