Are you itching to get rid of your dandruff?

Those telltale white flakes that land on the pristine darkness of your expensive (or not so expensive) suit are embarrassing. They’re often associated with poor hygiene. How many times have you spotted this affliction on someone else and immediately thought ‘Hmm, wonder when he or she last washed their hair!’   Or similar….

Dandruff has probably been afflicting humans ever since our furry coat retreated to the top of our head. Or maybe even before that – perhaps we had it all over when we still had hair all over! However long ago it was, dandruff is regarded as one of our oldest, and most persistent, health problems.

Today we manage to keep it under control with improved hygiene and specially formulated grooming products like anti-dandruff shampoos. Spare a thought though for our ancestors because this pesky problem would have been much worse before the concept of regular bathing and washing hair became a societal norm rather than the exception. In Medieval times for example neither was common so the world would have been a very smelly, and flaky, place to live at that time.   Perhaps this reluctance to wash one’s hair was part of the reason for the white powdered look so popular in European society at one stage. Got dandruff? Let’s just powder the rest of our hair white too and no one will ever notice!

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since the days of irregular bathing and extremely infrequent hair washing.   We’ve also come to know a lot more about this itchy, flaky and embarrassing affliction. We also now know that even those who are scrupulous about personal hygiene and wash their hair to within an inch of its life every day with even the most expensive shampoos can still have, or get, dandruff.

What exactly is dandruff?

Where once it was thought to be associated with less than stellar lifestyle choices, today we now know it’s caused by something called Pityrosporum Ovale, a parasitical Anthropophlic fungus or yeast that likes to take up residence on our scalp. Fungi are organisms that like to obtain their nutrition from other organisms like humans, birds, animals, or plants. The microscopic versions of fungi like mildew, mould, and yeast are very familiar to us. Yeast in particular is associated with a number of infections that affect our skin.

Dandruff is flaky, visible bits of scalp skin. Gruesome though it sounds, shedding scalp skin is perfectly normal. In fact, we’re constantly shedding skin all the time, from all over the body. It happens because new skin cells are continuously being produced deep within the skin’s layers. As each new layer of cells is formed, it pushes the layer above it closer to the surface until eventually it becomes the surface layer. At that point, the skin cells will shed and because they’re microscopic, they’re invisible to all but the many microorganisms that like to feed on them.   Think bed bugs….! When someone has dandruff, this process gets sped up and the skin cells also clump together to form flakes of skin.

The onset of dandruff, if you’re going to develop it, often coincides with puberty but you can develop it any age.   If you’re male, you’re also more likely to get it, although females are by no means exempt! For these reasons it’s believed hormones may play a role in many dandruff cases. Dandruff has also been associated with health disorders like Parkinson’s but the reason for this has not yet been established. Interestingly it’s also been noted that many dandruff sufferers suffer more during winter than they do over summer.

Symptoms Of Dandruff

Obviously the most ‘obvious’ symptom is those embarrassing white flakes of skin on your shoulders. Your scalp may develop a slight itch. In severe cases, you may notice small scaly scars on your scalp as well.

Treating Dandruff

Although it’s an annoying problem that affects around half the population, dandruff is not actually life threatening nor is it contagious. It’s just, well….embarrassing! It’s also easy enough in most cases to keep under control. If your dandruff is producing nothing more than just a bit of a sprinkle, shampooing your hair daily with a mild product designed for every day use may keep it under control for you. If not, try a medicated one.

More severe dandruff though often calls for more drastic measures. You may need to investigate heavy weight pharmacy only shampoos that contain anti-yeast ingredients and other compounds proven to relieve the scalp conditions that lead to severe dandruff. One of the most common ingredients in most of the best anti-dandruff shampoos is ketoconazole.  This compound is an anti-fungal and its specific purpose in life is to get rid of yeast and fungal infections.   Like dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. You’ll find ketoconazole in a range of both over the counter and prescription only shampoos, creams and other anti-fungal, anti-yeast topical treatments.  In the US, over the counter products containing ketoconazole will only contain 1% or less – anything higher than that is now prescription only. Elsewhere, you’ll probably still be able to buy 2% ketoconazole products without prescription. One of the better-known ketoconazole containing shampoos is Nizoral but there are plenty of others.

There are also a few natural alternatives if the thought of pouring a manufactured chemical on your head a couple of times a week doesn’t enchant you. Wheat proteins, vitamin B6, zinc oxide, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil are the common anti-fungals and anti-microbials used in these products.

Experiment with a few until you find one that works best for you because, as is typical with these types of products, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

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