When it comes to embarrassing beauty concerns, having dandruff ranks pretty close to the top. And while there are a number of ways to treat a dry, flaky and itchy scalp, finding the treatment method or products that work best for you isn’t always easy. But achieving and maintaining a healthy head of hair doesn’t have to be such a hard ask. We spoke to Senior Scientist for Head & Shoulders, Saint Tiu, to help you figure out why you’re suffering from dandruff in the first place, and to find out the best ways to get rid of it once and for all.
What is dandruff?
“Dandruff is a condition that results in dry white flakes of dead skin that appear on the top of the scalp,” explains Tiu. He adds, that while “shedding of skin cells is normal, those with dandruff will have them shed at a faster rate. The oils found on the top of the scalp then clump those loose cells together, causing white flakes.”
The causes of dandruff
Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Dandruff is not actually the result of a dry scalp; in fact, it’s the oils on your scalp that are to blame. The root cause of dandruff is a naturally-occurring microbe (technically a fungus) on your scalp called malassezia. The food source for this tiny organism is sebum (or the oil on your scalp). When that sebum is broken down, the waste that malassezia produces is known as oleic acid, which happens to be an acid that many people are sensitive to. And you guessed it, that sensitivity often manifests as an irritated and itchy scalp. In order to get rid of this irritation, your scalp then sheds skin cells at a faster rate than usual and it’s this rapid shedding that causes dandruff.
Why some people suffer from dandruff and not others
Rather than being caused by poor hygiene or cold and dry weather, the only reason you’ll ever develop dandruff is because of a scalp sensitivity to oleic acid. Tiu explains that “much like some people are sensitive to dairy or gluten, certain people are born with a sensitivity to oleic acid”.
How the weather impacts dandruff production
While you’d be forgiven for thinking harsh winter weather would exacerbate your dandruff, it’s actually humid and moist environments that worsen the condition. “Heat causes malassezia to thrive, which in turn can make those with scalp sensitivities experience the itchy, dry and flaky symptoms of dandruff,” explains Tiu. He adds, “being out in the sun will increase body temperature and subsequently sweat on the scalp, which can worsen dandruff as well”.
The best ways to treat dandruff
“If you’re prone to an itchy, flaky scalp, choose haircare products with active ingredients to fight the symptoms of dandruff. Ingredients like ketoconazole and zinc pyrithione are antifungal agents that actively decrease the growth of sebum caused by humidity,” says Tiu. Three products that contain one or both of these includes Head & Shoulders Supreme Moisture Shampoo, Davines Purifying Gel and Kérastase Specifique Bain Anti-Pelliculaire.
Tiu also recommends rinsing your hair and scalp under clean, cool water before shampooing in order to remove sweat and toxins. Additionally, he stresses the need to keep your scalp moisturised to avoid further irritation. “Our scalps need moisture, however there is a common misconception that applying conditioner to your roots makes hair greasy and oily. You should always condition your hair from root to tip and leave for two minutes to allow time for your product to nourish both your hair and scalp before rinsing,” says Tiu.
What to avoid when you have dandruff
While you’re not able to cure yourself of dandruff, there are certain steps you can take to avoid making it worse. Tiu explains that “when the weather is warmer, try to embrace your natural hairstyle and avoid over-styling. If you are experiencing a dry scalp, steer clear of hot styling tools and heavy products that can aggravate the scalp and trigger dandruff.”
Looking for more haircare tips and tricks? Then discover the frizz-fighting tips you’ll need this summer, plus transform your limp strands with these styling tricks for fine hair.
What’s your favourite anti-dandruff haircare products? Share it with us in the comments below.
Main image credit: Getty
Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.