Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition which causes dandruff.
This benign condition affects almost half of us. So rest assured, you are not alone!
Here is a the perfect guide to help reduce your dandruff and get a healthy scalp.
What causes dandruff?
The exact cause of dandruff is not clear, but we do know that it is the result of accelerated skin cell production and loss.
In other terms, the scalp is producing and losing cells faster than normal.
Malassezia yeast, which is naturally found on our scalp, could be the cause of this condition.
This fungus develops very well in environments where sebum is secreted in a particularly high quantity.
Sebum is the oily liquid that protects hair and skin; it is secreted by the scalp. Malassezia is thought to be feeding on lipids found in sebum and releasing substances that irritate the scalp.
Although it is not clear exactly how Malassezia acts in the dandruff development process, it looks like whenever it develops abnormally it produces a large amount of irritants that cause dandruff.
What triggers dandruff?
Dandruff triggers vary from one individual to another and can even overlap.
- Hormonal ups and downs
- A weak immune system, following an infection or condition such as AIDS or Parkinson disease
- A very acid diet (milk products, meat, coffee, alcohol, sugars)
- Certain medication (neuroepileptic medication, etc)
- Harsh, soap-based shampoos. Opt for mild and preferably sulfate-free shampoos.
- Scalp applications: applying oils, butters or hydrating products on the scalp seems to worsen dandruff (see explanations below).
- Not frequent enough shampooing: sebum will accumulate and increase the fungus proliferation.
- Not rinsing well enough: it is important to rinse well in order to completely remove conditioners, hair styling and hydrating product residues, which risk causing not only a fungus proliferation but also an increase in sebum production.
- Not frequent enough brushing: dead cells are not removed and they accumulate on the scalp – for example, while wearing braids or dreadlocks.
- Too frequent brushing: this disperses sebum on the scalp, which makes the scalp increase sebum production.
- Motorcycle helmets, caps and hats offer the perfect temperature and humidity for fungus development.
- A dry environment (due to heating or cold, dry weather) or a too humid one could also cause dandruff.
- Excessive coloring and relaxing treatments.
- Blow-dryers and hair straighteners with very high heat.
- Hair that is left wet for too long: humidity will increase the yeast development.
There are two types of dandruff:
- Pityriasis capitis simplex or dry dandruff, which creates a fine white dust that falls onto the shoulders. It can also be thicker or stickier, while the scalp is red and inflamed. This condition is also accompanied by itchiness and it is relieved by shampooing.
- Pityriasis steatoid or oily dandruff, consists of very oily, almost waxy crusts, which get stuck in between the hair and the scalp.
Why you should not apply hair products on your scalp
Applying oils to your scalp may cause dandruff. That is why it is not recommended to apply moisturizing products, vegetable oils or butters on itchy or dandruff-prone scalp.
This is because yeast may be feeding on the product and develop faster, which worsens the condition.
How to treat dandruff
If you have moderate dandruff, you can decrease this affection by:
- Cutting out milk products, sugars and salty, fatty foods
- Learning how to relax through yoga or meditation, in order to better manage stress
Washing your hair more frequently with a mild shampoo is believed to improve this condition (every 2 days, for example).
Although one can never really cure dandruff, there are very efficient anti-dandruff treatments that can reduce it.
These treatments need to be used every time one uses a shampoo, meaning once a week, in the case of afro texturized hair (or every 2 days, for better results).
It is important to allow the shampoo to sit in for at least 5 minutes. As the condition improves, you can alternate between a treatment shampoo and a normal shampoo; afterwards, you can gradually decrease the frequency of the dandruff treatment.
The most common active ingredients used in anti-dandruff products available in department stores or pharmacies include:
- Anti-fungal agents such as selenium sulfide
- Anti-growth agents, which slow down skin cell production, such as coal tar. Although this is a very efficient ingredient against dandruff, it is also very staining and bad smelling. It is not recommended for pregnant women and it is believed to increase sun sensitivity.
- Keratolytic agents, which act directly on the dandruff and ‘dissolve’ them. Sulfur and salicylic acid, two such agents, are often found together in anti-dandruff shampoos.
Zoom on Zinc pyrithione
Zinc pyrithione combines several properties: it is an anti fungal that decreases the production of skin cells while reducing sebum production.
The following ingredients offer relief for irritated or itchy scalp:
- menthol (Mentol, Mentha piperita or Mentha arvensis)
- eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata or Eucalyptus globulus)
How to tell which active anti-dandruff ingredient is in your shampoo?
Look at the ingredients list on the back of your container and look for the following terms:
- Zinc pyrithione
- Selenium sulfide
- Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil
- Salicylic Acid
- Coal Tar
3 sulfate-free anti-dandruff shampoos
For severe dandruff one may need stronger treatments prescribed by a dermatologist.
These shampoos contain stronger anti fungal agents than shampoos that can be purchase in a department store or pharmacy:
Natural anti-dandruff ingredients
Thanks to their antiseptic properties, certain essential oils are efficient in anti-dandruff treatment:
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia),
- Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus),
- Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica),
- Lemon (Citrus limonum),
- Palmarosa (Cymbopogon Martinii var. Motia),
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis),
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).
Black willow bark contains natural salicylic acid which will ‘dissolve’ dandruff.
- Mix 3 drops of Tea tree essential oil with a dose of shampoo and apply to your hair.
- Leave in for 5 minutes then rinse.
Avoid getting into the eyes.
Essential oils – caution
- Do an allergy test for each essential oil, on the inside of your elbow, 48 hrs before usage.
- Do not use essential oils if you are pregnant or nursing.
- Do a test on a small scalp section, before you apply to the entire scalp.
- Avoid contact with the eyes. Rinse thoroughly with water in case of contact with the eyes.
- If dandruff persists, consult a dermatologist.
- These care suggestions do not replace the treatment prescribed by your physician.
Do you have dry hair? Do you know if your hair needs moisture or protein?
For more information about dandruff, watch the following video: