What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a common condition that affects the scalp, causing excessive shedding of skin flakes.

The skin flakes stick to the hair shafts, where they may accumulate oil, dust and hair products. These flakes eventually fall on the collars and shoulders of clothes.

Symptoms of dandruff

Dandruff symptoms include:

  • white scales and flakes on the scalp or in the hair, which may fall onto the shoulders;
  • itching or scalp irritation; and
  • a scaly scalp.

Dandruff or dry skin?

It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between dry skin affecting the scalp and dandruff.

In general, dandruff scales are large and oily, and the scalp can be red and inflamed. Dry skin usually results in small, white flakes of skin without any obvious skin inflammation. Dry skin also tends to affect other areas of skin, such as the legs and arms, as well as the scalp.

Causes of dandruff

Dandruff is due to an overproduction of skin cells and shedding of dead skin from the scalp.

Your skin normally sheds layers of cells continuously, and your scalp sheds more skin cells than other parts of the body. Dandruff is when an excessive amount of larger-than-normal flakes of scalp skin are shed.

Dandruff can be due to seborrhoeic dermatitis – a skin condition that causes the scalp to shed skin cells more than is normal. Seborrhoeic dermatitis results in an oily scalp plus a red, scaly, itchy rash. Areas other than the scalp (such as the cheeks, nose and eyebrows) can also be affected.