The Most Common Causes of Dandruff

Many people take dandruff as a temporary cosmetic inconvenience. They do not wonder how to get rid of dandruff, as they think that it does not need any treatment and will disappear on its own. Meanwhile, dandruff may be a symptom of scalp diseases or other health problems and cause communication restrictions and psychological disorders due to social discomfort.

Women with dandruff on their hairDandruff is a visible sign of violation of desquamation (peeling) of dead skin cells from the top layer of the scalp, which manifests itself in the form of reinforced flake detachment. The word “dandruff” causes an involuntary shudder and fear in every third inhabitant of our planet because this problem regularly makes them feel uncomfortable and causes a desire to keep far from prying eyes. So, what are the different types of dandruff and what are its appearance causes?

In this article we will consider the following questions:

  1. How Common is Dandruff?
  2. How to Distinguish Dandruff from a More Severe Illness?
  3. Types of Dandruff
  4. Causes of Dandruff Appearance

How Common is Dandruff?

What do you think: is dandruff a more commonly occurring problem for men or for women? Some people believe that it is more common for men. However, in fact, dandruff from time to time occurs in more than half of the whole population, and about one-third of them has dry scalp. In general, we can say that:

  • Dandruff in children is rare.
  • It may appear in teenagers.
  • It is equally common in men and in women from 20 to 40 years old.
  • The number of men and women suffering from dandruff is approximately the same.
  • It decreases significantly after the age of 50.

So, is it true that dandruff, in general, is more common in men than in women? No, it is not. Men are less embarrassed by this problem, so it seems that it is more common among them. The reasons may vary: from their lack of concern for this problem to predominantly short hair, on which it is easier to notice dandruff.

How to Distinguish Dandruff from a More Severe Illness?

Before you start struggling with dandruff, you should be sure that your problem is exactly dandruff. Therefore, we must be able to distinguish dandruff from other skin conditions that are similar to it.

Dry Scalp

A dry scalp may be caused by dehydration, which is, for example, very common among aircraft crew members, as they work in a very dry air condition. These scalp flakes may be similar to dandruff, but thinner and drier. In this case, there are not any other factors causing dandruff. Dry skin flaking generally disappears over several days. If the skin is dry, it is necessary to use proper shampoo at least twice a week, hair conditioner, and not too hot water. This way, the problem usually disappears quickly.

Is it Only Dandruff or a More Severe Scalp Disease?

Now we face a serious question. There are other scalp problems, although, they are relatively rare. If you notice white flakes on red, inflamed, quite painful, bleeding and/or a very itchy scalp, visit your dermatologist. Avoid any chemical treatments (highlighting, dyeing, perming) in the case of any skin damages. White flakes may only resemble dandruff and be a symptom of another skin disease. These diseases of the scalp do not disappear without proper treatment and anti-dandruff shampoos do not help.

Dermatitis It is scalp inflammation showing as peeling and redness. Itching may be a symptom of the beginning of dermatitis.
Seborrheic Eczema It is accompanied by irritation and sometimes redness of the scalp, face, hairy parts of the body, skin folds, and areas behind the ears. It may be aggravated by stress and illnesses, flaring and fading out again. Seborrheic eczema is enhanced in middle age; it is common among the elderly, especially males.
Psoriasis It is a noninfective skin disease. It may occur on the knees, elbows, scalp, and throughout the whole body. In serious cases, the scalp starts to itch, becomes red and covered with silvery flakes, the affected areas are usually delineated. Hair loss may also occur. The disease may be aggravated by stress and mechanical stimulation, flaring in and fading out again.
Microsporia It is a fungal infection showing as pink, flaking skin patches.

In any case, we recommend visiting a trichologist. The doctor will diagnose the disease and prescribe the effective treatment. Also, you can use homemade recipes.

Types of Dandruff

When you are precisely sure that you have dandruff, you need to know its type. Depending on the physicochemical composition of the sebaceous glands secretions, this disease is usually divided into dry seborrhea (dry dandruff) and oily seborrhea (waxy dandruff).

Dry Dandruff

It appears as a result of poor sebum excretion due to its high viscosity, in spite of its sufficient production. However, a lack of sebaceous glands secretory activity is also possible. This type of dermatosis is most common before puberty, though in the case of some diseases or disorders it may also affect adults.

In case of dry seborrhea, the upper layers of the epidermis become dry and the hair becomes brittle, thinning, with split ends. The skin becomes awfully sensitive and irritated. Abundant, fine scaling dandruff, hair loss, and skin flaking appear. In some cases, epithelium flakes stick to each other, forming grayish white or yellowish gray scabs. These phenomena are often accompanied by a feeling of tightened skin and itching, especially after washing. On the scalp and on different body parts, pink or reddish spots may appear.

Waxy Dandruff

The main sign of this dandruff type is a greasy shiny skin surface and hair. There are two forms of oily seborrhea: liquid, when the consistency of sebaceous glands secretion resembles vegetable oils due to the high content of free fatty acids in it, and thick when secretion is of “creamy” consistency.

In the case of a liquid form, large flakes of waxy dandruff appear and they clump together into even larger flakes, covering the shiny oily hair. The hairs stick together into locks, so the hair looks oiled and becomes dirty even within a day after shampooing. Heavy physical work, mental stress, increased ambient temperature lead to even greater sebum secretion.

The appearance of inflammation areas on the skin (sometimes even “wet”), itching, and alopecia development are also possible. The disease may be complicated by hair follicles clogging, a staph infection in them, and purulent inflammation. After pustules open, yellowish brown scabs form, followed by the formation of age spots.

In the case of a thick form of oily seborrhea, the skin becomes tighter, less elastic, gland openings widen and become clogged with fatty cells of desquamated epithelium; comedones and atheromas form that may suppurate, leaving scars after their resolution.

Causes of Dandruff Appearance

The increase in the number of pathogenic bacteria may be caused by the following reasons:

  • Fungus scalp diseases
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Digestive disorders
  • Chronic infections
  • Stresses
  • Decrease in immunity
  • Hypovitaminosis
  • Improper hair care

Fungus Scalp Diseases

Scalp-affecting fungus (mycosis) has many varieties. The symptoms of each fungus species differ, so the therapy in different cases is individual. As a rule, this disease is of infectious nature, so it is easily transmitted by personal contact with an affected person or by using common items and hygiene products.

As a rule, fungus diseases occur in a latent form, so in the early stages, these diseases are difficult to detect. The warning signal is the appearance of severe dandruff in a person, which is not prone to it.

Important note: the only prevention of fungus infections is comprehensive personal hygiene.

Hormonal Disorders

Most people have dandruff in puberty (if you have noticed dandruff in a child before puberty, we advise you to consult a doctor immediately, as it may be a sign of a more severe illness). During puberty, the body begins to produce much more testosterone. This hormone affects hair growth, and it may have a negative effect on the production of sebum. Sebum is an oily substance that protects our head from microorganisms. However, there is one microorganism that has adjusted to living in sebum (Malassezia fungus). This microorganism produces oleic acid, which penetrates into the scalp and causes irritation of its upper layer, and this leads to an increased turnover of skin cells.

However, if this cycle is shortened to 7-10 days, the skin cells do not have time to dry up (a large amount of water remains in them), so they become sticky. On the skin surface, they stick together and form visible white flakes or lumps, which may cause itching. In this case, the scalp should not be red, inflamed or bleeding.

Another dandruff cause is pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormonal failure may occur in the body, the result of which is the “snowfall” on the head. Hormonal failure may also occur during menopause.

Tip: to get rid of hormonal failure and dandruff, visit an endocrinologist and use special cosmetics.

Digestive Disorders

Dandruff may occur due to digestive problems. The cause of digestive disorders is a poor diet. Malnutrition leads to weakened immune system and this may violate skin condition, including the scalp. This is a favorable factor for the Malassezia Furfur fungus development, and, as a result, dandruff appearance. Lack of vitamins and minerals (zinc and selenium in particular) in the diet and digestive disorders are dandruff risk factors.

To get rid of dandruff, start to eat healthily. Eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and greens.

Tip: eat more protein (milk, yogurt, chickpeas, cheese, paneer), as the hair consists of protein.

Chronic Infections

Chronic infections often promote dandruff appearance. They may serve as an initiating agent of fungus growth on the scalp. These include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This is an extensive inflammatory-exudative skin disease. It is caused by increased sebaceous glands secretion. In most cases, the process is localized on the scalp, forehead, nose, cheeks, nasolabial folds, chest, and between the shoulder blades.  A decomposing sebum is a breeding ground for organisms that irritate the skin. Thus, the numerous erythematous (abnormal redness of the skin due to local congestion, as inflammation) areas appear on the body; they are covered with heavy, yellow and greasy scales. The spots may merge with each other, grow and discolor the skin. The disease is of chronic cyclical nature — the period of exacerbation is usually in the winter, and regressions are in the summer.
  • Chromophytosis. It is a chronic skin mycosis, caused by the Malassezia fungus. It shows itself as a yellow-brown spotty rash. It peels off easily and the skin becomes discolored. This disease recurs often, as the fungus resides in the epidermis.
  • White spot disease (tinea alba) of the scalp. It is severe seborrhea, which is characterized by a chronic and recurrent course. It causes white, well-defined lesions. These lesions are located on the face and limbs. More often, the disease occurs in children.
  • Psoriasis. It is a chronic non-infectious skin disease, which manifests itself as dermatosis.

Tip: the only way to ease these conditions is to visit a dermatologist and trichologist. The physicians will assign you a legitimate therapy.


Dermatologists warn that emotionally overloaded and stress-susceptible people increasingly suffer from dandruff. If you are constantly exposed to emotional overloads, provoking the chronic stress, it is no wonder that dandruff suddenly appears on your head! Nervous disorders, ruefulness, job stress, sleep disorders, poor rest, as well as a lack of fruits and vegetables in your diet are the factors that may cause dandruff. Dandruff is not only able to add more concern about your appearance, but it may also aggravate a psychosomatic condition. Dandruff not only makes you look worse, but it also has an adverse effect on your scalp condition. You should combat dandruff urgently and comprehensively! Along with following dermatologist’s and trichologist’s tips as for the scalp care products, you need to cope with stress.

If you get rid of stress, you will get rid of dandruff as well. To this, you should remember that stress causes not only dandruff but also heavy hair loss and even alopecia.

Tip: take anti-anxiety drugs, do yoga, and relax more often; dandruff will eventually disappear.

Decrease in Immunity

The decrease in immunity may cause dandruff and hair loss. It causes the growth of Malassezia fungus. This leads to faster growth of epidermal cells. So, the cycle of skin die-off, which normally lasts for about a month, takes a week or less. As a result, the mass of scales are formed, considerably exceeding the norm — therefore, it becomes visible on the hair and shoulders. If the inflamed scalp areas itch and turn red, then you have seborrheic dermatitis. In this case, hair becomes fragile, thinning, and with split ends.

Tip: to combat dandruff, balance your nutrition, increase the number of vitamins, trace nutrients, and polyunsaturated fats in your food.


If your body is healthy, your hair usually shiny, resilient, and literally streaming over the shoulders and shimmer in the sunlight. In this case, if your hair suddenly starts looking like a bundle of straw and dandruff unexpectedly appears (like never before), you have a vitamin deficiency.

A dry and itchy scalp with dandruff is a sign of vitamin E deficiency. If dermatitis occurs on the scalp — it is a lack of vitamin A. The problem may also be a deficiency of B vitamins (especially B6 and B12), which help to nourish scalp and conduct nerve impulses to the skin.

Anyhow, in the case of the sudden dandruff appearance, consult a doctor. If he determines that the cause of dandruff is from vitamin deficiency, you need to balance your diet.

Tip: pay special attention to foods that are rich in vitamins B6 and B12. Carrots, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, strawberries, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas are rich in vitamin B6. Lots of vitamin B12 is contained in fish, soy, seaweed, milk, and yogurt.

Improper Hair Care

Dandruff often occurs due to improper hair care and scalp nourishment. It is primarily related to the choice of shampoo. Many girls repeatedly notice white flakes on their heads after using some shampoos, even those purchased in a pharmacy. Everything is individual. When choosing a shampoo, always pay attention to its expiration date. Unfortunately, you may still buy expired products in the shops. The use of such shampoo may cause dandruff. Choose shampoos responsibly and take care of your hair regularly.

To get rid of dandruff, do not use the styling products too often. If you cannot avoid using such cosmetics, be sure to rinse out them for the night. Hair sprays and styling foams clog the pores, the scalp ceases to “breathe”, and as a result, dandruff appears.

Always practice proper personal hygiene. Never borrow someone else’s comb, and never let anyone use yours. Even if a person has no dandruff, everyone’s scalp has its own microflora. And if a foreign organism gets there, dandruff appearance is guaranteed. For the same reason, do not put on other people’s hats.

Tip: if you have dandruff due to improper hair care, pay attention to special shampoos. While shampooing, apply burdock oil on ends of your hair. Anti-dandruff shampoos over dry hair, so it may become fragile.

Regardless of what the dandruff causes are, it is recommended to visit a trichologist. The physician will conduct the initial medical examination and prescribe the appropriate tests. You may need the assistance of other specialists, as dandruff often accompanies depression, diabetes, stomach or intestines diseases, and other illnesses.

In any case, for the duration of the treatment, you must not use any hair styling or dyeing products, avoid using a hair dryer and curling iron and forget about the low-quality shampoos containing harsh detergents.

Replace fatty and sweet products with fruit, fatty meat — with lean boiled fowl, eat more fresh vegetables, protein, and whole grains.

We wish you all the best in getting rid of this condition as soon as possible!

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