Dandruff particles are visible flakes of skin that have been continuously shed from the scalp.

It is normal to shed some dead skin flakes as the skin is constantly renewing itself. The new cells form in the lower layers. They are gradually pushed to the surface as more new cells form beneath them. By the time they reach the surface, the cells have become flat and overlap each other like roof tiles. By then, these cells are dead and are shed from the surface all the time. They are so small that we do not notice this is happening.

With dandruff, this whole process of skin renewal (or skin turnover) speeds up, so a greater number of dead cells are being shed. Also, the cells are shed in clumps, which are big enough to be seen with the naked eye as embarrassing flakes, especially when they land on dark clothing. The scalp may also feel slightly itchy.

Dandruff is very common. it affects more than 50% – so it is more common to have dandruff than not! It can occur at any age, but is most likely in the early 20s.

Cause of Dandruff

Surprisingly, dandruff is a bit of an enigma. About 25 years ago, dermatologists started to blame a tiny fungus, the yeast Pityrosporum ovale, on the scalp. (This yeast is a Malassezia type of yeast, so its other name is Malassezia furfur.) Everyone has some of this yeast on their skin, particularly in the greasy areas such as the scalp and upper back. It feeds on the natural grease produced by the skin.

Although the experts are certain that the yeast is involved, they can not decide which comes first: does a reaction to the yeast actually cause the increased turnover and flaking; or does the flaky skin simply provide an ideal environment for the yeast to thrive? It seems very likely that the former is the case, so getting rid of the yeast should improve the dandruff.

Hormones may also be involved, because dandruff usually starts after puberty and is more common in men than women. For unknown reasons, people with some illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease, are more likely to have dandruff

Getting Rid of Dandruff

Hair gels and other hair products can irritate the scalp in some people. For a while, try doing without whatever you have been using, or change to a different product.

Do not scratch your scalp. When you shampoo, massage your scalp without scratching. Scientists have looked at hair from dandruff sufferers who scratch, using an electron microscope that magnifies 400 times. They could see fingernail marks, damaging the hair at its root.

If your dandruff is mild, try shampooing your hair twice a week using any shampoo labelled ‘frequent use, for dry hair’ (not an ordinary ‘antidandruff’ shampoo). This will remove the flakes that are being shed, and the moisturizer in the shampoo will protect the scalp.

Avoid dyeing your hair (unless you absolutely must). We all have bacteria on our scalp, some of which are beneficial. These ‘good’ bacteria prevent dandruff yeast, and hair dyes reduce their numbers.

If you want to try a natural remedy, boil four heaped tablespoons of dried thyme in half a litre of water (just under a pint) for 10 minutes. Let it cool and strain it through a sieve into a jar. Massage some of the liquid onto your scalp three times a week. Do not rinse it out.