Ever been to a salon and cringed when the hairstylist pointed out that you have flakes on your scalp? Dandruff is a pesky condition that everybody would have at least once experienced.  For some, this flakiness of the scalp may have been chronic and for others it may have been cyclical with alternating clearing and flare-up periods. While it doesn’t really transfer from contact, it can be a cause for much embarrassment for many people.  So what causes dandruff? While the exact cause evades experts it is generally accepted that there are internal and external factors that trigger it. Internal factors could be hormonal imbalance, long term illnesses, compromised immune system, poor diet, vitamin deficiency, lifestyle stress etc. Expert medical advice has to be sought for these underlying concerns. The flakes themselves are  a symptom of scalp inflammation and external factors contributing would be oily, sensitive or dry skin, allergy to hair products and microbial infection.

Skin sheds dead cells as a natural renewal process but when overactive sebaceous glands secrete oil in excess, the cells tend to build up, clump together and be cast off as flakes especially if rate of shedding is very high. This is seborrheic dermatitis, a condition where the skin appears red and greasy with crusty yellow flakes forming on top, especially in sebum rich areas such as eyebrows, by the side of the nose, backs of ears and armpits and groins.

Dandruff can also be caused by of Malassezia, naturally occurring yeast like fungus on the scalp which feed on dead skin and sometimes they can go on an overdrive and cause dandruff. If you are using wrong sort of products, under-washing or over-washing your scalp, it can irritate the scalp into shedding. Do watch out for harsh surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SleS) and Aluminium Lauryl Sulphate (ALS) in your shampoos. They strip the skin of moisture, drying it out and causing inflammation making way to itchy and scaling skin.

Small changes to lifestyle and simple remedial actions can go a long way in self managing mild dandruff problem.

A good stress management and diet plan will help keep those scalp scavenging microbes away by keeping your immune system up and running. Oily scalp needs to be cleansed more frequently, so choose a shampoo that is kind to your scalp. Comb hair regularly with a good brush that suits your hair type – the combing action removes flakes and spreads out the oil to the strands preventing build-up and flakiness. Oiling hair might just worsen the problem by feeding Malassezia. Instead substitute with a hydrating hair mask that contains antimicrobial ingredients, or a serum with the same benefits. Cut back on residue building styling products and get your mane a little bit of sun.

There are over the counter medicated shampoos containing these ingredients – Pyrithione Zinc which is an antimicrobial agent, coal tar to help reduce the rate of skin shedding, salicylic acid to exfoliate the scaling scalp, selenium sulphide to reduce Malassezia and Ketoconazole, an antifungal agent. While they may treat the symptom they do not get to the root of the problem, they may also leave the scalp dry, irritated and hair discoloured.

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