Dandruff is the shedding of excessive amounts of dead skin from the scalp. This may show up as white flakes on dark clothing. It usually worsens in dry, winter weather and improves in warm, humid conditions. Dandruff may also worsen during times of stress.

Dandruff usually leads to some degree of scalp itching, but there is no redness or other skin abnormalities.

The cause of dandruff is related to the overgrowth of certain fungi on the scalp. The fungi grow on the skin of nearly everyone, but some people are susceptible to an overgrowth that can lead to itching and dry, flaky skin.

Dandruff cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with regular hair washing, particularly with medicated shampoos.

Effective dandruff shampoos might include the following ingredients:

  • Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue®)
  • Zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders®, ZNP®)
  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral AD®)
  • Tar (T/Gel®, Pentrax®)
  • Sulfur (Sebulex®)

If one shampoo stops working, consider buying another shampoo with a different active ingredient and alternating them.

Severe dandruff may be due to seborrheic dermatitis. This may be suspected if the scalp is red, or there is greasy scaling on the scalp, behind the ears, or on the face (eyebrows, sides of the nose). Seborrheic dermatitis is a related condition that can be controlled with prescription medications, including prescription-strength shampoos.

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Last updated: 1/8/2019