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Dandruff & Stress

author image Barb Nefer
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."
Dandruff & Stress
A woman looking at her scalp in the mirror. Photo Credit: LarsZahnerPhotography/iStock/Getty Images

Dandruff is a scalp condition known medically as pityriasis capitis. Dr. Flemming Andersen of the Net Doctor health website states that is the most common scalp problem. The fungus that triggers it appears naturally in up to 90 percent of people, according to Maggie Fox, a Reuters health and science editor, although not all of them will come down with dandruff. There are many myths about causes, but these often don't line up with the facts.

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Dandruff is a condition in which excess skin flakes appear on the scalp. Though the body sheds skin cells regularly, normally the cells are too small to be easily seen. Dandruff causes the shedding of large, easily visible clumps, which the Mayo Clinic states is often accompanied by itching.


Dandruff's main cause is a fungus called pityrosporum ovale, according to Dr. Andersen. This fungus is naturally present on the skin and scalp, but grows excessively on some people. The flakes are actually dead skin cells that result from the fungal problem.

The Mayo Clinic cites several other possible causes, including a dry or greasy scalp, eczema and psoriasis. Certain hair care products can irritate the scalp, leading to flaking.

Stress is not a direct cause of dandruff, according to the Nizoral dandruff shampoo company. Nizoral explains that no scientific study has ever found a direct causal link between dandruff and stress.


Stress can affect dandruff even though it does not cause the condition. People under stress often have an impaired immune system. Because of this, they may not be able to effectively fight pityrosporum ovale. This makes it harder to get rid of dandruff if you already have it,

Dandruff itself may even raise a person's stress level because it is an embarrassing condition. The flakes are often visible in the hair and on dark-colored clothing, making the problem readily apparent.


The Mayo Clinic states that some dandruff cases can be treated simply by washing the hair every day with a mild shampoo or by changing hair care products if the cause is irritation. Stubborn dandruff is generally treated with an anti-fungal or anti-dandruff shampoo, according to Dr. Andersen. These are available in stores and generally contain selenium sulphide, zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole, all of which are effective against pityrosporum ovale.

Stress reduction can support a shampoo's effectiveness by increasing the immune system's ability to ward off the fungus. Common techniques to fight stress include meditation, deep breathing exercises and regular physical activity.


Stress can be dangerous to your health. It may not cause dandruff, but it has been linked to a number of other physical symptoms and conditions. The American Institute of Stress cites headaches, teeth grinding, heartburn, infections, appetite changes, sleeping problems, and weight loss or gain as just a few of the potential effects.

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