Interview with a Trichologist -
Dandruff Explained

What causes dandruff? How common is it? We sat down with expert trichologist Stephanie Sey to answer the most common questions about dandruff.

What causes dandruff?

The primary cause of dandruff is an overgrowth or overreaction to the fungus malassezia. Malassezia is a naturally-occurring yeast, however for some people it can cause irritation which results in the skin cells shedding more quickly. Other causes of dandruff include skin conditions such as contact dermatitis, scalp psoriasis and cradle cap.

How common is dandruff?

Dandruff affects roughly 50% of the population at some point in their life. Men are often affected more than women and symptoms can peak above the age of 20. If you’re suffering from dandruff, remember you aren’t alone - it’s likely that at least one person you know has experienced dandruff too!

Is dandruff contagious?

Dandruff is not contagious or infectious and therefore it can’t be passed from person to person. Malassezia is present on most people’s scalps, but the reaction to it which causes dandruff is an individual response.

Is dandruff permanent?

Dandruff is a condition that is controlled, not cured. In most cases, it is considered a chronic condition and therefore requires long-term or repeated treatment to keep the symptoms at bay. That’s why it’s important to establish a healthy scalp care regime.

Is dandruff caused by dry skin?

It might seem that way, however dandruff tends to be an oily condition. The fungus malassezia, which is the primary cause of dandruff, feeds off the oil produced by the sebaceous glands.

Why is dandruff itchy?

Around 60% of people who suffer from dandruff experience itchiness as a symptom. This itching is associated with the body’s inflammatory response to the overgrowth of malassezia. Other symptoms include irritation and tightness in the scalp area. You may also experience soreness if you have a condition such as seborrhoeic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis or contact dermatitis.

Does dandruff cause hair loss?

Dandruff doesn’t directly cause hair loss, but the itchiness it causes can lead to scratching and this can in turn damage the hair follicles which may result in hair loss. If you’re concerned about the risk of hair loss, speak to a healthcare professional for more information.

Does dandruff cause acne?

Dandruff itself doesn’t cause acne, but excess oil production in the skin can play a role in both conditions. Therefore, if you are suffering from dandruff, you may also experience acne.

How can I prevent dandruff?

Preventing dandruff often starts with a good scalp care routine. Find a medicated shampoo that suits your scalp, limit the use of styling products and avoid hot styling where possible. There are also several lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the likelihood of dandruff symptoms developing, such as stress management and changes to the diet.

Does stress trigger dandruff?

Stress can trigger or aggravate the symptoms of dandruff by weakening the immune system. When stress hormones are released, they lower the activity of cells which typically respond to viruses, bacteria and fungi, which allows the fungus malassezia to thrive. If you find stress is a trigger for your dandruff, relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, may be useful in managing your stress levels.


Want to hear more from Stephanie? Visit our Scalp School hub to find out more about dandruff and scalp care in our expert video series. 

Stephanie Sey does not endorse any medicinal brands or products.