Let’s talk about dandruff, a subject most of my patients are embarrassed to bring up. No one likes to mention it but dandruff happens to lots of people at sometime in their lives. You know what I mean, an itchy, flaky scalp that sheds constantly, causing white flakes in your hair and on your shoulders. You may have had dandruff or noticed it on someone else and wondered what to do about it.
Nine times out of ten, if you have dandruff, you run out for a medicated shampoo to take care of the problem. Unfortunately, some cases don’t always respond to shampoos and will not go away. This is usually the time when you get fed up and decide to call a dermatologist. The reality is that when dandruff persists for a long period of time, it could be a red flag that something else is wrong so seeking advice is not a bad idea.
Let me explain what dandruff is and why it occurs.
It is natural for your skin to continuously shed layers and your scalp sheds more than any other part of your body. Dandruff is nothing more than shedding an excessive amount of large flakes usually accompanied by itching. Dandruff can also affect your ears, eyebrows and forehead. When dandruff is persistent, along with itching and inflammation, it means you could have another skin condition such as seborrhea, eczema, or psoriasis. In which case the treatment would be different than for a common case of dandruff.
Why Do You Have Dandruff?
Another word for dandruff is pityriasis, which is characterized by inflammation and the formation of fine scales that flake easily. A microscopic fungus, pityrosporum, is normally found on oily areas of the skin and dandruff sufferers seem to have more than their share. Yeast known as, Pityrosporum ovale, is thought to be the primary cause of dandruff along with other factors including:
- Oil glands – overly active
- Stress – a trigger or can make it worse
- Sugar –sugar needs B vitamins in order to metabolize and can cause a deficiency in your body that may cause dandruff
- Shampooing – if you use hot water it may strip natural oils and dry the scalp
- Low or no fat diets – may create a deficiency in essential fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- Blow- drying hair – may dry out the scalp
Make It Go Away!
If you have an extreme case of dandruff or it is persistent, the first thing to do is rule out other skin conditions. Once you know for sure that you have traditional dandruff, there are several things you can do to treat your condition.
- Reduce your sugar intake by limiting sweetening agents such as sucrose, fructose, glucose, etc.
- Eliminate foods containing yeast, which include baked goods, wines, cheeses, and fermented condiments.
- Shampoo hair with lukewarm water and rinse with cold. Use a mild shampoo or an anti-dandruff shampoo with zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide. Switch to coal-tar or those with salicylic acid if one loses effectiveness. It may take as long as six weeks to notice improvement.
- Avoid any alcohol-based styling products because they can build up on your scalp and dry it out.
There are several natural remedies for dandruff that have been known to be effective that are available in supplement form or in some cases right in your own kitchen pantry.
- Add black current or evening primrose oil to your diet because they contain gamma linolelnic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that helps hair, skin and nails look healthy. Rub vitamin E into your scalp to relieve itching and reduce scaling
- Apply apple cider vinegar diluted 50% with water to the scalp and let dry. There is no need to rinse. Lemon juice may also be used to bring the proper acid/alkaline balance back to the scalp.
- Rub pure coconut oil in your hair daily
- Combine olive oil and ginger root and apply to your scalp before shampooing.
- Rub rosemary oil into your scalp and leave on for 15 minutes
- Oil from thyme has antiseptic qualities. Make a rinse by boiling four teaspoons of dried thyme in two cups of water for ten minutes, strain and cool. Massage into clean, damp hair, do not rinse out.
Remember to see your doctor if your dandruff persists for weeks even after you’ve tried some of these simple suggestions to correct it. It could be a symptom of another skin condition that should be treated by a professional.
There is no reason to be embarrassed by having a dandruff problem. It may be uncomfortable and unsightly but you can take the necessary self-care steps and over-the –counter medications to make your dandruff go away the easy way.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.