People tend to think that dandruff is caused by poor hygiene, which is not true. Seborrheic Dermatitis, also known as dandruff, is a condition that can cause flaking of the skin, scalp and embarrassment! Although the condition is typically without symptoms other than flaky skin, there can be some itching associated with it. Seborrheic Dermatitis is a chronic condition in adults that can cause flare-ups which need to be managed.
Many factors that vary from person to person can cause dandruff. It can be the result of genetics, living in a dry or cold climate or from superficial yeast that grows on the skin. The “T-Zone” is an area that has more oil production, and is therefore more susceptible. People with weakened immune systems or neurological conditions can have more severe Seborrheic Dermatitis.
So, how do we treat this condition? In babies, cradle cap usually goes away on its own. Topical anti-yeast treatments can be prescribed. But, because the condition is harmless, and prescriptions can often irritate the sensitive skin of a baby, we generally wait for it to clear up. One thing I recommend for parents is to try lathering up the scalp with a mild baby shampoo during bath time; then gently comb the hair from front to back, against the direction of the flaking. This can help loosen the scales.
If you are an adult suffering from mild dandruff, there are at-home treatments readily available. Look for anti-dandruff shampoos with pyrithione zinc, tar shampoo or ones that contain salicylic acid or selenium. Below are some brands to choose from.
- Pyrithione Zinc: Head & Shoulders
- Selenium: Selsun Blue
- Salicylic Acid: Neutrogena T/Sal
- Tar Shampoo: Neutrogena T/Sal; DHS Tar
If you try one of these shampoos, leave it on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing. If it does not respond, then you can see your dermatologist for a medicated shampoo, cream or lotion. Sometimes, I will prescribe topical steroids if there is excessive itching or irritation.
Dandruff may be irritating and embarrassing, but it is certainly treatable.
Mariana Atanasovski, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and works with Allure Dermatology patients of all ages – from infancy through adulthood. She treats a variety of conditions from acne to rashes to skin cancers. Dr. Atanasovski accepts new patients same day whenever possible.