It’s only normal that people with dandruff steer clear of dark colours, especially black. And there are in their millions. Many people have this chronic scalp disorder, which is marked by itching and excessive flaking of the scalp.
The skin, waterproof and airtight, constantly renews itself causing dead cells from the scalp to fall off as new cells form beneath them. Everyone loses skin cells in this way.
With dandruff, the process is faster, so a greater number of cells are shed. This means the cells are discarded in clumps (flakes) that we all see with the naked eye.
Flakes of dandruff are especially visible when they land on dark clothing. Dandruff is a global phenomenon and many people soon find that dandruff can cause social or self-esteem problems.
The medical name for dandruff is pityriasis capitis, and it’s the most common condition of the scalp.
An on-line health information service says dandruff, also called scurf, is due to the excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp. As it is normal for skin cells to die and flake off, a small amount of flaking is normal and, in fact, quite common. Some people, however, either chronically or as a result of certain conditions, experience an unusually large amount of flaking, which can also be accompanied by redness and irritation.
However, dandruff is not contagious. The worst it does is to embarrass you and it can embarrass you in a big and persistent way.
The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (Mayo Clinic) says that at one time or another, dandruff causes have been attributed to dry skin, oily skin, shampooing too often or not often enough, a poor diet, stress, and the use of too many fancy styling products.
“Although some of these factors may exacerbate or contribute to scalp flaking,” says the Foundation, “the real culprit may be a fat-eating, yeast-like fungus called malassezia, formerly known as pityrosporum.”
It goes on to say that malassezia lives on the scalps of most healthy adults without causing problems. But sometimes it grows out of control, feeding on the oils secreted by your hair follicles and causing irritation that leads to increased cell turnover. The result is a large number of dead skin cells. As the cells fall off, they tend to clump together with oil from your hair and scalp, making them appear white, flaky and all too visible.
Exactly what causes an overgrowth of these organisms isn’t known, although increased oil production, hormonal fluctuations, stress, illness, neurological disorders, (such as Parkinson’s disease) a suppressed immune system, infrequent shampooing and extra sensitivity to the malassezia fungus may contribute to the development of dandruff.
Netdoctor, -an on-line medical information center, says dandruff has been shown to be the result of three factors:
Skin oil, commonly referred to as sebum or sebaceous, secretions
The metabolic by-products of skin micro-organisms (most specifically malassezia yeasts)
As the epidermal layer continually replaces itself, says Netdoctor, cells are pushed outward where they eventually die and flake off. In most people, these flakes of skin are too small to be visible. However, certain conditions cause cell turnover to be unusually rapid, especially in the scalp. For people with dandruff, skin cells may mature and be shed in 2 – 7 days, as opposed to around a month in people without dandruff. The result is that dead skin cells are shed in large, oily clumps, which appear as white or grayish patches on the scalp and clothes.
MAYO Foundation says almost any adult is a candidate for dandruff, but certain factors can make you more susceptible:
Age. Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age. That doesn’t mean older adults don’t get dandruff, however. For some people, the problem can be lifelong.
Sex. Because more men than women have dandruff, some researchers think male hormones may play a role in dandruff. Men also have larger sebaceous glands that produce an oil called sebum.
Oily hair and scalp. Malassezia feeds on oils in your scalp. For that reason, having excessively oily skin and hair makes you more prone to dandruff.
Certain illnesses. For reasons that aren’t clear, adults with neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, are more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. So are people recovering from stressful conditions, particularly heart attack and stroke, and those with compromised immune systems.
There are also myths about dandruff. One of them concerns infectiousness. Dandruff is not infectious. And it does not make someone go bald sooner. It is not true that dandruff only affects dark-haired people.
“Seborrhoeic eczema (or seborrhoeic dermatitis) is a more severe form of dandruff that can also affect the skin around your eyebrows, nose, ears, face and forehead. The scales are yellow and greasy looking and your skin is inflamed, red and crusty,” says the Health Encyclopedia. “Another skin condition that affects the scalp is called Psoriasis. Inflamed red patches begin to appear, covered by silvery-white scales. This often also affects skin around the ears, knees and elbows.”
There does not appear to be any advantages to dandruff except for being a sickening nuisance.
“The good news is that dandruff can usually be controlled,” says the Mayo Foundation. “Mild cases of dandruff may need nothing more than daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser. And stubborn flakes often respond to medicated shampoos. What’s more, researchers have identified a yeast-like fungus that may cause or aggravate dandruff, a discovery that may lead to better treatments.”
To reduce and manage dandruff, the Clinic advises that when shampooing, you massage your scalp and not scratch it. Rinse your hair well, ideally twice with every shampoo.
“The scalp is very sensitive, so take care with hair products that can dry and irritate it,” says dermatologist Dr Rob Hicks. “Alternate your usual shampoo with a dandruff shampoo. If you find the flakes make an unwelcome return, don’t panic. This often happens, just switch to a new shampoo.”
It is also advised to make sure your diet contains enough vitamin E, selenium and zinc. Flaxseed oil is also said to help prevent dandruff and can be taken in liquid or capsule form.
Hicks advises that to prevent dandruff, we should do regular daily brushing, wash the hair at least three times a week, use “a specially medicated shampoo every 1-2 weeks to prevent recurrence and rinsing the hair thoroughly after shampooing. He advises against the use of chemicals, such as those used in hair colouring, on the scalp and encourages making sure that you have enough vitamins, such as zinc, beta-carotene, B6, B12 and selenium in your diet.
“You can reduce the frequency of bouts of seborrhoeic dermatitis by washing hair regularly (every week or every other week) with medicated anti-fungal shampoo.”
The Mayo Clinic says that dandruff is a chronic condition that can almost always be controlled, but dandruff treatment may take a little patience and persistence.
“In general, mild scaling can often be helped by daily cleansing with a gentle shampoo to reduce oiliness and cell buildup,” they say. “When regular shampoos fail, OTC (over the counter) dandruff shampoos may succeed. But dandruff shampoos aren’t all alike, and you may need to experiment until you find one that works best for you.”
“There have been many strategies for the control of dandruff,” chimes in Wikipedia. “Simply increasing shampooing will remove flakes. However, elimination of the fungus results in dramatic improvement. Regular shampooing with an anti-fungal product will not only treat but prevent recurrence.”
So are you disgusted by dandruff? You think it is an untidy, unnecessary inconvenience? The New Scientist has a startling report: some scientists think dandruff may help to determine the world’s climate.
“Ruprecht Jaenicke of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Mainz in Germany collected air samples from Germany, Siberia, the Amazon rainforest, the south Atlantic and bubbles in Greenland ice, then analysed particles suspended in them,” reported the New Scientist Magazine (Issue 2494, April 9, 2005, page 14). “He found that 25 percent of atmospheric particles are organic detritus (Vol 308, p 73). He estimates that around a billion tonnes of bio-aerosols enter the atmosphere every year, 20 times previous estimates. By reflecting or absorbing the sun’s rays and encouraging cloud formation, they could influence the climate.”
And, with so much negative talk about climate change, it is only fair that you and I make an honest contribution to the protection and improvement of our rotting climate. Let’s all grow and shade off plenty of dandruff, shall we? It’s an inconvenient truth.