Dandruff 101

By Monique L

Tired of checking your dark-coloured outfits for embarrassing dandruff flakes? Before you decide to toss those navy blue and black clothes out, read on for some simple solutions that might just wash away your problem!

What Is Dandruff?

The Mayo Clinic, a respected online authority on health, defines dandruff as a common chronic scalp condition that is marked by itching and flaking of the skin on your scalp. The good news is that dandruff isn’t contagious and is rarely a serious condition. However, having dandruff can be embarrassing and sometimes difficult to treat.

Do You Have It?

Dandruff is usually easy to spot. You might find flaky white “snowflakes” on your shoulders. Those embarrassing symptoms are white, oily looking flakes of dead skin that dot your hair and shoulders and are often accompanied by an itchy, scaling scalp.

Unknown to many, dandruff affects babies as well. Cradle cap is a skin condition that can be seen as a scaling, crusty scalp. It is most common among newborns, although it can occur anytime during infancy.

Fortunately, parents do not have to fret because cradle cap isn’t dangerous and usually disappears on its own as the baby grows older.

Why Does It Snow?

Although dandruff seems like such an inconvenience, you might be surprised to know that the shedding process is part of our how our body naturally rejuvenates itself.

We are constantly shedding dead skin cells from all over our body. In fact, we get a whole new suit of skin every 27 or 28 days as the old stuff flakes away! You just don’t notice the tiny skin cells dropping off your arms, legs, and even your scalp.

Dandruff results from the same shedding of skin cells. You might ask if the shedding is normal, why is dandruff so embarrassingly noticeable? This is all thanks to the yeast-like fungus known as malassezia. Scientists have discovered that dandruff occurs when the malassezia fungus goes wild on your scalp.

The microscopic malassezia fungus, a normal inhabitant on a healthy human head, feeds on the fatty oils secreted by hair follicles in the scalp. For unknown reasons, the fungus sometimes gets out of control and causes irritation that speeds up cell turnover on the scalp.

As a result, the normal process of cell turnover, which usually takes a month, may now speed up to less than two weeks. When out-of-control malassezia irritates the scalp, it causes many dead cells to shed at the same time. When they mix with the oil from hair follicles, they form greasy clumps big enough to be clearly visible to the naked eye. The oil also makes the clumps more likely to get stuck in your hair and on your shoulders, rather than floating away.

There are many more reasons why dandruff happens and some of these include the following:

Not brushing enough

Those who do not brush their hair regularly have a higher risk of having dandruff. This is because they are not aiding the natural shedding of dead skin that combing and brushing provides. However, this is merely a contributing factor to dandruff and experts agree that it isn’t the main factor causing the condition.

Dry skin

People with dry skin tend to get dandruff more often. Air-conditioned rooms as well as overexposure to the sun can contribute to itchy, flaking skin. People with dandruff caused by dry skin tend to have small, non-oily flakes of dandruff.

Seborrheic dermatitis (irritated, oily skin)

People with sensitive, oily skin are highly prone to dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis affects many areas of the skin apart from the scalp such as the backs of the ears, the breastbone, eyebrows, and the sides of the nose. Those who suffer from the condition will usually have red, greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales.

Sensitivity towards hair products

Some might react badly toward hair care products and suffer a red, itchy, scaling scalp. Many experts say that shampooing too often may cause dandruff as it can irritate the scalp. If you suspect that might be the case, you can try stopping the products for a week or avoid washing your hair every day.

Other skin conditions

People with psoriasis, eczema, and other skin disorders tend to get dandruff more often.

Prevention Is Key

Although there are no known prevention methods for people who have never had dandruff,  there are things you can do to prevent a reoccurrence.

Pharmacist Lee Wai Chew recommends supplements to combat reoccurrence, “Getting hair supplements that contain B-complex and minerals such as zinc are great preventive measures. Zinc aids the body in repairing and growing hair. It also keeps the oil glands of the hair working properly. If you prefer natural sources, go for peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, and chickpeas.”

However, Lee strongly recommends finding the root of the problem before heading out to get any supplements. She continues, “You must find the root of the problem. Find out if the dandruff condition is caused by the scalp, skin conditions or stress. If stress is the trigger then B-complex could be the solution. As mentioned before, the vitamin is a great hair supplement. It helps combats stress in many ways thus will also help control dandruff.”

Let’s Treat It!

Mild cases of dandruff may need nothing more than daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser while stubborn cases would need extra care. Executive Hair Stylist, Goh Been Peng, explains, “First off, we find out if the person has a dry scalp or an oily scalp because we treat both of these differently. After identifying the condition of the scalp, we recommend a suitable treatment shampoo and tonic to control the condition. These methods would usually take care of the dandruff. However, for severe cases, a peeling treatment once a month is recommended on top of the treatment shampoo and tonic.”

Goh adds that that’s not all. “Lifestyle also affects the condition. Stress is a big trigger for some and I would recommend getting enough sleep and avoiding spicy and oily food in general.”

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