Dandruff (also called scurf, Pityriasis capitis) is due to the excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp.

As it is normal for skin cells to die and flake off, a small amount of flaking is normal and in fact quite common. Some people, however, either chronically or as a result of certain triggers, experience an unusually large amount of flaking, which can also be accompanied by redness and irritation.

Most cases of dandruff can be easily treated with specialized shampoos. Simple dandruff does not cause hair loss.

Excessive flaking can also be a symptom of seborrhoeic dermatitis, psoriasis, fungal infection or excoriation associated with infestation of head lice.

Dandruff is a global phenomenon and many people find that dandruff can cause social or self-esteem problems. Treatment may be important purely for psychological reasons.

Dandruff is sometimes confused with dried shampoo. This usually occurs when hair isn't rinsed properly.

Dandruff is not an organism like lice, it is just dead skin that accumulates in the scalp.


As the epidermal layer continually replaces itself, cells are pushed outward where they eventually die and flake off. In most people, these flakes of skin are too small to be visible. However, certain conditions cause cell turnover to be unusually rapid, especially in the scalp. For people with dandruff, skin cells may mature and be shed in 2 - 7 days, as opposed to around a month in people without dandruff. The result is that dead skin cells are shed in large, oily clumps, which appear as white or grayish patches on the scalp and clothes.

Dandruff has been shown to be the result of three required factors:

  • 1. Skin oil commonly referred to as sebum or sebaceous secretions;
  • 2. The metabolic by-products of skin micro-organisms (most specifically Malassezia yeasts);
  • 3. An individual susceptibility.

A scalp specific fungus, Malassezi Globosa, is the responsible agent that causes dandruff. This fungus metabolizes triglycerides present in sebum by the expression of lipase, resulting in a lipid byproduct oleic acid (OA). Penetration by OA of the top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, results in an inflammatory response which disturbs homeostasis and results in erratic cleavage of stratum corneum cells.

Rarely, dandruff can be a manifestation of an allergic reaction to chemicals in hair gels/sprays, hair oils, or sometimes even dandruff medications like Ketoconazole.

There is no convincing evidence that food (such as sugar or yeast), excessive perspiration, or climate have any role in the pathogenesis of dandruff.

There have been many strategies for the control of dandruff. Simply increasing shampooing will remove flakes. However, elimination of the fungus results in dramatic improvement. Regular shampooing with an anti-fungal product will not only treat but prevent recurrence.


  • Severe forms of flaking if accompanied by flaking or scaling on other parts of the body, might best be treated by a dermatologist.
  • Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo containing active ingredient Zinc pyrithione.
  • Nizoral Shampoo anti-fungal/anti-dandruff shampoo containing active ingredient Ketoconazole.
  • The antifungal properties of Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil) have been reported as useful in the treatment of dandruff.
  • Washing hair with rubbing alcohol gets rid of the dandruff and leaves hair feeling soft and clean.
  • Tar containing shampoos are also used for treatment of dandruff.
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