Most of us have suffered from dandruff at one point or another – those telltale white flakes showing up on the shoulders of a black sweater sending us straight to the nearest chemist to stock up on Head and Shoulders or another 'treatment'.
But next time you spot the signs of dandruff, take a minute to assess the situation before rushing off to the shops...
What causes dandruff?
Dandruff is caused, not by dry skin as most flaky skin conditions are, but actually by excessive oil production, which stimulates the production of a kind of yeast that feeds off this oil and the dead skin cells on the scalp, which then start to shed more often as a result.
Not all flakes are dandruff
However, there are other things that can cause flakes of skin to fall from your scalp, and it's important to recognise the difference and treat them accordingly. Dandruff is characterised by thick, heavy white flakes, which are usually visible on the scalp, as well as in the hair and on the shoulders.
However, flakes of skin might also be seen as a result of dry skin on the scalp. These will usually tend to be thinner than dandruff and more translucent, but will also be seen on the scalp and hair.
Build-up of hair products can also cause flakes to appear, these are usually translucent and can only be seen on the hair. It is also possible to get flaking as a side effect of the topical hair loss treatment minoxidil. This tends to present as scaly sheets of skin.
What can be done?
What to do about the flakes depends on their cause. If it is dandruff, it is important to wash your hair more frequently than usual, as this will help to strip the hair and scalp of the excess oil. Because dandruff is caused by a kind of fungus, products containing an anti-fungal agent can be very effective, as can products containing coal tar, selenium sulfide or salicylic acid.
If the problem is actually a dry scalp, then moisturising your scalp the night before washing your hair should help to resolve the problem pretty quickly. For product build-up, regular washing will help, as will reducing the amount of product you use on your hair.
If the problem is caused by minoxidil, your GP, dermatologist or hair loss expert
ought to be able to give you some advice on how to deal with this, although washing your hair regularly can again help to reduce irritation.