Dealing with dandruff begins with an understanding of what it is and why it happens. Let’s begin with asking –
What is dandruff?
Basically, dandruff is the accumulation of dead cells from the scalp. Although the flaking and shedding of dry and dead skin cells from the scalp is common, with dandruff, this process is a lot faster than normal.
Causes of dandruff
Much like acne, it’s very important to understand the root of the issue.
The main cause of dandruff is a condition called seborrheic dermatitis. This is a skin condition causing oily, red and scaly skin. When this scaly skin falls off the scalp, that’s what we call dandruff.
Another reason behind dandruff is an overpopulation of a certain natural fungus called Malasezzia. This fungus feeds off the natural oils in the scalp, and as it multiplies, it causes the skin cells to grown more rapidly than normal.
Certain things such as hormonal imbalances and stress can cause this fungus to multiply, and if there’s oily buildup in your hair, that’s a potential factor too.
Certain factors make some of us more susceptible to seborrheic dermatitis than others. Some of these include:
- Certain medications
- Underlying major Illnesses such as HIV
- Using hair and skin products containing alcohol
- Environmental stressors including pollution
Dandruff vs Dry Scalp
It’s a common misconception that dandruff is seasonal, prevalent in the cold, dry weather. But there’s a difference between dandruff and dry scalp.
Both result in flaky skin, but dry scalp results in flakes that are small and dry while dandruff results in slightly larger, oilier flakes.
Dry scalp is usually accompanied by dry skin in other parts of the body. This is not so in the case of dandruff.
Dry scalp will generally resolve itself with any gentle shampoo and mild moisturiser on the scalp. Hot oil treatments are wonderful for dry scalp. Dandruff would need an OTC anti dandruff shampoo or a visit to a doctor.
Generally, OTC antidandruff shampoos contain chemicals which kill the fungal population on the scalp. While some of these may be gentle, many are harsh. If you find yourself leaning more towards finding a gentler, natural cure, any shampoo containing tea tree oil should do the trick.
Tea Tree Oil is a wonderful natural anti-fungal agent and is as effective with dandruff as a chemical-based shampoo.
While dandruff may not be “curable” per se, but it is something that can be completely managed and even prevented. Making a few changes is key –
Make sure product build-up doesn’t happen
People are usually advised to ditch styling altogether, but a more balanced solution is to minimise styling to the essentials and rinse your hair of the build-up.
You can use clarifying shampoos or a gentle scalp toner for this.
- Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo, Gentle Non-Irritating Clarifying Shampoo to Remove Hair Build-Up & Residue
- ACURE Curiously Clarifying Lemongrass Shampoo
Hot Oil Treatments don’t necessarily work
You might hear people raving about coconut oil or olive oil on the scalp, but honestly there’s not much evidence of this. In fact, people with oilier scalps are more prone to dandruff and increasing the oil won’t do you any favours.
However, regularly using two oils – Tea Tree Oil and Neem Oil will definitely keep the scalp healthy and free of infections. These oils are a great solution to combat Malasezzia.
You may apply the oil directly on to the scalp, keep it on for anywhere from 20-30 minutes and then rinse it off using your shampoo.
Alternatively, you may use shampoos with these as the active ingredients.
A third way is to make a solution with warm water and the oil and do a scalp rinse before shampooing.
Make dietary changes
Diets high on trans and saturated fats are linked to an overgrowth of yeast which can aggravate dandruff. While generally, I couldn’t find too many scientific studies going into the dandruff-diet connection, some research does suggest reducing unhealthy fat and sugar consumption, having Zinc rich foods, foods rich in Vitamin B and upping your garlic and onion intake.
Another important diet-related point necessary with respect to any illness is to figure out if you have any dietary allergens, and doing your best to eliminate it.
Shampooing too often or shampooing not enough is a no-no
Many people shampoo everyday which strips away the hair’s natural oils (and therefore the food for the yeast). While on first look this may seem like a solution, over-drying of the scalp might encourage the scalp to produce even more sebum than it would, leading to an overgrowth of the yeast.
The more you strip off natural oils, the more sebum production goes into overdrive. This eventually becomes a vicious cycle.
On the other hand, while dirt does not cause dandruff, not shampooing enough leads to a sebum build up as well as product build up, which as mentioned above isn’t good either.
Figuring out the ideal frequency of shampooing is the solution. If you are someone who shampoos everyday, start by skipping days. For most people, aiming for shampooing twice a week should be enough.
Everyone’s skin is different and while mine may not produce enough sebum to be problematic in between my hair washing days, maybe yours does.
With a little bit of trial and error, you can figure out the best frequency for yourself. However, it should be best if you can maintain a maximum frequency of twice a week.