What the flake! Let’s get to the root of dandruff to tackle it

Has a flaky scalp become a permanent woe for you? Experts get you to the root of the problem and help tackle it.
A flaky, itchy condition could be both due to a dry or an oily scalp.(Shutterstock)
A flaky, itchy condition could be both due to a dry or an oily scalp.(Shutterstock)
Updated on Mar 12, 2019 04:35 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Delhi | By, New Delhi

Winter might be making way for hotter days, but there’s one irritant that’s not ready to part with most of us as yet. Yes, flaky scalp or dandruff! And that’s because it’s as much a summer woe, say experts. Winter only worsens the problem.

Who’s the culprit: Dry scalp or oily?

“Skin cells are formed continuously on the scalp, so the shedding of dead skin cells is a normal process. But a flaky, itchy condition could be both due to a dry scalp or an oily scalp. Malassezia, a microbe that lives on the scalp, survives off the natural oils present on one’s scalp, and it is harmless for most of us. The overgrowth of this lipophilic yeast-like fungus can happen on an oily scalp and can cause dandruff,” says hair expert Dr Anupriya Goel.

Other causes

This overgrowth can also be caused by stress, hormones, or problems with the immune system. “Pollution, too, can worsen scalp oiliness,” says Dr Kiran Lohia, a dermatologist. An overdose of shampooing is also to blame. It’s a vicious circle of sorts. Seeing dandruff, one starts shampooing the hair more often, causing dryness and that, in turn, facilitates more flakes. “Those with a dry scalp should shampoo only 1-2 times a week with a sulfate-free shampoo. And make sure that you condition your hair before shampooing,” says Dr Lohia.

Chemicals in hair products wreak havoc

Many hairsprays, mousses and gels are saturated with chemicals that dry out the scalp and lead to dandruff. “Hair dyes themselves don’t create dandruff. However, if anyone is already prone to getting dandruff, hair dye could contribute to a flare-up. Chemicals in hair dyes can remove the protective lipids/oils from your scalp, leaving it exposed and vulnerable to damage and developing dandruff. Certain chemicals in hair colour, such as Paraphenylenediamine (PPDA), are known sensitisers, which means that people could develop an allergic reaction to them after repeated exposure,” says Dr Goel.

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Side effects of the condition

Dandruff can be responsible for itchiness and hair breakage. Oily scalp can also be a reason for acne on scalp as well as face.

When selecting an over-the-counter shampoo, look for anti-dandruff ingredients. (iStock)
When selecting an over-the-counter shampoo, look for anti-dandruff ingredients. (iStock)

How to prevent dandruff

— The first and foremost thing to remember is to avoid taking a bath with very hot water, as this can severely dry out your scalp.

— Secondly, those with oily scalp should shampoo frequently to maintain your scalp hygiene. Just about 2-3 times a week is enough to remove flakes. It also helps to reduce oiliness, and prevent dead skin cell buildup.

— When selecting an over-the-counter shampoo, look for anti-dandruff ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or zinc pyrithione.

— If you are more prone to dandruff, avoid oiling your hair as this can be the food for fungus and exacerbate your dandruff.

What to consider as an alarm bell?

If the scalp appears reddish, and yellow or white thick scales and plaque is evident, do visit a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Do dietary changes reduce problem?

“Eating lots of green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, and reducing excessive yeast and sugar, combined with healthy levels of zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins E and B will nourish your body and strengthen your scalp against drying,” says Dr Goel.

Kitchen remedy to the rescue

“Consider diluted apple cider vinegar to cleanse the scalp a few times a week, and a charcoal mask (for oily scalp) to remove pollution-related damage,” says Dr Lohia.

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