To begin with, what exactly is dandruff?
Dandruff is a flaking and scaling of the skin on the scalp which can be accompanied by a mild itch. The flakes are actually dead skin cells. Dandruff occurs when the normal cycle of shedding dead skin cells speeds up. It is not serious or dangerous, and does not affect your general health, but tends to relapse often, meaning that complete resolution can be a difficult goal to achieve. Seborrheic dermatitis is a more severe form of dandruff, which is inflammatory and characterised by flakiness, a more severe itch and visible redness. Unlike dandruff it can also affect the skin on the rest of the body, particularly the face and the chest.
And how do you know you’ve got it?
Dandruff is evident from the whitish/yellowish greasy flakes that accumulate in the hair and on the shoulders, where they are particularly noticeable on darker clothes.
What’s the difference between dandruff and a dry scalp?
It can be difficult to differentiate between dry scalp and dandruff for laymen as they present with similar symptoms (flakes and mild itch). However, the flakes look slightly different: dandruff flakes are often larger and appear more greasy compared to the smaller, drier flakes seen with dry scalp. Where dry scalp is the result of a lack of moisture, dandruff often is accompanied by increased levels of oil.
What could be causing dandruff?
The exact cause is not completely clear. Factors that contribute to the condition include:
- Male hormones
- Seasonal changes (particularly going into the winter months)
- An unhealthy lifestyle such as poor diet, excess alcohol, lack of sleep
- Certain drugs such as anti-cancer drugs, methyldopa, cimetidine
- Nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of zinc
During lockdown there has been an increased level of stress and anxiety which could be contributing to dandruff flare-ups. People are also reporting a change in their drinking habits during lockdown which, as we all know, can affect the body.
Are there any home remedies that you would prescribe?
If you think you suffer from dry scalp, try to reduce the temperature of the water when you shower. Also, try to shampoo less frequently and use a smaller amount of shampoo when you do. If you suffer from dandruff, washing your hair more regularly might help to lift off the dead skin cells, i.e. the flakes. If regular shampoo does not help, try over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos. Another great over-the-counter option is Sebco coconut oil compound. It’s messy, but if you apply it to the affected skin for one hour before rinsing it off with a shampoo, it can help. Only use this method for one week. Some patients also find tea tree oil helpful because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. If you see no improvement after four weeks, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor.