What is Dandruff, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Dandruff, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Have you seen white flakes on your shoulder? Are you worried about scalp itching? The sole responsible factor for your stress is called Dandruff.

Dandruff is a common scalp condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. About 50% of individuals experience dandruff at any age in their life, so need proper treatment.

The exact causes of dandruff are not fully studied. But you can manage and control dandruff by understanding the symptoms and available treatments. So, keep on reading the full guide. You will get the best possible dandruff treatment including shampoo or home remedies.  

What exactly is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a disturbing disorder that involves the shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp. It results in visible white or yellowish flakes that you can see on your shoulder. These flakes may be accompanied by itching and irritation.

Dandruff can occur at any age and is more prevalent among adolescents and adults. You might wonder, dandruff is more common among men. For proper treatment, you need to distinguish dandruff from other scalp conditions, such as dry scalp or psoriasis.

How Dandruff differs from Dry Scalp

Don’t get confused between dandruff and a dry scalp. Both conditions may result in flaking, but they have different underlying causes. Dandruff is primarily caused by the overgrowth of the Malassezia fungus.

While a dry scalp is typically a result of insufficient moisture or sebum production. A dry scalp may produce smaller or less oily flakes. Whereas dandruff flakes are typically larger and more oily.     

Are Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis same?

No, the dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are not same. They are totally different medical conditions. You may need to visit a doctor for proper differentiation between dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is similar to dandruff, as it involves flaking, itching, and inflammation of the scalp. However, seborrheic dermatitis is more severe. It can also affect other areas of the body, such as the face and chest.

Psoriasis and eczema are chronic skin conditions. They can affect various parts of the body, including the scalp, and can cause similar symptoms to dandruff.

Diagnosis of Dandruff

Diagnosing dandruff is easy. Your dermatologist will look at the scalp for various factors. The presence of visible flakes, scalp redness, and itching indicates dandruff. Your doctor may also evaluate your medical history to rule out other scalp conditions.

In some cases, a microscopic examination or a scalp biopsy may be needed to confirm dandruff.

Symptoms of Dandruff

The most common symptom of dandruff is the presence of visible flakes on your scalp and hair. These flakes can vary in size and may involve itching and scalp redness. You might feel mild to severe itching.

In most cases, severe itching leads to scratching and potential scalp damage. You can also experience an oily or dry scalp, depending on the underlying cause of dandruff.

What is Dandruff, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The following are the common symptoms of dandruff:

  • Presence of white or yellowish flakes on the scalp, hair, and clothing.
  • Itching and irritation of the scalp.
  • Dryness or oiliness of the scalp.
  • Scalp redness and inflammation.
  • More visible flakes when brushing the hair.
  • The scalp may feel tight or tingly.
  • You may experience hair loss, although this is less common.

Note that the severity and frequency of these symptoms can vary from person to person. You may have one symptom or all.

Causes of Dandruff

Several factors contribute to the development of dandruff, including:

Malassezia overgrowth    Excessive growth of the fungus Malassezia on the scalp         
Dry skin                  Insufficient moisture in the scalp leads to flaking          
Sensitivity to products  Sensitivity to products  
Sensitivity to products  Allergic reactions or irritation caused by hair care products   
Seborrheic dermatitis    Inflammatory skin conditions affecting the scalp                
Hormonal imbalances      Hormonal changes that can impact sebum production               
Stress                   Increased stress levels may contribute to dandruff             
Medical conditions       Certain conditions like eczema or psoriasis can cause dandruff 
Environmental factors    Cold weather or low humidity can exacerbate dandruff symptoms   

Medical Conditions that Involve Dandruff

Dandruff may also be caused by some diseases or health conditions, including:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Acne  
  • HIV
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Weak immune system

Dandruff Treatment

Medicated Shampoos

Medicated shampoos are a common treatment option for dandruff. They contain various active ingredients, like ketoconazole. The active ingredient works by reducing the overgrowth of Malassezia fungus. If you know you have dandruff, switch to the medicated shampoo.

The most common active ingredients in medicated shampoo include:

  • Zinc pyrithione: Effective against yeast overgrowth and helps control dandruff symptoms.
  • Selenium sulfide: Reduces the production of yeast on the scalp and slows down cell turnover.
  • Ketoconazole: An antifungal agent that combats yeast overgrowth and reduces inflammation.
  • Coal tar: Slows down the growth of skin cells and reduces itching and inflammation.

Proper usage of medicated shampoos helps you get relief from dandruff. First, massage medicated shampoo into the scalp. Leave it on for a few minutes, and rinse thoroughly. You may benefit from the first wash, or it may take weeks to remove dandruff.

Scalp Care Routine for Asian people and Black Hair:

Asian Hair

Asian hair is typically straight and smooth. The dandruff flakes may be more visible on the scalp and hair. To treat dandruff in Asian hair, consider the following tips:

Use a gentle shampoo: Choose a medicated shampoo for dandruff that is suitable for Asian hair. Look for ingredients like zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole, which can help control the overgrowth of yeast on the scalp.

Avoid excessive washing: Proper cleaning is important to maintain scalp hygiene. Washing Asian hair too frequently can strip natural oils and lead to dryness. Or may exacerbate dandruff. Keep balance and wash your hair every other day or as needed.

Moisturize the scalp: Asian hair tends to be less prone to dryness. But still needs to moisturize the scalp. Consider using a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer or oil to keep your scalp hydrated.

Black Hair

Black hair is unique in texture and requires special care to manage dandruff. Consider the following tips for addressing dandruff in black hair:

Medicated shampoo: It’s best to use the medicated shampoo once a week. Consult a dermatologist for shampoo recommendations and a scalp care routine.

Moisturize the scalp and hair: Black hair tends to be more prone to dryness. So it is crucial to maintain moisture levels in the scalp and hair. Use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners specific to black hair.

Avoid harsh chemicals and heat styling: Harsh chemicals and the excessive heat can further dry out the scalp and hair, making dandruff worse. Minimize the use of relaxers, perms, and heat styling tools. Opt for protective hairstyles and gentle hair care practices.

Scalp massage: Regular scalp massages can help stimulate blood circulation and promote a healthy scalp. Consider using natural oils like tea tree oil or coconut oil during the massage to help combat dandruff.

Basic Lifestyle Changes You Can Take To Control Dandruff

Certain lifestyle modifications can help you manage dandruff. These include:

  • Follow good scalp hygiene: Regular cleaning scalp with a gentle shampoo can prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and excess oil.
  • Manage stress level: Research shows that stress can worsen dandruff symptoms. Try to manage stress with exercise, meditation, or relaxation therapy.
  • Avoid excessive hair styling products: Prolong or excessive use of styling products can irritate your scalp and cause dandruff. Minimize their usage if you have a sensitive scalp. Or choose products with the label “non-comedogenic“.
  • Maintain a balanced diet: A nutrient-rich diet with vitamins and minerals can promote a healthy scalp and hair.

Role of Diet in Curing Dandruff

Ingredient NameRole         Sources
Omega-3 Fatty AcidsReduce scalp inflammationFatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts
B VitaminsReduce scalp inflammationFatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts
ZincRegulate sebum productionOysters, lean meats, poultry, dairy products, nuts, seeds
Vitamin EReduce scalp inflammationNuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds), spinach, broccoli, avocados, vegetable oils
ProbioticsPromote a healthy gut microbiomeYogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi

Home Remedies to Control Dandruff

Apart from medicated shampoos and lifestyle changes, you can choose several home remedies. Most remedies help to complement dandruff treatment without side effects. These include:

Apple cider vinegar: Diluted apple cider vinegar can help restore the scalp’s pH balance and reduce flakiness. Apply to the scalp, left for a few minutes, and rinse thoroughly.

Aloe Vera: Aloe vera has cooling and anti-inflammatory properties. The gel can provide relief from itching and reduce scalp inflammation. Apply the gel directly to the scalp and leave it on for 30 minutes before rinsing.

Baking soda: Baking soda acts as a natural exfoliant.  It removes dead skin cells and reduces dandruff. Wet your hair and then rub a handful of baking soda onto your scalp. Rinse thoroughly and follow up with a mild shampoo.

Yogurt: The probiotics present in yogurt can help restore the balance of good bacteria on the scalp and reduce dandruff. Apply plain yogurt to the scalp, leave it on for 15-20 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly. Or you can mix yogurt with henna for more benefits.

Tea rinse: The antioxidants in tea can help soothe the scalp and reduce dandruff. Prepare a strong cup of black or green tea and let it cool. After shampooing, pour the tea over your scalp, massage it in, and rinse thoroughly.


Lemon juice: The acidic nature of lemon juice can help control dandruff. Apply fresh lemon juice to the scalp, leave it on for 5-10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly. Don’t apply the juice directly if you have any open wounds or cuts on the scalp. You can mix it with mustard oil as prevention.

Onion juice: Onion juice can also help to reduce dandruff causing fungus. Extract the juice from an onion and apply it to the scalp. Leave it on for 30 minutes before rinsing.


Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil help reduce yeast overgrowth with its natural antifungal properties. Mix it with carrier oil and gently massage it to the scalp.

Coconut oil: Apply warm coconut oil to the scalp. It can help moisturize and soothe an irritated scalp. Leave it on for a few hours or overnight before washing it off.

Neem oil: Neem oil with antimicrobial properties reduces fungus responsible for dandruff. Mix a few drops of neem oil with carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Massage the mixture into the scalp. Leave it on for a few hours or overnight before washing it off.

When You Need to See a Doctor for Dandruff Treatment

You can manage dandruff with over-the-counter treatments and home remedies. But there are cases when medical attention is necessary. Consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional if:

  • Dandruff symptoms persist despite using medicated shampoos and home remedies.
  • Your scalp becomes excessively itchy, inflamed, or painful.
  • The dandruff spreads to other areas of the body, such as the face or torso.
  • Experience hair loss or thinning.


Dandruff is a common scalp condition that you can manage with the right approach. If you experience dandruff, understand the symptoms, causes, and available treatment options. It will help you regain control over scalp health and enjoy a dandruff-free life.

The key to combat dandruff is to find a suitable and effective approach. Medicated shampoos, lifestyle changes, or home remedies are beneficial in reducing dandruff.

Only one option can work for you or you have to make a routine with a combo of shampoo or remedies. Remember, treating dandruff is not only about physical discomfort but also restore your confidence and healthy scalp.

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