What's Really Causing My Dandruff?

From hardcore science to old wives’ tales, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what might be the cause of dandruff. The simple fact is, there’s no one direct cause. A huge number of factors, from our age and gender to lifestyle choices, can all affect our scalp.

So, what’s causing those dreaded flakes, and what can we do to stop them?

The underlying causes

Dandruff is made worse by two things: underlying bodily conditions, and external triggers. The former needs to be treated medically so that we’re addressing the cause – not just the symptom.

What is Malassezia?

One of the common causes of dandruff is irritation as a result of Malassezia. This is a naturally occurring yeast that lives on our scalp. Just like so many other oils, bacteria and anything else found on the human body, it’s harmless in normal amounts.

However, Malassezia is a fungus. If we produce too much, our skin becomes irritated and reacts by shedding flakes and itching. This is what’s known as dandruff, and it’s not just on our heads.

Certain factors can stimulate this overproduction of yeast. We’ll cover these in the ‘triggers’ below.

Pre-existing skin conditions

This fungus is also associated with many common skin conditions. If you’re prone to problems like eczema or pityriasis Versicolor, these may lead to dandruff as they share the same fungus. It’s important to understand the distinction between skin conditions that can cause dandruff as they can often look the same but may require different forms of treatment. For example, scalp eczema (seborrhoeic dermatitis) presents as a red and inflamed surface with scaly flakes and so can psoriasis.

Dry skin may be circumstantial – for example, through exposure to cold temperatures. As a result, it may clear up on its own or with lifestyle changes, depending on the type of fungi, you may require different types of treatment.

Understanding the triggers

If you’re lucky enough not to have a skin condition, other factors may be causing your dandruff. Here we come back to Malassezia. Certain lifestyle choices, or indeed just your own personal circumstances, may cause this fungus to overproduce.

A bad diet

They say you are what you eat. If you’ve ever noticed your skin breaking out after too many greasy meals, it’s the same for your scalp. Foods with a high glycaemic index (i.e. processed, sugary foods) cause our insulin levels to spike. This leads to a surge of hormones, which may increase oil production to feed that formerly friendly fungus.

Stressing yourself out

Your skin is one of the best indicators for stress. When you’re stressed, your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can leave your immune system less able to fight usually harmless things like fungus. Again, the Malassezia seizes this opportunity, and the symptoms may start to show.

Using the wrong hair products

Products like sprays and gels aren’t going to give you dandruff. However, if you’re trying a new dye or chemically straightening your hair, your skin may react. Likewise, you may notice build-up from overuse of products.

Personal circumstances

Though dandruff can affect around 50% of the population, certain people are more at risk than others. For example, statistically, men are more likely than women (of childbearing age) to have dandruff due to hormones. The same applies to teenagers, whose elevated hormone levels may lead to oilier skin.

Fighting the causes

As you can see, dandruff can often loop back round to Malassezia. That’s why we need to address the underlying issue while making lifestyle changes.

Just two washes with Nizoral per week can get to work on dandruff, in as little as 14 days. This is thanks to an ingredient called Ketoconazole – a medically recognised antifungal. If you suffer from skin conditions, talk to your doctor about the steps you can take to keep it under control.

Keep it in check by washing your hair with Nizoral® once every two weeks after treatment. You should also consider:

  • Trying stress-busting practices like yoga
  • Brushing hair regularly to distribute oils

There’s no need to feel embarrassed about dandruff. Following these best practices may help you avoid those dandruff flare-ups!