Dandruff is a common condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake. It isn't contagious or serious. But it can be embarrassing and difficult to treat.
Mild dandruff can be treated with a gentle daily shampoo. If that doesn't work, a medicated shampoo may help. Symptoms may return later.
Dandruff is considered to be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. In babies, seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap.
Dandruff signs and symptoms may include:
The signs and symptoms may be more severe if you're stressed, and they tend to flare in cold, dry seasons.
Most cases of dandruff don't require a doctor's care. See your primary care doctor or a doctor who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist) if your condition doesn’t improve with regular use of over-the-counter dandruff shampoo.
Dandruff may have several causes, including:
Almost anyone can have dandruff, but certain factors can make you more susceptible:
A doctor can often diagnose dandruff simply by looking at your hair and scalp.
The itching and flaking of dandruff can almost always be controlled. For mild dandruff, first try daily cleansing with a gentle shampoo to reduce oil and skin cell buildup. If that doesn't help, try a medicated dandruff shampoo. You may need to try more than one shampoo to find the hair care routine that works for you. And you'll likely need repeated or long-term treatment.
If you develop itching, stinging, redness or burning from any product, stop using it. If you develop an allergic reaction — such as a rash, hives or difficulty breathing — seek immediate medical attention.
Dandruff shampoos are classified according to the medication they contain:
If one type of shampoo works for a time and then seems to lose its effectiveness, try alternating between two types of dandruff shampoos.
Read and follow the directions on each bottle of shampoo you try. Some products need to be left on for a few minutes, while others should be rinsed off quickly. At first, use a medicated shampoo one to three times a week to treat dandruff. Then taper to once a week or less frequently for maintenance and prevention.
If you've used medicated shampoo regularly for several weeks and still have dandruff, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo or a steroid lotion.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing dandruff or to control it:
Small studies have found that tea tree oil can reduce dandruff, but more study is needed.
Tea tree oil, which comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal agent. It's now included in a number of shampoos found in natural foods stores. The oil may cause allergic reactions in some people.
You don't need any special preparations for an appointment to diagnose dandruff. Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose your dandruff and its cause simply by looking at your scalp and skin. If you've started using any new hair care products, bring the bottles with you to your appointment or be prepared to tell your doctor about them so he or she can determine whether the products may be causing your dandruff.