Managing Dandruff

Health Writer

Seborrheic dermatitis, commonly known as dandruff, is a skin condition which causes white or yellowish scales, usually on your scalp, however they can occur on other parts of your body including behind your ears or on the outer part of your ear, on the nose and lips or on your chest. When this occurs in infants it is called cradle cap and is usually temporary. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 50 percent of individuals in the United States suffer from dandruff, with it being more common in women and those with oily skin types.

While it is often thought that dandruff is a result of poor hygiene, this is not true. A fungal or yeast infection, called malessizia, is thought to be the cause of dandruff. There are also some neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or stroke that may be associated with dandruff. The HIV virus has also been considered a cause of some cases of dandruff.


White or yellow, flaky scales on your scalp are the most commonly known symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. Additional symptoms include:

  • Plaques, crusting or skin lesions
  • Greasy, oily areas of the skin
  • Feeling itchy, tingly or sore
  • Redness

According to A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia you may experience some hair loss, although some current literature indicates that hair loss is not a symptom of dandruff.


Many people with mild dandruff are helped by over-the-counter dandruff shampoos, such as Head and Shoulders. While using these shampoos, you should shampoo daily and use your fingers to loosen scales, scrubbing your head for approximately 5 minutes, then rinsing thoroughly. For more severe cases, your doctor can prescribe a shampoo or lotion which should be applied to your hair or other affected areas.

Dandruff has long been considered a life-long, chronic condition which, while it can't be cured, it can be controlled and managed. However, new research which appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry indicates that scientists are studying the underlying fungal infection and may be close to finding new ways to treat it. In the study, researchers used mice who were given severe cases of dandruff. Antibacterial medications called sulfas were used on the mice and more than one half showed significant improvement. This research may lead to better treatments for dandruff sufferers.

There are a number of triggers that are thought to worsen dandruff including stress, fatigue, cold weather, using lotions that contain alcohol. Avoiding these triggers can help you better manage this skin condition.

If you suffer with dandruff and over-the-counter shampoos do not seem to be working, talk with your doctor about other options.


"A New 'Achilles' Heel' in Fungus That Causes Dandruff," 2012, April 25, Staff Writer, Science Daily

"Seborrheic Dermatitis," Reviewed 2011, May 13, Reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encylclopedia

"What is Dandruff? What Are the Symptoms of Dansruff?" 2009, June 6, Staff Writer, Medical News Today