What Causes Dandruff and How to Fight These Flakes

Learn about the common causes of dandruff and how to treat this flaky problem.

Do you often find yourself scratching your scalp? Do you see white flakes on your dark clothes? Then, you might have dandruff. We understand how uncomfortable the itching can be. Add to that the visible white flakes that you may see on your hair. But don’t worry! We’re here to discuss what causes dandruff and what you can do to remedy this flaky situation.

First, let’s look at the common causes of dandruff to know how to address the root of this hair woe.

Scalp care men: Closeup shot of an Asian man touching her short black hair
One of the causes of dandruff is an overgrowth of the fungus Malassezia. Credit: Hariono Halim

1. Fungus

The presence of the fungus Malassezia on your scalp is a common hair dandruff cause. It exists on your scalp, whether you have dandruff or not. However, when there’s an overgrowth of Malassezia, or when your scalp’s natural barrier is weakened, your scalp gets irritated, and this may lead to dandruff.

Malassezia uses sebum and other lipids in the scalp as nutrients and then converts these into waste materials that can penetrate the scalp and cause an inflammatory response,” explains Peter Bailey, a former research and development manager at Unilever.

2. Oily Scalp

When you have an oily scalp, you have a higher risk of getting dandruff because Malassezia feeds on your scalp’s sebum. An oily scalp can also lead to a more serious condition called seborrheic dermatitis. When your scalp becomes red, feels scaly, or when the itching doesn’t stop, it is best to consult a dermatologist to find the best treatment.

3. Dry Scalp

When you have a dry scalp, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get dandruff. However, a dry scalp can make the itching worse and lead to flaking.

4. Dirt and Product Residue

Shampooing your hair removes excess oil, dirt, and product residue. When you don’t shampoo thoroughly, these things clog up your pores and cause irritation, which can then lead to dandruff.

5. Heat and Humidity

“In very hot countries, it is likely that the local humidity around the scalp is increased which could lead to an increase in Malassezia growth, ultimately leading to an increase in the occurrence of dandruff,” explains Peter. This may explain why your scalp starts itching and flaking when the hot summer months start rolling in.

“The most common way to treat dandruff is with a shampoo [containing an anti-fungal ingredient] whose primary role is to remove Malassezia micro-organisms from the scalp,” explains Peter. “By removing them, the main source of attacking toxins is removed and the scalp skin can then start to recover and rebuild its protective scalp barrier.”

Asian man washing his hair with an anti-dandruff shampoo
Use an anti-dandruff shampoo to help treat and prevent dandruff. Credit: Dennie Ramon

Anti-dandruff shampoos usually have anti-fungal agents like zinc pyrithione and piroctone olamine (Octopirox) to treat the causes of dandruff. These shampoos also have keratolytic agents like salicylic acid to deal with the symptoms. If you have recurring dandruff, try CLEAR Cool Sport Menthol Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for Men. It has piroctone olamine, which inhibits the growth of microorganisms like Malassezzia. This shampoo is also formulated with Triple Anti-Dandruff Technology which removes, resists, and prevents dandruff. It penetrates deeply and gives your hair and scalp more germ-fighting power compared to regular shampoos.

Peter also says you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo even if you don’t have dandruff. Doing so can help prevent dandruff by removing Malassezia from the scalp. “However, many people who don’t have dandruff today may never get dandruff due to their individual scalp skin physiology,” he adds. It all boils down to how strong one’s scalp barrier is and its ability to protect your scalp from irritants.

Switching to a milder shampoo can also help you manage dandruff. “We know that harsh cleansers can damage and weaken the scalp barrier so [use] a milder surfactant system,” says Peter.

Now that you know what causes dandruff and how to treat and manage it, you can say hello to flake-free hair and a clear scalp.

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