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Dandruff Causes: When Should It Become a Cause for Concern?

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Aug 24, 2022

Dandruff Causes: When Should It Become a Cause for Concern?

Dandruff, also known as pityriasis capitis, occurs when the scalp sheds flakes of dead skin cells. Dandruff is harmless but it can also be a source of  embarassment. The flakes often fall on the shoulders and become apparent when one wears dark clothing. Usually, dandruff is accompanied by itching. But what are the dandruff causes we should be aware of? 

Dandruff Causes

Dandruff can be caused by a simple drying of the scalp but it can also be caused by serious medical conditions. If dandruff is severe, make sure to consult your dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Here are some of the most common causes of dandruff:

Drying of the scalp

Drying of the scalp is the most common cause of dandruff. When the scalp is dry, it flakes off. A lot of factors can cause the scalp to dry.

  • Too much washing – Frequent shampooing and washing can strip hair of natural oils and moisture.
  • Weather changes – During dry or cold months, the skin also tends to dry. Staying too long under the air-condition or staying too near heaters can also dry out your scalp. 
  • Dehydration – The lack of water in the body causes the skin to dry. This also translates to drying of the scalp which can cause dandruff. 
  • Unhealthy Practices

    Some unhealthy practices, especially relating to hygiene and diet care considered dandruff causes, like the following: 

    • Not shampooing enough – Not using enough shampoo can cause oil build-up on the scalp which promotes dandruff. 
    • Unhealthy diet – Eating food that causes more oil production in the skin is one of the dandruff causes. In addition, a diet that does not contain the right amount of vitamin B can also cause dandruff.
    • Stress – Since dandruff causes include an imbalance that leads to shedding, any hormonal imbalance brought by stress has the potential to cause dandruff.

    Chemicals in Hair Products

    The scalp’s reaction to certain chemicals can also cause dandruff. Hair products come in the form of shampoos, conditioners, gels, and even hair sprays.

    • Fragrances – Fragrances, especially synthetic ones, are made from chemicals and it’s difficult to tell which ones cause dryness, irritation, or even both. This is one of the main dandruff causes.
    • Sulfates – Sulfates are one of the chemicals responsible for the lather found in most soaps. Sulfates can be too harsh on the scalp, stripping the hair’s natural oils. 
    • Parabens – Parabens are chemicals with preservative properties. They can irritate your scalp, which can lead to dandruff.
    • Formaldehyde – This chemical is found mostly in keratin treatments. In some cases, formaldehyde can irritate the scalp and can also cause allergic reactions 
    • Medical Conditions

      Dandruff causes also include certain medical conditions. Conditions that usually dry the skin or cause an imbalance in the skin’s microbes are responsible for causing dandruff.

      • Biotin deficiency – Biotin or Vitamin B7 helps the body convert food into energy. Cradle Cap is characterized by oily and scaly patches on the scalp of infants, which is caused by biotin deficiency. 
      • Seborrheic dermatitis – It is suspected that seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a single-cell microbe called Malassezia globosa. This microbe produces oleic acid, which causes the skin cells to renew faster, which then results in dandruff
      • PsoriasisScalp psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes reddish and scaly patches on the scalp that manifest on your forehead, behind and inside your ears, and at the back of the neck. 
      • Tinea CapitisTinea Capitis is also known as scalp ringworm. It is a fungal infection that causes hair loss, itchiness, and dry scales. Poor hygiene increases the risk of getting scalp ringworm.
      • Contact DermatitisContact dermatitis is a condition where the scalp turns red, itches, and sheds flakes due to the scalp’s reaction to certain chemicals in hair products. 
      • Allergic reaction – Similar to contact dermatitis, allergic reactions to some hair products can result in irritation of the scalp, causing dandruff. 

      Key Takeaways

      Dandruff happens when the shedding of the scalp produces flakes. The scalps usually shed due to drying, irritation, and chemical/ hormonal imbalances. Serious medical conditions such as psoriasis, biotin deficiency, and seborrheic dermatitis can also cause recurring dandruff. 
      Aside from the aforementioned, dandruff causes also include allergic reactions to products and poor hygiene practices and medical conditions. For severe cases of dandruff, consult your doctor.

      Learn more about Hair and Scalp Care here


      Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

      Medically reviewed by

      Mia Dacumos, MD

      Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

      Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Aug 24, 2022

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