Dr. Alai is an actively practicing medical and surgical dermatologist in south Orange County, California. She has been a professor of dermatology and family medicine at the University of California, Irvine since 2000. She is U.S. board-certified in dermatology, a 10-year-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, and Fellow of the American Society of Mohs Surgery.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dandruff is a very common skin condition that nearly all people experience at one point in their lives regardless of age or ethnicity. It affects the not just the scalp, but also the ears, eyebrows, sides of the nose, beard, and less commonly the central (often hair-bearing) part of the chest. Dandruff can affect any hair-bearing area or an area with even very small hair follicles. Other names for dandruff are seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea.
Dandruff is seen in all ages from babies to the elderly. In infancy, scalp dandruff is commonly known as "cradle cap." In the teen years it has been called "druff" for short. Some people are simply more prone to dandruff, and others experience periodic clearing cycles and periodic flare-ups of the condition. Many furry pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and hamsters also have dandruff.
Dandruff typically looks like dry, fine flaky skin on the scalp with areas of pink or red inflamed skin. Many individuals have no scalp symptoms but simply complain of white flakes on their shoulders, particularly noticeable on dark clothing. More advanced cases may cause intense itching, burning, and unstoppable scratching.
Some people are more prone to dandruff, and dandruff tends to be a chronic or recurrent disorder with periodic ups and downs. Although it is not curable, it is generally quite easily controlled with proper skin and hair hygiene. In babies, cradle cap usually clears after a few months. It may recur later in life as typical dandruff. For some, dandruff may worsen with time. Although it may occur for a short period, dandruff tends to recur throughout a person' s life or last a lifetime.
Severe dandruff may be a very difficult and frustrating condition. An ongoing combination treatment of multiple shampoos, washes, and creams and lotions may be required to treat resistant cases. Overall, dandruff treatments are very safe and effective. The best shampoo choices include antifungal
shampoos such as ketoconazole (Nizoral).
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, FACP, FACR
Dandruff is certainly unsightly and it can be a cause for concern. Is it just a result of poor hygiene? Or is there a medical reason for dandruff, so that the sufferer "can't help" but have it?
The answer isn't so simple. While doctors don't know exactly what causes dandruff, we do know it is a very common condition that affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives. It's not the result of a bacterialor fungalinfection (like the misnomer "ringworm" of the scalp). Some potential causes for dandruff have been suggested, including increased oil production of the skin, increases in certain skin secretions, and increased numbers of normal skin yeasts, but the exact cause of dandruff has never been established.
There are also many factors that may trigger dandruff. Common factors that may trigger dandruff include: