Dandruff can be itchy and embarrassing. Learn the symptoms, causes, and most effective treatment options to keep your scalp healthy and flake-free.

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Dandruff: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

05/25/20228 min read

Dandruff is a common scalp condition. But however common it might be, the itching, scratching, and flakes can disrupt your life and cause a lot of embarrassment.

The good news is if you’ve been struggling with dandruff, you don’t have to live with it forever. With the right treatments, you can effectively minimize your dandruff symptoms and get back to living life flake- and worry-free.

But before we discuss treatment options, let’s take a look at what exactly dandruff is and what causes it.

Table Of Contents

What Is Dandruff?

Woman touching her scalp with dandruff

The American Academy of Dermatology Association describes dandruff as “a common scalp condition in which small pieces of dry skin flake off of the scalp.” This happens when the skin on your scalp sheds an excessive amount of its top layer.

It’s completely normal for our bodies to shed old, dead skin cells. But what makes dandruff different is that larger patches of skin flake off at a much faster rate.

While this condition is usually associated with the scalp, it can also manifest itself on the side of your nose or around your brows.


If you have dandruff, you may experience:

  • Flakes of skin on your scalp, hair, beard, brows, and shoulders
  • A very itchy scalp
  • Scaly and crusty skin on an infant’s scalp, called “cradle cap”

Because dandruff flakes can be both frustrating and embarrassing to live with, you’re likely looking for ways to get rid of them as fast as possible. But before you can do this, it’s essential to understand why you may have dandruff in the first place.

Let’s take a look at a few possible reasons.

Common Causes Of Dandruff

Oily Skin

An oily scalp with dark hair

People with oily skin are more likely to suffer from dandruff. This is because a yeast called Malassezia globosa feeds on scalp oils, resulting in a breakdown of the oils on your scalp.

When your body perceives this oil breakdown as an irritant, it responds by increasing the rate at which the skin cells on your scalp renew — a.k.a. dandruff.

Dry Skin

Above, we highlighted how oily skin can contribute to dandruff. If you have dry skin, you might assume you're safe. Not quite.

Dry skin can also cause dandruff. However, if dry skin is the main contributor to your dandruff, the flakes are usually smaller and less oily.

A History Of Skin Disorders

While extra oily or dry skin can cause dandruff, other factors contribute to it as well.

For example, contact dermatitis is a type of skin irritation caused by an allergen or an irritant, resulting in an itchy, potentially painful rash. In the case of dandruff, the scalp is the site of the reaction.

If you have a bad case of dandruff, mild seborrheic dermatitis (SD) might be the reason. According to the National Eczema Association, SD is a chronic form of eczema that affects parts of the body that secrete a lot of oil.

That means if you have naturally oily skin, you are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis, which may result in dandruff.

Certain Chronic Illnesses

If you have a disease that affects the central nervous system, such as Parkinson's, you may be more prone to dandruff. In addition, people with HIV or other disorders that weaken the immune system may have a higher chance of developing dandruff as well.

Shampooing Habits

You may find that washing your hair infrequently worsens your dandruff if you’re prone to oily skin. Taking long breaks between washes may cause oil to accumulate, which can wreak havoc on your scalp.

Now that we’ve discussed what dandruff is and some of the most common reasons you may have it, let’s focus on five effective ways to reduce dandruff and enjoy more good scalp days.

5 Ways To Treat Dandruff

1) Pick The Right Shampoo

Woman shampooing her hair

If you’re prone to dandruff, we recommend washing your hair daily with a gentle shampoo. Carefully massage your scalp to loosen any flakes and reduce oil and skin cell build-up.

Picking the right shampoo is one of the most effective ways to deal with this condition. But, with so many options on the market, it can be challenging to know what to look for.

For mild to moderate cases, choose shampoos that contain active ingredients such as Pyrithione Zinc (ZPT), Ketoconazole Nizoral, Selenium Sulfide, or Salicylic Acid (SA).

At Bodewell, we love ZPT in particular because it helps remove dry skin and dandruff from the scalp, resulting in less itchiness and irritation. It’s also safe for all hair types and can benefit people experiencing dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and other pesky scalp conditions.

Our Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo contains ZPT and almond oil to keep your scalp refreshed and moisturized after every use.

2) Minimize Hair Products

Shampoo is part of a good hair and scalp cleansing routine, but it’s important to look at the other products you use on your head as well.

Certain chemicals can irritate your scalp and cause it to produce more flakes. These chemicals are surprisingly common in hair products, making them hard to avoid if you’re not looking closely.

Many conditioners, shampoos, hairsprays, hair gels, and the like often contain drying ingredients that create even more irritation and flakiness.

If you notice certain products irritating your scalp or making your dandruff worse, opt for gentler products (as mentioned above) that help clean, moisturize, and protect your scalp.

3) Add Tea Tree Oil

Essential oil being dropped on a leaf

Tea tree oil contains antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, all of which help control dandruff.

Earlier, we mentioned that when Malassezia globosa (a fungus that lives on the scalp in manageable quantities) becomes overgrown, it can lead to dandruff. Tea tree oil can help reduce this yeast overgrowth.

In addition, tea tree oil eliminates greasiness, itchiness, and general lesions that are associated with dandruff.

If this is your treatment choice, look for products with 5% tea tree oil. Alternatively, you can add a few drops (five to 10) of the essential oil into your current shampoo bottle. After applying the mixture to your scalp, massage gently and then rinse thoroughly.

4) Use Apple Cider Vinegar

There are many incredible benefits of using apple cider vinegar. It is:

  • Antifungal
  • Mildly acidic (which can help bring balance to high pH hair and skin)
  • Disinfectant
  • Rich in minerals and live cultures

These properties make apple cider vinegar a great option for removing dirt and oil from your hair, as well as soothing itchiness.

If you would like to incorporate apple cider vinegar into your hair care routine, mix half a cup of vinegar with one and a half cups of water. Then, apply it to your hair, massage your scalp gently, and leave it in for 15 minutes to an hour before rinsing.

5) Incorporate Aloe Vera Gel

While studies are still ongoing about the full benefits of aloe vera for treating dandruff, we do know some of its useful properties.

These include:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties that reduce irritation
  • Antioxidants that help prevent cell damage
  • Moisturizing properties for your skin
  • Enzymes that reduce inflammation from repeatedly scratching your skin

If you decide to use this treatment option, apply aloe vera gel before shampooing your hair. Simply let the gel sit for about 30 minutes to an hour before using a mild shampoo to rinse it off of your scalp.

Give Your Scalp Relief With Bodewell

Woman towel drying her hair

Dandruff is an irritating and often embarrassing scalp condition that’s usually accompanied by lots of itching, scratching, and flakes.

However uncomfortable it is, the good news is that it’s easy to treat at home. With the right treatment, your scalp can be dandruff-free after just a couple of washes.

One of your best defenses against dandruff is to choose the right shampoo, like our Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo, which contains ZPT and helps reduce the flaking, itching, and dryness often associated with dandruff.

If you find yourself following the above tips and not seeing any results after one month, you may need to see a dermatologist to determine whether you have another medical condition that is contributing to the issue.

Whatever the root cause may be, find comfort in the fact that millions of people around the world struggle with dandruff. And with the proper tools and the right habits, you can give your scalp the relief it needs in no time!

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