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Difference Between Psoriasis and Dandruff?: What to Know

Medically reviewed by Angeli Eloise E. Torres, MD, DPDS · Dermatology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Jun 25, 2021

Difference Between Psoriasis and Dandruff?: What to Know

What’s the difference between psoriasis and dandruff? These conditions are often confused for each other because of their similar symptoms, which include flaky, skin build-up. But at their core, they’re very different. Here’s what you should know. 

What’s Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an inflammatory, chronic condition that affects several systems in the body, like the musculoskeletal system, the immune system, and the skin. Psoriasis can happen when the skin cell’s life cycle speeds up and causes a sudden buildup of dead and rough skin cells. It often causes itchy and thick patches on the body, including the scalp. 

Psoriasis is not that uncommon. Around 125 million people around the world have psoriasis. 

What is Dandruff?

On the other hand, dandruff is a chronic, but mild, scalp condition. It causes the scalp to flake and itch. Compared to psoriasis, dandruff is rather mild and is not contagious

The Common Symptoms

A distinct difference between psoriasis and dandruff is that psoriasis tends to look more scaly and the scalp can crack. On the other hand, dandruff tends to be flaky.

Psoriasis symptoms

There are different kinds of psoriasis, but one kind, in particular, can make your scalp itch. Scalp psoriasis has some key symptoms, which  include:

  • Inflamed, reddish, and thick patches. It can also have silvery-white scales. The patches can extend past your hairline
  • Dead skin flakes on the clothes or hair, particularly after scratching the scalp
  • Extreme itching
  • The patches may bleed if you remove them
  • Serious cases can be painful and be very red
  • Hair loss

Dandruff symptoms

  • Itchy scalp
  • Skin flakes on the scalp, shoulders, eyebrows, mustache/beard, and clothes
  • In infants who have cradle cap, they may have a crusty, scaly cap

Difference Between Psoriasis and Dandruff: Causes

Like dandruff, you could have one or several causes for psoriasis. The causes of psoriasis are unknown, but most doctors and researchers agree that it occurs because of immune system malfunctions, which cause the skin cells to rapidly grow.

Certain triggers are believed to psoriasis, such as:

  • Infections like skin infections or strep throat
  • Severe sunburns, bug bites, or skin injuries (scrapes, cuts, etc.).
  • Stress
  • Weather, particularly dry and cold conditions
  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke and/or smoking
  • Sudden withdrawal of systematic or oral corticosteroids
  • Some medications, like antimalarial drugs, high blood pressure medications, and lithium

While the cause for psoriasis is uncertain, dandruff may be caused by several reasons: 

  • Oily and irritated skin
  • Dry skin
  • Skin conditions like eczema
  • Contact dermatitis (being sensitive to certain hair care products)
  • Malassezia (yeast-like fungus) that feasts on the scalp oils of most adults
  • Not shampooing the hair enough

The main difference between psoriasis and dandruff when it comes to causes is that while psoriasis is an auto-immune disease, dandruff is affected by certain skin factors.

How are Dandruff and Psoriasis Diagnosed?

Typically, a doctor can diagnose dandruff just by looking at the scalp and hair. For psoriasis, your doctor may look additionally at your nails, skin, and scalp. The doctor may also examine a small skin sample to see what kind of psoriasis you may have and other conditions. 

How Do You Treat Psoriasis?

The goal of psoriasis treatments is to keep skin cells from rapidly growing, along with removing scales. The exact treatment will depend on the kind of psoriasis you have and its severity.

Some common treatments a doctor may recommend include:

  • Injected/oral medications (retinoids, steroids, etc.).
  • Light therapy like UVB broadband
  • Topical therapy like retinoids, corticosteroids, salicylic acid, etc

Some doctors may also suggest extra home remedies that their patients can do along with the given treatment to relieve mild symptoms, such as:

  • Fish oil supplements
  • Avoiding stress by going to therapy, meditating, doing yoga, etc
  • Aloe extract cream

How Do You Treat Dandruff?

Most people with mild dandruff may only need to wash their hair daily. Ideally, they should use a gentle shampoo that will decrease skin cell and oil buildup.

Some people may need to get medicated dandruff shampoo if a gentle shampoo does not work. It may take some experimentation to find the right medicated shampoo for you.

It is worth noting that you should stop using any hair care product immediately if you experience stinging, itching, burning, or redness. You may also need immediate medical attention if you get an allergic reaction (difficulty breathing, hives, rashes, etc.).

Key Takeaways

Psoriasis and dandruff have similar symptoms like an itchy, flaky scalp. However, it is important to remember that while psoriasis is an auto-immune disease that may become life threatening, dandruff is a milder condition that can be treated with medicated shampoos and proper hair cleansing. 

Learn more about Psoriasis here. 


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

Medically reviewed by

Angeli Eloise E. Torres, MD, DPDS

Dermatology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Jun 25, 2021

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