The Facts

Dandruff is a harmless, chronic condition that occurs when the scalp becomes dry or greasy and produces white flakes of dead skin that appear in the hair or on the shoulders.

Although it is harmless, dandruff can be embarrassing for those who have it. Dandruff usually starts between the ages of 10 and 20 and affects up to 40% of people over the age of 30.


Skin cells are formed continuously on the scalp, so the shedding of dead skin cells is a normal process. Sometimes with dandruff, however, skin cells are shed at a faster rate than normal. Oil from the scalp causes the skin cells to clump together and appear as white flakes.

Dandruff can be caused by a number of things, including dry skin; sensitivity to hair products; and skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or eczema.

The overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus can also cause dandruff. This overgrowth can be caused by stress, hormones, too much oil on the scalp, or problems with the immune system.

Symptoms and Complications

The symptoms of dandruff include white flakes of dead skin in the hair and on the shoulders, as well as an itchy, red, or scaly scalp. Dandruff flakes are usually scattered throughout the scalp.

If seborrheic dermatitis is the cause of dandruff, the symptoms usually appear gradually. The scalp becomes dry or greasy, is red, and feels itchy. As skin cells die, they turn to yellowish scales. A bad case of seborrheic dermatitis can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body. Yellowish or reddish scaling can appear on the hairline, in and around the ears, or on the nose and chest. Affected newborn babies may get a thick, yellowish, crusty rash on the scalp, called cradle cap.

Making the Diagnosis

Dandruff is a condition that people can pretty much self-diagnose from the symptoms of an itchy, dry, and scaly scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis appears as reddish-looking skin with mild, greasy, yellow scales and plaques with indistinct margins.

Treatment and Prevention

Dandruff can often be a chronic condition, but it can be controlled with the proper treatment. First, try shampooing with a non-medicated shampoo, massaging the scalp firmly, and then rinsing well. Frequent shampooing removes flakes, reduces oiliness, and prevents dead skin cell buildup. If this fails to help, special antidandruff shampoos are usually helpful. Instructions for use depend on the specific shampoo used. Some are used on a daily basis, while other are used only once or twice weekly.

When selecting an over-the-counter shampoo, look for antidandruff ingredients such as ketoconazole*, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, sulfur, coal tar, or zinc pyrithione. You may need to try a few products before you find the one that works for you.

If non-prescription preparations are not successful in providing some improvement after 2 weeks, or if the condition worsens, you should consider seeing a doctor. A doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid lotion to be applied to the scalp. Never use corticosteroids for a long period of time without advice from a doctor. They can thin out the skin and cause other side effects.

For an infant with cradle cap, apply a small amount of mineral oil to the dry areas of the scalp to soften the scales. Then remove the scales by gentle brushing. You can then wash the infant’s hair with mild baby shampoo. If these measures do not help, try applying a small amount of warmed mineral oil at bedtime and then shampooing it out in the morning. If this isn’t effective, talk to your child’s doctor about next steps.

In general, corticosteroid shampoos and lotions are not used on infants, as infants absorb them much more easily through the skin than adults do. The good news is that cradle cap usually disappears eventually without any treatment within the first year of a baby’s life.

To help keep dandruff under control, shampoo frequently, reduce your stress levels, try reducing or stopping your use of hair products (e.g., gels and sprays), and eat a healthy diet.

*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/condition/getcondition/Dandruff

Are you one of the many who can’t seem to get rid of those little white flakes that show up in your hair and on your clothes at the worst times? Many dandruff sufferers may be surprised to know that the flakes are not dry skin from the scalp, as this popular myth suggests. This condition is quite deceptive and is one of the most common reasons for dermatology patient visits each year.

The UAMS dermatology clinic debunks this myth and explains that dandruff is not caused by dry skin but by a type of fungus or yeast.

Dandruff, termed “seborrheic dermatitis” in medical terms, is not actually caused by dry scalp, despite manifesting in many people as flaky scales of skin, which shed from the scalp. “Our best understanding of this condition is that it is caused by interactions between the normal yeast organisms, which live on our skin, such as Malessezia furfur species, and active oil (sebaceous) glands, which are heavily distributed on our scalp and face.

Does drinking water cure dry skin?

Dandruff sufferers usually experience redness, itching and scaling, which is caused by the yeast feeding off the oils on the scalp, and in turn this causes inflammation and excessive proliferation of skin layers.

The scalp is not the only area that this interaction occurs. It can involve the eyebrows, mustache and beard area and around the ears and nose.

Dandruff is most prominent in adults, with no particular predilection except for ‘oily skin,’ and is also seen in infants in the form of ‘cradle cap,’ a thick layer of adherent scale on the scalp.

The risk factors for dandruff include oily skin, skin disorders such as acne, infrequent shampooing or skin cleansing, use of lotions that contain alcohol, and even stress or weather.

So is there a cure for this common condition? Unfortunately it can’t be cured but it can be controlled.

Patients may want to start with a rotating regimen of over-the-counter dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue), coal tar or ketoconazole. “These should be massaged into the scalp and/or face to create a lather and left to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing in the shower. If these over-the-counter products are insufficient, prescription therapies may be necessary.

For more information on dandruff and other dermatology-related conditions, visit our Dermatology Clinic. Also visit our Dermatology Cancer Clinic to learn more about our dermatology cancer services.

Is It Dandruff or Dry Scalp? Symptoms, Treatment, and More

If you have dry scalp, wash with a gentle shampoo and then use a moisturizing conditioner. One way to tell whether you have dry scalp or dandruff is to apply a light moisturizer to your scalp before you go to bed. If the cause is dry scalp, the flakes should disappear once you shower the next morning. Some hair stylists can perform a scalp treatment that uses steam to deliver more moisture to your scalp.

For mild dandruff, wash your hair every day with a gentle shampoo to reduce the amount of oil on your scalp. If your dandruff is more severe or a regular shampoo doesn’t work, try a dandruff shampoo.

Most dandruff shampoos contain medicine that kills the fungus on your scalp or removes flaky skin. Here are some examples:

Pyrithione zinc (Head and Shoulders, Jason Dandruff Relief 2 in 1) is an antifungal drug. It kills the fungus on your scalp that causes flaking. Pyrithione zinc shampoos are gentle enough to use every day.

Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue) reduces fungus and prevents too many skin cells from dying off. If you have blond or gray hair or you dye your hair, ask your doctor before using shampoo containing selenium sulfide. It can change your hair color.

Ketoconazole (Nizoral) kills the fungus that causes dandruff. You can buy it in over the counter or prescription strength.

Salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal) removes extra scale from your scalp before it can flake. In some people, salicylic acid can dry out the skin and cause more flaking.

Coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel) slows the growth and shedding of skin cells on the scalp. Tar-based shampoos can also change your hair color if you have blond or gray hair.

Shampoos containing tea tree oil are an alternative remedy for dandruff. Tea tree oil is a natural ingredient with antifungal properties. An older study from 2012 showed that a 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo reduced scaling without causing side effects. Some people are allergic to tea tree oil. Ask your doctor before you try it. Stop using the product if you have any redness or swelling.

No matter which dandruff shampoo you try, read the instructions on the bottle and follow them carefully. If you’re not sure which shampoo to use or how often to use it, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice. You might have to try a few brands before you find one that relieves your dandruff.

Once your dandruff improves, you might be able to cut back on the number of days that you use the shampoo. For more stubborn dandruff, your doctor can prescribe a stronger shampoo or a steroid lotion.

Dry scalp and dandruff are terms often used interchangeably by a lot of people. So it comes as no surprise that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding these two scalp-related conditions; after all, to the untrained eye, the symptoms can appear very similar. So, what’s the deal with dry scalp vs dandruff?

“The main root cause of scalp issues is the integrity of the scalp stratum corneum barrier,” reveals Peter Bailey, Global Technical Manager, Hair Care at Unilever. “The role of the barrier is to protect against irritants and other things in the environment from penetrating into the human body.”

To help put your mind at rest when it comes to dry scalp vs dandruff, we’ve created a simple breakdown of the small distinctions between these annoying hair issues. Plus, we explain why you might be suffering from them in the first place…

Dry scalp vs. dandruff: Knowing the differences

Dry scalp vs dandruff = decoded.

How do I know if I have a dry scalp or dandruff?

Dry scalp = a scalp that lacks moisture. The dryness can then lead to an itchy scalp, followed by the shedding of small flakes of skin due to scratching. The causes of a dry scalp can range from dehydration and environmental effects to poor diet.

Dandruff = caused by over-production of sebum and an overgrowth of a harmless, yeast-like fungus called malassezia. The yeast feeds on the excess sebum and dead skin, causing the skin to speed up its renewal process. This leads to the frequent shedding of skin cells on your scalp, resulting in the visible flakes we know as dandruff.

Do you have dandruff, or just a dry scalp?

What are the physical symptoms?

For a dry scalp vs dandruff, there can be minor differences in the symptoms. For dry hair, the actual feeling of dryness and itchiness on the scalp are the main ones to look out for.

When it comes to dandruff, the symptoms are similar to that of a dry scalp, but there are some subtle differences. With dandruff, the main symptoms are small flakes and an itchy scalp. The flakes range in size and colour and can even sometimes have a distinctive smell.

Either way, for dry scalp dandruff or other symptoms it’s important to monitor the health of your scalp and seek professional advice if you have any issues.

Keep your scalp healthy with our anti-dandruff and dry scalp tips. Credit: indigitalimages.com

What are the main causes?

Dry scalp: A dry scalp is normally caused by internal and/or external dehydration, but scalp conditions like eczema and psoriasis can also contribute to the issue. Changes in the weather or excessive use of products which can lead to build-up are all things that can irritate the scalp and cause itchiness and flaking.

Dandruff: The causes of dandruff are vast, but as previously mentioned, malassezia is the main culprit. Stress, a weakened immune system, and other existing scalp conditions can make you more predisposed, but anything from genetics to hair care habits, and even yeast sensitivity are also known to be some of the most common causes for dandruff.

Dry scalp vs dandruff: how to tell.

So, what’s the solution?

When it comes down to dandruff vs dry scalp, there are ways to combat these pesky hair concerns.

Dry scalp: Start by examining your hair care routine. You might want to consider using a moisturising shampoo and conditioner or a clarifying shampoo, to help remove product build-up.

You could also try using a hair oil, like the Dove Pure Care Dry Oil Nourishing Treatment – which can be used as a pre- or post-shampoo treatment – to help nourish your scalp and hair, as well as upgrading your synthetic hair brush to a boar-bristle version. The natural bristles will help regulate and evenly distribute your hair’s natural oils – pretty neat, eh?

Dandruff: Use a medicated shampoo specifically designed to help get rid of dandruff, or, for more minor cases, try using a mild shampoo.

Whether your dealing with dandruff or scaly scalp issues, it’s important to consult a medical professional for any concerns about the health of your hair and scalp.


If you have mild dandruff because your scalp is greasy or oily, you may just try a regular, gentle shampoo.

If that doesn’t help, some shampoos are made to control dandruff. They may have zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders, Free & Clear), coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel), salicylic acid (Neutrogena T/Sal), selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue), or ketoconazole (Nizoral). Tea tree oil is an alternative treatment for dandruff. Follow the directions on the shampoo bottle.

Your doctor or pharmacist can point you to the right shampoo for you. You also can get a prescription dandruff product if over-the-counter shampoos don’t stop your itch and flakes.

Coal tar and salicylic acid shampoos or scalp treatments may also help with mild scalp psoriasis.

Topical creams, ointments, and foams like the following can slow psoriasis skin buildup and ease red, scaly patches on your scalp. They may have vitamins or steroids to calm the inflammation:

  • Anthralin (Zithranol-RR)
  • Calcipotriene (Dovonex)
  • Calcipotriene and betamethasone dipropionate (Taclonex)
  • Calcitriol (Vectical)
  • Tazarotene (Tazorac)

Your doctor can also put steroids (strong anti-inflammatory drugs) into the patches on your scalp if your psoriasis is milder or just in a few spots. If you have severe psoriasis, you may need stronger drugs. These include methotrexate, which affects how certain cells grow; cyclosporine, which slows down your immune system; biologics, which target specific areas of your immune system; or oral retinoids, which are high doses of vitamin A.

You can also try ultraviolet or UV light treatments to control your psoriasis patches. You can part your hair in rows so UV light from a special lamp can reach your scalp or use a handheld UV comb that beams the light directly to your scalp.

Dandruff vs. dry scalp: How to know why your scalp is flaky

A flaky scalp can not only be inconvenient and embarrassing, but it can also be accompanied by discomfort such as tightness, itching and stinging. Find out what causes a dry flaky scalp and how you can help reduce the symptoms and even prevent the condition from coming back.

Dandruff vs. dry scalp: what’s the difference?

When it comes to dandruff vs. dry scalp, there are some key differences that will help you in your dandruff/dry flaky scalp treatment. Read on to find out what causes these two flaky scalp concerns.

What is dandruff?

Humans and animals both shed (skin, hair, fur, feathers) in a natural process known as “dander”, which is possibly where dandruff gets its name. While everybody naturally sheds skin, usually these tiny cells remain invisible and are whisked off into the air to become dust. Dandruff, however, is when these dead skin cells build up on the surface of the skin and cluster in large, visible white flakes. They then break off from the skin and settle along the hair fiber and on your shoulders.

What is dry scalp?

Just as we are born with a certain eye or haircolor, genetics also determine our natural skin type. These skin types are usually divided into oily, sensitive, combination, normal and dry. The latter, dry skin, is caused by the skin’s incapacity to produce enough sebum and natural oils to keep itself moisturized. As a result, the top layer of the skin dries out, cracks and sheds as fine flakes, which could be the reason why you notice small white flakes of skin on your scalp and in the hair. This condition can be diagnosed through a dry itchy flaky scalp, while dandruff does not often cause irritation.

Dandruff vs. dry scalp: similar symptoms, different causes

Dandruff is not necessarily due to your skin type, and usually looks different to the small white flakes that are caused by a naturally dry flaky scalp. While dry skin accompanies dry-looking hair, dandruff isn’t related to your skin type – so you can have either greasy hair or dry hair with a flaky scalp. This is an important distinction, because dandruff is not treated in the same way as a dry flaky scalp.

How to treat dandruff vs. how to treat dry scalp / flaky scalp causes

How to manage dandruff: To remove flakes of dandruff without irritating the skin, use a gentle clarifying product like the Serie Expert Instant Clear Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for flaky scalp concerns. It contains zinc pyrithione which clarifies and purifies the scalp and all down the hair lengths. Regular use will help balance the skin’s moisture levels and help prevent visible flakes from forming.

How to treat dry flaky scalp causes: Treat your dry scalp just as you would a dry complexion – through moisturizing with the best shampoo for dry flaky scalp concerns. The Nutrifier haircare collection from Serie Expert contains glycerol and coconut oil: the range is ideal for moisturizing both the skin and hair fiber itself. The Nutrifier Masque is popular for replenishing damaged hair and soothing a dry scalp, and the shampoo for flaky scalp problems is also a firm favorite.

Other causes for an itchy flaky scalp

Some other reasons for scalp sensitivity and dry flaky scalp treatment suggestions.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis occurs on areas of the body that produces a lot of oil, which is why it is common on the scalp, upper back and nose. In infants it is known as “cradle cap”, and it can be triggered by stress, hormones, irritants (harsh detergents, chemicals, solvents etc.), cold dry weather and certain medications. The most common symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include redness, excess oil, white/yellowish flaky scalp, pink inflamed patches and a burning or itchy flaky scalp. If you have these signs you might want to consult your doctor for a dry itchy scalp treatment.

How to treat an itchy scalp: If your itchy flaky scalp is due to sensitivity, it is important to soothe the scalp while also removing the excess flakes by using the best shampoo for flaky scalp conditions. Try Source Essentielle Delicate Shampoo or Serie Expert Sensi Balance shampoo for flaky scalps, both specifically formulated for sensitive skin prone to dandruff.

Another cause of an itchy flaky scalp could be psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease caused by skin cells multiplying far faster than the normal rate. As a result, dead cells build up into red, cracked and often painful scales. On the scalp, this can prevent new hair from growing, so hair thinning is often noticed around the inflamed area. Psoriasis can occur in flare-ups throughout life and, while it is not yet fully known exactly what the cause behind it is, psoriasis is believed to be related to genetics, and is not infectious.

How to manage psoriasis: dry itchy scalp treatments for psoriasis can include prescribed oral medication and topical application of ointments designed to soothe the inflammation. If you recognize the symptoms of psoriasis or any serious skin condition, it’s highly recommended to see a dermatologist for a dry flaky scalp treatment.

In addition to an expert advice, you should also adopt a sensitive cleansing haircare routine to help care for your dry itchy flaky scalp.

Image credit: Getty Images – Tharakorn

Dry scalp and dandruff

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