Dandruff is a common scalp condition characterized by itching and flaking of the scalp. According to the Mayo Clinic, dandruff can usually be controlled. Mild cases can be cleared up simply by using a gentle cleansing shampoo. Even stubborn cases can generally be treated effectively with medicated shampoos.
While many people are familiar with dandruff treatment options, causes of dandruff are often less well understood. According to the Mayo Clinic, dry skin, oily skin, infrequent shampooing and a variety of skin disorders can lead to dandruff, as can stress, an unbalanced diet and some illnesses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dry skin--as simple as that seems--is the most common cause of dandruff. Dryness-induced dandruff tends to occur more often in winter months when the air outside is cold, and rooms inside tend to be heated.
Many sufferers of this type of dandruff also notice dry, flaking skin on their arms, legs and face. The Mayo Clinic says that flakes from dry skin dandruff tend to be smaller and less oily than dandruff from other causes.
A condition characterized by irritated, scaly, itchy oily skin, seborrheic dermatitis often affects your scalp as well as other areas that tend to produce oil, including the sides of your nose and your groin area.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it can be caused by a yeast-like fungus called malessezia, as well as stress and fatigue. It often ebbs and flows, with some outbreaks being more serious than others, and like dry skin, it's often worse in the winter. Patients with neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease and those with HIV/AIDS are at higher risk.
Inborn Sensitivity to Oleic Acid
According to Procter & Gamble, the manufacturers of the popular dandruff-fighting shampoo Head & Shoulders, many people are innately susceptible to oleic acid, a component of sebum--the oily substance secreted naturally by skin--that can be intensely irritating and has been shown to induce dandruff-like flaking.
This susceptibility is genetic and not easily changed, which means that topical treatments like shampoos are often the best option for treatment.
Infrequent or Too Frequent Hair Care
According to the Mayo Clinic, those who don't wash their hair frequently tend to experience a higher incidence of dandruff, because oil and skin cells from the scalp build up. At the same time, shampooing too often, or using too many styling products, can also create dandruff.
Hair sprays, gels, mousses and waxes tend to build up, making your scalp oily and susceptible to flaking. Sensitivity to hair dye can also contribute to skin flaking.
Pre-existing Skin Conditions
Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can also contribute to dandruff. Psoriasis, which more commonly occurs on knees and elbows, is characterized by the formation of thick, scaly skin, while eczema is a chronic skin disorder characterized by scaly, itchy rashes.
Eating right can help prevent dandruff, just as healthy diet helps many other medical conditions. "A diet that provides enough zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats may help prevent dandruff," reports the Mayo Clinic.