Finding flakes on your scalp—or on the shoulders of your favorite black sweater—can stop you in your tracks and have you beelining to the shower to rinse away any residue. Many think that dandruff is a representation of personal hygiene or how often you wash your hair, but, in most cases, dandruff has little to do with your shampooing habits: It's the yeast on our scalps that's the culprit. We all have yeast on our scalps; however, for some, the yeast can cause itching, inflammation, and flaky skin.
If you find yourself dealing with chronic dandruff, you may also notice more stray strands in your hairbrush or floating down the drain. The logical thing would be to think that the dandruff is to blame, but there's more to it than that. To get more insight, we reached out to trichologist and founder of Alodia Hair Care, Isfahan Chambers-Harris, Ph.D., to get the expert details on all things dandruff.
Meet the Expert
Isfahan Chambers-Harris is a PhD-level biomedical scientist, trichologist, and founder of Alodia Hair Care.
Does Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?
Scalp buildup, unlike dandruff, is a product of oil and buildup on the scalp. Dandruff, on the other hand, is caused by the reaction to yeast on the scalp. In addition to being itchy and a visible annoyance, you may have heard that dandruff can cause hair loss, but that isn't entirely true. "In most cases, dandruff itself—that dry, itchy, flaky skin of the scalp—does not directly cause hair loss," says Chambers-Harris. "However, what's causing dandruff (medical conditions such as severe fungal infections, seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, etc.) can inflame the follicles and scalp, which may lead to hair loss."
Harvard Health reports that about one-third of women experience hair loss at some point in their lives.
Can Scratching Your Scalp Cause Hair Loss?
We've all been there: We have an itch on our scalp that just won't quit. If you're prone to dandruff, you may be familiar with the constant tingling, irritated feeling that gives way to constant scratching. But manipulating the scalp by scratching it can damage the hair follicle. When you've over-stimulated your scalp, it will let you know with physical indicators.
When applying oil to the scalp, you only need four to eight drops for the entire head.
"Constant, excessive, and aggressive scratching can damage the integrity of the hair follicle, which can ultimately lead to hair loss," Chambers-Harris explains. "Indications that you have damaged your follicle are if your scalp is burning, sensitive to touch, red, or if you see thinning of the hair." If you find yourself with an irritated scalp, look for products formulated for treating the scalp with ingredients like safflower oil, peppermint oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and tea tree oil. Whipping up a DIY version of oil may be tempting, but essential oils can be irritating when they aren't mixed properly—so we recommend looking to haircare lines that offer a treatment made for the scalp.
How Can I Soothe Dandruff?
If you find yourself with chronic flakes, Chambers-Harris recommends looking at what's causing the itching and dandruff, including our diets. She encourages watching your diet by limiting sugary and highly refined foods, caffeine, and dairy, all of which can trigger inflammation. Also, incorporating haircare products made with hydrating ingredients like avocado oil and the anti-inflammatory, pH-balancing aloe vera can be helpful.
If amending your hair care regimen doesn't yield any relief, it might be time to reach out to a professional. Chambers-Harris says common treatments for dandruff include anti-fungal steroids (which can be taken orally or applied to the scalp via injection), or cream to reduce the inflammation and immunotherapy medications. Before trying any new treatments, consult with your dermatologist. If you find that your hair loss is a result of alopecia, your healthcare provider may recommend Minoxidil, and dandruff could be a side effect.
What is androgenetic alopecia?
Androgenetic alopecia is a hereditary hair loss that affects women.
"People with androgenic alopecia are treated with minoxidil," Chambers-Harris explains. "The minoxidil treatments can cause dandruff." Minoxidil, known to most as Rogaine, is the only topical treatment approved by the FDA to treat androgenic alopecia. There are two formulas: the 2% minoxidil solution and the 5% minoxidil unscented foam, both clinically proven to regrow hair in up to 80% of women.
For those that are only dealing with dandruff, you're in luck—a change of shampoo can typically resolve any dandruff related issues. Before investing in a new shampoo, look for active ingredients like pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, and coal tar, and let the new cleanser sit on your scalp for up to five minutes before rinsing.
This pH-balanced, flake fighting formula is made with 1.0% Pyrithione Zinc, coconut oil, and shea butter.
Made with naturally curly and coily textures in mind, this coconut oil-infused formula fights flakes and buildup while keeping curls hydrated.
Formulated with salicylic acid and caffeine, this gentle formula exfoliates and soothes the scalp—and is even safe for color-treated hair.