Dandruff is most often caused by an overreaction to a fungus called malassezia, a yeast that occurs on the scalp according to Dr. Monique S. Cohn, DO FAOCD. Malassezia lives naturally on the skin for many people, but an overgrowth or imbalance of the fungus leads to dandruff. Our bodies are constantly shedding dead skin cells, but an increase in malassezia triggers the body to produce and shed skin cells faster. Malassezia overgrowth can be caused by many things including age, hormones, or stress. Other causes of dandruff are dry skin, allergic reaction, psoriasis and eczema.

You can develop dandruff behind the ears, eyebrows, or even in folds of the face. It can be red, flaky, itchy, or a combination of all those factors. It’s different from psoriasis, which also can look like flakes — but those will appear like thicker pink or red plaques with silver-white scales on close examination.

Dandruff can worsen when you’re stressed or sick. Colder weather can trigger dandruff or increase its severity. Diet could also play a role, as deficiency in vitamin B or zinc can lead to dandruff. To help with overall health including dandruff, avoid processed, packed or refined foods.

Some treatments will target an underlying condition, such as psoriasis. Others aim to exfoliate dead skin cells or counter the yeast production that can trigger dandruff. The right strategy will depend on the person’s age, any underlying conditions, and how severe their dandruff is.

Here are some lifestyle changes and tips that may help:

  1. Try an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo – Use of these shampoos every day until the problem gets under control can usually help manage dandruff.
  2. Keep your scalp clean and wash your hair regularly – For many people, just washing the scalp more frequently can help eliminate dandruff as it can help to remove the extra buildup of skin.
  3. Exfoliate – Exfoliating a few times per week can help dandruff, especially if there is a buildup of dead skin, making treatments such as shampoos and steroids more effective at penetrating the skin better. But overdoing it can hurt more than help.
  4. Consider topical treatments – For people who experience itching or redness with their dandruff, topical cortisone for the scalp can help, which is available in a low-strength version in Scalpicin or a prescription topical steroid can be provided by Dr. Cohn.
  5. Skip harmful home remedies – Avoid products that contain harsh detergents and chemicals as they might do more harm than good, especially if you have sensitive skin.

If dandruff and itching are severe and persistent, or if symptoms worsen, schedule an appointment online at Advanced Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Center or by calling 330-425-7600. We are passionate about helping our patients find much-needed relief and we can identify the best dandruff treatment for you.

Dr. Monique S. Cohn recommends trying over-the-counter dandruff shampoos first to treat most dry itchy scalp problems. Look for Ingredients like pyrithione zinc and ketoconazole, which are effective in killing yeast. If your hair is dry or coarse just be careful the shampoo you use won’t take away too much moisture.