Skin Conditions: Dandruff
Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dandruff is a common condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake. It isn't contagious or serious.

Dandruff is considered to be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. In babies, seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap.


Dandruff signs and symptoms may include:

  • Skin flakes on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or moustache and shoulders. The flakes are often more noticeable in darker hair and if they fall from your scalp on to your shoulders.
  • Dry and itchy scalp
  • Scaly, crusty scalp in infants with cradle cap

The signs and symptoms may be more severe if you're stressed, and they tend to flare up in cold, dry seasons.


For mild dandruff, first try daily cleansing with a gentle shampoo to reduce oil and skin cell build up. If that doesn't help, try a medicated dandruff shampoo. You may need to try more than one shampoo to find the hair care routine that works for you. And you'll likely need repeated or long-term treatment.

There are several different types you can buy you’re your local CarePlus Pharmacy. Look for shampoo containing one of these ingredients:

  • Zinc pyrithione (an antibacterial and antifungal agent)
  • Salicylic acid (helps eliminate scale)
  • Selenium sulfide (contains an antifungal agent, use a shampoo with this ingredient as directed and rinse well after shampooing as they can discolour the hair and scalp)
  • Ketoconazole (intended to kill dandruff-causing fungi that live on your scalp)
  • Coal tar (this slows how quickly skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. If you have light-coloured hair, this type of shampoo may cause discolouration and can make the scalp more sensitive to sunlight).

Your CarePlus Pharmacist can tell you how to use the shampoo. Read and follow the directions on each bottle of shampoo you try. Some products need to be left on for a few minutes, while others should be rinsed off quickly.

At first, use a medicated shampoo one to three times a week to treat dandruff. Then taper to once a week or less frequently for maintenance and prevention.

Use the shampoo for a month to see if your dandruff improves. You might need to try more than one type to find one that works for you.

See a GP if:

  • You still have symptoms after using anti-dandruff shampoo for a month
  • Your dandruff is bad or your scalp is very itchy
  • Your scalp is red or swollen

The GP can check your scalp for skin conditions that could be causing your dandruff.

If one type of shampoo works for a time and then seems to lose its effectiveness, try alternating between two types of dandruff shampoos.

Lifestyle and home remedies

You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing dandruff or to control it:

  • Learn to manage stress. Stress affects your overall health, making you susceptible to a number of conditions and diseases. It can trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet that provides sufficient amounts of zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats may help prevent dandruff.
  • Shampoo often. If you tend to have an oily scalp, daily shampooing may help prevent dandruff. Gently massage your scalp to loosen flakes. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Get some sun. Sunlight may be good for controlling dandruff. However, exposure to ultraviolet light damages your skin and increases your risk of skin cancer, so just spend a little time outdoors and be sure to wear sunscreen on your face and body.
  • Limit hair styling products. Hair styling products can cause build up in your hair and on your scalp, making them oilier

Causes of dandruff

Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene, although it may be more obvious if you do not wash your hair regularly. Stress and cold weather can also make dandruff worse.


Possible causes

scaly, itchy and red patches on skin on scalp, face and other areas of the body

seborrheic dermatitis

red or silver rash on scalp, sometimes with patchy hair loss

tinea capitis, known as ringworm

dry, red, flaky and very itchy skin on areas of the body


red, inflamed (irritated) skin; may also have blisters and cracked skin – reaction to products such as hair dye, sprays, gels or mousses

contact dermatitis

red, flaky, crusty and sore patches of skin covered with silvery scales


greasy, yellowish crusts on baby's scalp, eyebrows and nappy area

cradle cap

Dandruff may have several other causes, including:

  • Irritated, oily skin
  • Not shampooing enough
  • A yeast-like fungus (malassezia) that feeds on oils on the scalps of most adults
  • Dry skin

Risk factors

Almost anyone can have dandruff, but certain factors can make you more susceptible:

  • Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age.
  • Because more men than women have dandruff, some researchers think male hormones may play a role.
  • Parkinson's disease and other diseases that affect the nervous system also seem to increase the risk of dandruff. So does having HIV or a weakened immune system.

Do not worry if you're not sure what is causing your dandruff. Follow the advice on this page, pop in and chat to your local CarePlus Pharmacist and see a GP if things do not improve in a month.

Information from NHS & HSE