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What is Dandruff?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Dandruff is a common chronic scalp condition marked by flaking of the skin on your scalp. Although dandruff isn’t contagious and is rarely serious, it can be embarrassing and sometimes difficult to treat.” Dandruff begins with what is known as sebum, a natural oil produced by the hair follicles and oil glands on your body. Sebum is found on every part of your skin with the exception of the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. When you have just the right amount of this oily substance it helps protect your hair and skin, but too little of it can cause dry, cracked skin and too much can produce acne or, that’s right, dandruff. Sebum is often a breeding ground for fungus or yeast, such as malassezia. Malassezia (also known as malassezia globossa) typically lives on the scalp of most healthy adults without causing any problems, so you can breath a sigh of relief if you nearly had a heart attack learning you may have fungus growing on your luscious locks. Malassezia has evolved to feed off of sebum and some experts believe that the immune system of someone with dandruff may simply overreact to this fungus. Malassezia itself also produces an oil that generates an inflammatory response in some people, which leads to skin cells dying at a much slower rate than the new cells are being produced, resulting in more skin being shed and subsequently dandruff. Some experts believe that people with dandruff have skins cells that mature and are shed in just 4-10 days whereas it takes approximately one month for people without dandruff to shed their skin cells. Just remember, you are not alone in this. Nearly half of the post-puberty population in the United States is affected by dandruff and gender, race, ethnicity, or age has nothing to do with it.

There is not simply one universal cause of dandruff, rather many different conditions which can contribute to this nuisance. Only a dermatologist can truly determine what is causing your particular case of dandruff, so if the basic treatment options we have suggested are just not working for you then it may be time to schedule an appointment with your skin doctor. However, before running up your doctor bill check out some of the most common causes of dandruff below. Chances are you will recognize which one the four main culprits may be behind your dandruff which will be better arm you to attack and rid yourself of this pest for good.

  • Seborrheic Dermatitis: One of the most common causes of dandruff is known as seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disorder that chiefly impacts your scalp, causing scaly, itchy, and red skin. It can also be seen on your face, upper chest, back, and other areas that are rich in oil glands. In infants, seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp is known as cradle cap. Seasonal changes, stress, and immune-suppression appear to affect the severity of seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Dry Skin: Dry skin is another extremely common, if not THE most common, contributor to dandruff. If you tend to have dry skin on other areas of your body, such as your arms or legs, then chances are this is the reason behind your troubles. These flakes tend to be white in color and fall off in smaller pieces than dandruff stemming from other causes.
  • Malessezia: Just as we mentioned above, malessezia is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the scalp of most healthy adult and yet only causes dandruff in some. Skin cells become aggravated and shed approximately four times faster than they normal should. Experts agree that certain environmental factors can make dandruff worse, particularly in dry climates.
  • Hair Care: Not brushing or shampooing your hair frequently enough may also cause dandruff in some people. On the flip side, if you shampoo too often or use too many hair care products you may cause irritation on your scalp and subsequently dandruff. Sensitivity to certain product ingredients may also cause you to have a red, itchy scalp known as contact dermatitis.
  • Certain Skin Conditions: Those with skin conditions, such as psoriasis (a chronic autoimmune disease that mainly affects the skin and is marked by a speedy buildup of coarse, dry, dead skin cells that form thick scales) and eczema (a chronic, inflammatory skin condition where the skin becomes itchy, reddened, cracked, and dry), tend to get dandruff more often than others.