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Are scalp snowflakes are a constant companion on your shoulder? You are part of a very large club. Much to my shock, statistics show that this condition affects 50% of the adult population. I have always been part of the 50% without dandruff. Recently, my luck has changed and, much to my dismay, all of a sudden I have found those little flaky companions sprinkled in my hair and hitching a joy ride on my shoulder.
Black makes up more than 50% of my wardrobe. Considering I have a minimal closet this means it accounts for a lot of what I wear. If you have dandruff you know wearing black makes those little flakes much more obvious. Well, I refused to give up my staple color. Motivated, I set out on a research quest to get to the bottom of this condition and clear my flakes. What I discovered explains why it affects so many people.
Read on to discover the Top Causes of Dandruff and Top 5 Remedies to clear these undesirable flakes.
What is dandruff
Dandruff is often referred to as little white flakes because this is how it appears on the scalp, in the hair and wherever it falls. These flakes are dead skin cells that have shed off of the scalp. It is considered to be a mild, noninflammatory, form of seborrheic dermatitis (a common skin disorder).
Seborrheic dermatitis can be red, flaky, itchy, or a combination of all those factors. Thankfully dandruff typically only exhibits the symptoms of flaking skin and sometimes mild itching without the redness, inflammation and skin sensitivity of SD (seborrheic dermatitis).
Even though dandruff is a more mild form, having this scalp condition can be embarrassing and unfortunately difficult to treat. The best way to discover which remedies may work best for you is to understand the underlying causes of dandruff.
5 causes of dandruff
The cause of dandruff can be summed up pretty easily. Dandruff is caused by an oil imbalance on the scalp. You will get dandruff if you are producing too much or too little oil on your scalp.
The hard part is understanding what is causing too much or too little oil on your scalp. These are the elements that involve a bit of trial and error to clear the annoyance of Dandruff from our lives.
The Mayo Clinic has found that some people are genetically predisposed to be sensitive to a fungus called Malassezia Furfur that naturally exists on the scalp. This natural fungus thrives on sebum, your scalp oil. With plenty of oil, the fungus grows too rapidly, disturbing the natural renewal rate of cells.
When the skin cells begin to divide too rapidly, faster than they typically shed, this causes flakes and dandruff results. Hormonal variables, stress, and poor nutritional habits affect the amount on Malassezia that sits on the scalp influencing how mild or excessive your scalp flakes.
2. Cleansing Frequency
Cleansing the scalp influences the level of oil that it produces. Too often or not enough cleansing can cause dry or oily scalp that leads to dandruff.
It is important to note that hair shampoos, conditioners, hair spray, dry shampoo and any other hair product you apply have ingredients that can influence the dryness or oiliness your scalp. Since we know dandruff is a reflection of the level of oil on the scalp your products should be explored as a possible culprit of your dandruff.
4. Heat styling
Blow dryers, curling irons, flat iron, and any other heat styling tool can add to the oil imbalance of your scalp. When we use heat styling tools it is common to use an oil heat protectant product and a post-heat oil to protect the hair.
Your scalp is typically left alone (ie no products applied) during the heat styling process. Heat styling without extra care for your scalp is effecting your scalp oil production and could be the core issue causing your dandruff.
5. Environmental factors
You may be more likely to experience dandruff if you live in a dry climate or you live in a cold climate where you use central heating regularly. Do you wear a hat all the time or do you swim in the pool or ocean regularly? Do you regularly use a sauna or steam room?
All of these factors contribute to the oil imbalance of the skin and scalp so it is important to consider your lifestyle and how it may be contributing to or causing your dandruff.
Remedies for dandruff
Now that we see how many variables can contribute to the rise of dandruff, its prevalence is completely understandable. The above list of causes makes it actually seem like a miracle I haven’t experienced dandruff before in my life!
On a quest to clear my dandruff I discovered a wide variety of approaches and ultimately got to the root cause of my flake outbreak.
1. Hot oil treatment
This remedy is effective if your dandruff is caused by the scalp being consistently too dry. This can be performed weekly or bi-monthly. Select an oil such as coconut, olive or almond. Start with already washed hair. Warm the oil and apply directly to your scalp. Gently smooth the oil into the scalp with a massage-like motion.
Wrap the hair in a moist, warm towel for a minimum of 10 minutes up to leaving it on overnight. The key to successful oil treatments is to rinse it out without re-drying the scalp. To remove the oil, apply a gentle conditioner (yes conditioner, not shampoo, is recommended) before any water, work it onto your oil-coated scalp. Then gently wash with lukewarm water.
2. Honey wash treatment
Honey, in one European medical study, has been found to clear up dandruff. Apply a simple mixture of 90% raw honey and 10% water to the scalp. Wrap the hair in a warm wet towel, leave on for 3 hours and rinse gently from hair with lukewarm water (no shampoo or conditioner on the day of the treatment).
All the patients responded positively with this application of honey. Within a week it reduced and cleared symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp. The study results state that “Itching was relieved and scaling was disappeared within one week. Skin lesions were healed and disappeared completely within 2 weeks”.
3. To shampoo or not to shampoo?
With the rise of the “no-poo” movement, that encourages many of us to give up shampoo for good, many of us are confused with what is the best decision for us. It has been found that the foaming agents like SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) in shampoo is irritating and toxic to the skin. So, for some, simply avoiding these can help to balance your scalp and may clear your dandruff. For others, skipping shampoo creates a very greasy scalp and increased issues with dandruff.
The answer: it depends on your hair and scalp
The key is to use a shampoo without foaming agents that strip your skin and hair and find the appropriate number of washes per week that leaves your hair oil in balance. For some, a balanced scalp results from once a day, every day, shampooing. In contrast, others benefit from as little as once a week shampooing.
If you have an overproduction of oil and excessive dandruff in your hair, washing it out daily might be the solution to getting your oil in balance. For others, every other day, weekly or no shampoo use is the key. If you have a scalp with excessive oil production, find a shampoo with low to no foaming agents and then experiment with the number of days use that leaves your hair with balanced oil and dandruff free.
If you have a very dry scalp, explore skipping shampoo altogether. Ultimately, find the balance of washing more, or less often can be a simple fix to balance your oil and clear your dandruff.
Wait, what? Yes, exfoliation can also be used on the scalp to clear dandruff and rebalance the oil production. Exfoliating masks for the scalp can gently lift away flakes or product build-up, helping the scalp to return a rate of skin cell turnover within healthy levels.
These products are sometimes also called scalp cleansers, scalp scrubs, or micro-exfoliating shampoos. Honey is one form of exfoliation for the scalp shown in the above honey treatment. Note: Definitely not everyone is a candidate for scalp exfoliation.
For some, it can be irritating and make dandruff worse. Also, beyond honey, be careful with home scrub options because salt and sugar could irritate the scalp more than help it.
5. Yeast balancing
As we discovered, oil imbalance stimulates the Malassezia Furfur fungus on our scalp, leading to increased skin shedding and the dandruff symptoms we all dislike. So, for many, the key is to specifically target these fungi with treatment ingredients like tea tree, zinc, and sulfur. These reduce the overall levels of this naturally occurring bug on the scalp.
Products geared toward this tend to be called “dandruff shampoo”, “anti-flake treatment” or “dandruff treatment”. These products can vary dramatically in their ingredient profiles. I suggest staying away from any that contain SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) foaming agents and choosing ones with zinc or tea tree to start.
Also, I would recommend trying this as the last treatment option since it can throw the skin’s microbiome out of balance pretty quickly. These types of products have been known to work quickly though, so if you are desperate they are definitely worth a try. Just remember that the fundamental cause is too much or too little oil, so if you can solve that you could cure dandruff the most naturally.
Dandruff treatment in action
You may be wondering, after all the research and trials how did my scalp respond? I determined that it was definitely too much oil that was the cause of my sudden dandruff outbreak. I tend to shampoo and condition my hair 2-3 times per week. Since I have curly hair, wear my hair up in a bun a lot and it doesn’t feel dirty or get a greasy feeling before day 3, this pattern is really good for me.
I apply oil to my ends and the little remainder on my hands gets worked into the rest of my hair when it’s wet. I rarely heat style my hair but when I do it is almost always on day two when it is dry and has a little bit of natural oil nourishment on the scalp so the hair doesn’t feel dry or greasy. I tend to wash my hair on day 4 when I heat style on day 2.
All of this has really worked for me over the years. So, where did my dandruff come from?
A process of elimination
I was gifted a natural nourishing shampoo and products to try and I didn’t adjust anything else in my routine. I noticed that my hair felt heavier near my scalp and was definitely more greasy on day two with the new shampoo. I am not shy about oils and tend to always think that they are good for the skin and hair so I was not bothered by this at first. By day 3, the day I typically wash my hair, I was itching my scalp and had flakes all over.
I didn’t connect this with the shampoo and used it again. The new oily hair cycle continued and the flakes persisted. When I write it out, it really seems obvious that it was the shampoo but I honestly didn’t make the connection until I started researching and realized too much oil could be the culprit!
My hair experiment
I tried washing daily at first to combat my excessive oiliness. This made my dandruff even worse. I eventually learned this was because it was the shampoo leaving too much oil on my scalp. Thinking it could be the new shampoo, I went back to my other shampoo and tried washing my hair daily to get rid of the oily feeling and dandruff.
This proved to be too drying on my scalp and the dandruff persisted. Then I tried the exact pattern I had before, with the original shampoo washing every 2-3 days and poof! Dandruff eased, I stopped itching and the oil level in my hair balanced back out.
It may be a product, the frequency you are washing or you may need one of the remedies above. Once you get the oil in balance dandruff will stop its flaking and you can go back to wearing black as often as you wish! The moral of my experience is – don’t give up, it’s definitely possible to clear those pesky flakes!
Therapeutic and prophylactic effects of crude honey on chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff
What is Dandruff?
Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review
SHAMPOOS CAUSE MOST DANDRUFF
Scalp Exfoliation Is the Crucial Step Your Hair-Care Routine Is Missing