Seeing flakes? The good news is dandruff isn’t a symptom of any life-threatening disease. The bad news is having dandruff can make one very insecure and embarrassed—not to mention being forced to ditch dark-colored clothes to “hide” those white specks.
Where does it come from?
Dandruff isn’t a condition that you’re born with, although everyone is at risk at getting it at one point in their lives. Dandruff is actually caused by a type of skin eczema, where skin cells are shed too fast (yes, those flakes are actually clumps of dead skin cells from your scalp).
Fungi can also cause dandruff. The most common type of fungus is pityrosporum ovale, or malassezia, which likes to “feed” on the oil made by your hair follicles. This leaves your scalp dry and “flaky”. Everyone has pityrosporum ovale on their scalp, but some have an abundant amount on their heads compared to others. This can be caused by numerous factors, such as infrequent shampooing, hormonal fluctuations (pregnancy, pre-or-post menstruation, and even menopause), certain neurological disorders (Parkinson’s disease), the weather (dry seasons like winter), or a weak immune system. Studies have shown that even stress can cause dandruff!
What to do?
Don’t throw out your little black dresses just yet—getting rid of dandruff can be as easy as making a trip to the supermarket hair care aisle.
Anti-dandruff shampoos are your best bet in fighting off flakes. These work by decreasing oil and cell build-up on your scalp. Some ingredients to look out for in a shampoo are:
• Zinc pyrithione or zinc omadine, which are found in most over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos. These ingredients act as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents, keeping dandruff-causing yeast and fungi at bay. The downside is that discontinuing the use of shampoos with these ingredients will most likely cause the flakes to come back.
• Selenium sulfide, which also inhibits the growth of dandruff-inducing yeasts and fungi. Selenium sulfide is a bit stronger than zinc pyrithione, wherein only 1% is used in commercial over-the-counter shampoos, while 2.5% solutions may only be bought with a doctor’s prescription.
• Tar. Yes, it’s not only good for preserving fossils and vessel ships, it’s also used to ward off dandruff! Coal tar, which is found in some anti-dandruff shampoos, is a liquid by-product of the distillation of coal. It’s supposed to slow down the growth of cells on the scalp, and is sometimes used by those suffering from head lice and psoriasis. Be wary about using products with coal tar, though: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States has included coal tar in its carcinogen list, meaning it can possibly cause cancer.
• Salicylic acid and sulfur are two ingredients that help loosen flakes, making it easier to wash them away. Encouraging the scalp to shed excess skin can help keep pores from getting clogged, preventing bacteria, and other baddies from setting up camp in your hair follicles!
• Ketoconazole is another anti-fungal agent that stops the growth of fungus. It does this by disrupting the fungi’s cell membrane. Unlike other over-the-counter shampoos, Ketoconazole shampoos should be used twice weekly for two to four weeks, and left on the scalp (lathered) for about three to five minutes before rinsing.
Everybody’s scalp reacts differently to these ingredients, so you might have to try a couple of shampoos to find which one works for you. Sometimes, what once worked for you will lose its effectiveness—and you’ll have to make the switch to another brand.
Of course, prevention is still your best weapon. Try to air-dry your hair instead of blow-drying it, to keep your scalp from being exposed to excess heat. Using a soft, natural bristle brush, brush your hair from the scalp outwards, to evenly distribute the oil on your hair; this keeps it from building up on your scalp, which inhibits yeast growth. And wash your hair once a day, since washing too often can dry it out, and forgetting to do so will cause oil build-up.
When to see a doctor
Unfortunately, for some people, shampoos don’t do the trick. If you still find yourself shedding those flakes after six weeks of using an anti-dandruff shampoo, or if you find yourself shedding in just one or two places (not the entire scalp), you may be suffering from seborrheic dermatitis.
If your scalp is red and itchy, and you find your skin flaking around your eyebrows, nose, ears, and shoulder blades, then you might have a more severe case of seborrheic dermatitis. Either way, it’s best to see a dermatologist, so you can get a prescription to help with your skin condition.
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