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Dandruff: Understanding The Cause & Solution

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Dandruff is one of the most common complaints related to hair care. It is also a very common cause of hair loss.

There are a large number of anti-dandruff shampoos available in the market that claim to reduce dandruff. However, these shampoos only provide temporary relief without providing lasting solutions.

Hence, there is a need to assess the root cause of dandruff and correct the underlying issues in order to derive long-lasting results.

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a common condition characterized by the flaking of the skin of the scalp. Though this condition is not contagious or serious, it can be highly embarrassing as it can affect the appearance of a person to a great extent.

Dandruff may sometimes be a milder form of an autoimmune disorder called seborrhoeic dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of Dandruff?
  • Flaking of the skin of the scalp, eyebrows, beard, and moustache
  • Itching of the scalp
  • Scaly and crusty scalp with cradle cap, especially in infants

What are the causes of dandruff?

Dry skin and scalp

Dryness of the skin of the scalp can result in flaking due to which patients may develop moderate to severe dandruff. These symptoms tend to be more severe when a person is stressed. The symptoms often flare up during dry and cold seasons.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition caused due to immunological dysfunctions. It occurs when the immune cells fail to identify the skin cells as the body’s own tissues and attack and destroy them.

When the immune cells attack the skin cells of the scalp, it results in inflammation and damage to the skin resulting in flaking.

Oily skin

Having oily and greasy skin can make a person prone to develop dandruff by triggering the development of seborrhoeic dermatitis.

In fact, the oily scalp covered by flaky scales can be a sign of seborrhoeic dermatitis that needs to be managed with the help of treatments aimed at correcting immunological dysfunctions.


Infections due to a fungus called Malassezia can cause inflammation of the skin of the scalp leading to excessive growth of the skin cell resulting in dandruff. Patients who suffer from seborrheic dermatitis are more likely to experience repeated attacks of moderate to severe dandruff due to the infections by the “fat-loving” Malassezia. 

Other bacterial and fungal infections including the candidiasis of the scalp can also cause an overgrowth of the skin cells leading to the excessive scaling of the skin.

Poor gut health

Poor gut flora and the overgrowth of pathogenic microbes in the intestine due to a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) are linked to the itching and dryness of the scalp that can increase the chances of developing recurring dandruff. 

The safety and effectiveness of the conventional approach for treating dandruff

The use of anti-dandruff shampoos is the most common way adopted by people to reduce dandruff.

However, most of these hair care products contain harmful chemicals and toxic ingredients that can disrupt the balance of the scalp microbiome putting you at risk of developing hair loss as well as the worsening of the dandruff. The exposure of the skin to these toxins is also linked to a higher risk of cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation.

Moreover, most commercial anti-dandruff products contain salicylic acid or zinc pyrithione, both of which are quite harsh on the scalp.

These products, though effective for reducing dandruff, tend to work only temporarily and often make the symptoms worse in the long run. Hence, there is a need to focus on identifying and eliminating the root cause of dandruff in order to derive lasting relief without the risk of adverse effects.

External treatment for dandruff

It is advisable to choose your hair care products wisely. Here are some tips you can follow while choosing the safe and effective anti-dandruff hair care products.

Zinc oxide

Shampoos containing zinc oxide, castor oil, and olive oil are often effective for reducing dandruff. These ingredients would nourish the scalp and improve the blood flow thus reducing the flaking of the skin.

Herbal ingredients

Shampoos containing natural herbs like aloe vera, burdock, neem, calendula, tea tree oil, and skin-friendly nutrients like vitamin E are highly effective for reducing dandruff.
These herbs possess natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunoregulatory properties. They can protect the scalp against inflammation and other toxins and reduce dandruff. 

Scalp massage

Massage of the scalp with coconut oil can be a highly effective home remedy for reducing dandruff.
To use, you can mix 1 or 2 teaspoons of neem oil and 2 to 3 drops of tea tree essential oil in coconut oil and apply it to the scalp. Gently massage the scalp with this oil using fingertips. Leave it for about one hour and wash it off with a mild shampoo. 
This would improve the hydration of the scalp and reduce the flaking of the skin.

Finger Lime

Finger lime contains a combination of vitamin C, tryptophan, and ferulic Acid. These compounds can help to nourish and protect the traumatized skin while minimizing the risk of infections of the scalp including Malassezia.
This simple home remedy is suitable for patients who have inflamed or sensitive skin or those who suffer from eczema and dermatitis. It would nourish the dehydrated and flaky skin and reduce dandruff while promoting hair growth.

Internal treatment for dandruff

Healthy diet

Foods rich in biotin like garlic, peas, barley, avocado, and lentils can help to improve skin health and nourish the scalp and hair roots thus reducing dandruff.
Foods rich in minerals like selenium, zinc, and sulfur and bioactive compounds like lecithin can produce natural anti-dandruff activities and provide a long-lasting relief from hair loss and dandruff.

It is advisable to eat a handful of Brazil nuts on a daily basis to reduce dandruff. These nuts are rich in selenium and zinc both of which can help to reduce dandruff by improving skin nourishment.

Moreover, including nutritious foods like lettuce, spinach, kale, and cucumber in your diet can also be beneficial for reducing dandruff.

Foods that provide a rich source of sulfur such as parsnip, radish, garlic, onion, and cabbage as well as those containing lecithin such as soybeans, flax, peanuts, pumpkins, and plums can be included in the regular diet for deriving better and longer-lasting results.

Increasing your water intake is also a great way to hydrate the scalp and prevent the scaling and flaking of the skin.

Lifestyle habits

It is advisable to limit your alcohol intake as alcohol can cause gut irritation and increase the risk of fungal infections thus worsening dandruff.

Avoiding the intake of processed foods and pro-inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy products could be an effective way to avoid skin inflammation. You can eliminate these foods from your diet and watch how your skin reacts for about 4 weeks. This will help you identify the possible triggers and eliminate them from your diet thus protecting you against hair problems like dandruff, split ends, hair breakage, seborrhoeic dermatitis, and even baldness.

Nutritional supplements

The use of nutritional supplements containing vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids could help balance out the pro-inflammatory activities in the body and neutralize the atopic reaction responsible for causing the flaking of the skin.

Omega 3’s would also support the integrity of the dermal layer of the scalp and reduce dandruff significantly.

Probiotics and digestive enzymes

Poor gut flora and weak digestion are commonly associated with skin problems like dandruff. Hence, it is advisable to use digestive enzyme supplements containing prebiotics and probiotics a few minutes before meals.

This would enhance the ability of the body to digest and absorb nutrients and help to ward off unfriendly microorganisms that attempt to colonize in your body and trigger an abnormal immune reaction thereby reducing dandruff.


Identifying the root cause of dandruff and correcting the underlying abnormalities are the most effective ways to reduce dandruff. This approach can help you derive long-lasting results without the risk of side effects associated with the use of commercial shampoos and hair care products.

Over a period of time, it would also help improve hair growth and make the hair shiny and voluminous.

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  • One Response

    1. Well Done, I see this issue in the elderly a lot and one of the causes is dehydration. A simple glass of clean mineral water can do so much for our bodies however, so many people just hate the taste of water that they will not drink the adequate amounts they need.

      Thanks for bringing this issue to the people.

      Take Care, CT

    Leave a Reply

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