Causes and Symptoms of Dandruff

Dandruff is a common skin condition that affects the scalp. The term dandruff, medically referred to as pityriasis capitis, is usually used for the appearance of dry skin flakes, which are actually the shedding of dead skin cells.

The epidermal layer of our skin continuously gets exfoliated as old skin cells die, making way for new cells. Our skin sheds dead cells continuously, but we cannot see them as the process is slow and the flakes are too small to be seen by the naked eye. The process which usually takes a month under normal conditions is hastened in the case of a person affected with dandruff. In such cases, new cells are produced and shed within a period of 2 to 7 days. The dead cells appear in the form of clumps of white flakes, occurring in patches on the scalp and lay scattered all over the head. These flakes often form oily clumps as dandruff is usually associated with excessive secretion of sebum (an oily substance that moisturizes the skin) by the sebaceous glands.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin disorder affecting the high sebum secreting areas such as the scalp, centre of the face – especially around the nose, chest, ears, occasionally on the groin and skin folds. Severe dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, accompanied by the formations of red lesions, itching and burning sensation. Usually, thick, greasy, reddish patches appear, which have a dry scaly appearance. Moisturizing them only enhances the condition. Seborrheic dermatitis may appear in infants in the form of ‘cradle cap’. It generally subsides as the child grows and may reappear as dandruff when adulthood sets in.

It may also appear in people suffering from Parkinson’s disease or people having immuno-deficiency as in the case of HIV infected people.


Skin infections accompanied by hectic lifestyles often give rise to dandruff. Some other causes can be listed as:

• Over secretion of sebum – Over active sebaceous glands that secrete an excessive amount of oily sebum often give rise to dandruff.

• Dry skin – Exposure to extreme temperatures often result in dandruff. Dandruff commonly appears in winter months when the skin is dry. People with dry skin are more susceptible to dandruff.

• Fungal infection – The yeast Malassezia furfur is a major cause of seborrheic dermatitis. It metabolizes the triglycerides in the sebum, which produce oleic acid as a by-product. This oleic acid acts as an irritant and produces an inflammatory response which manifests as Seborrheic dermatitis.

• Hectic lifestyle – Stress, lack of sleep and wrong diet are some other major causes of dandruff.


The major symptoms of dandruff are:

• Appearance of white flakes and clumps all over the scalp and in between the hair

• Itching and burning sensation

• Appearance of red, greasy, flaky lesions

• Sore feeling of the scalp

• Scaling and crusting patches (cradle cap in children)

Dandruff is a fairly common skin condition and can be treated by using good quality anti-dandruff shampoos, though extreme cases may require medical supervision. So, as soon as you notice any one or some of these symptoms, consult a dermatologist to find the actual reason of dandruff and use prescribed medications to get cured.