Dandruff is a common scalp condition and it affects roughly half of the world’s population. Most people have suffered from the issue at some point in their life.

For many, it is more of a cosmetic issue than a medical issue and leads to worry.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is oily, white flakes/scales which accumulate on the scalp. It makes the scalp itchy and also leads to hairfall. It often get worse during the fall and winter months, when the air is dry.

Dandruff is a sign that the skin of the scalp is peeling off (exfoliating). It is perfectly normal for the skin to exfoliate. The problem arises when the amount of exfoliation(dandruff) increases.

Causes of dandruff

Dandruff mostly starts during puberty but can occur at any age. Mostly men are more prone to dandruff than women.

Most common causes are

  • Oily and irritated skin condition known as Seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Not keeping the scalp clean which leads to accumulation of dead cells,hence flakes and itchiness.
  • Fungus called malassezia, which aggravate your scalp and cause excess skin cell growth
  • Various personal care products can lead to dermatitis and hence scales and itching
  • Certain illnesses like HIV ,Parkinson’s and other diseases where immunity has been compromised.
  • Insufficient consumption of zinc, B vitamins, and some types of fats may increase the risk.


Shampoos and scalp creams are advised by the dermatologist for the treatment.. These are also helpful in controlling Seborrheic dermatitis.

Before using an anti-fungal shampoo, individuals should carefully try to remove any scaly or crusty patches on the scalp, as far as possible, This will make the shampoo more effective.

Ingredients to look out for

Most anti-dandruff or anti-fungal shampoos contain at least one of the following active ingredients:

  • Ketoconazole: An effective anti-fungal and can be used at any age.
  • Selenium sulfide: This reduces the production of natural oils by glands in the scalp. It is effective at treating dandruff.
  • Zinc pyrithione: This slows down the growth fungus.
  • Coal tar: This has a natural anti-fungal agent. Tar soaps may also make the scalp more sensitive to sunlight, so wearing hats, scarfs may help.
  • Salicylic acids: These help in getting rid of the scales.
  • Tea-tree oil: Derived from australian tea tree, it has antifungal, antibiotic, and an antiseptic property. Some people are allergic to it.

Shampoo should be applied over wet/dry scalp and should be left for 5-6 minutes to be effective. Rinse as usual. Do not apply any other product after it.

Alternating dandruff shampoo with regular shampoo may help. A specific shampoo may stop being as effective after some time. At this point, it may be a good idea to switch to one with another ingredient.

Tips to avoid dandruff-

  1. Wash hair regularly with a mild shampoo and avoid very dirty sweaty hairs for long durations.
  2. Use hair products that suit the skin and discontinue products that may cause slight itching, discomfort.
  3. Avoid too much scratching which can lead to spreading and also can irritate the scalp further.
  4. Avoid direct sunlight and wear hats/scarfs when necessary.
  5. Include foods which have zinc,vitamin B complex and good fats.
  6. Add fish and fish based products to include Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.

While dandruff can be annoying and embarrassing at times, it usually doesn’t indicate a more serious health issue. Discuss with your doctor if you are suffering from dandruff. Management will be based on the cause.

-Dr Prerna Gaur