Condition: Dandruff or itchy scalp

Dandruff or an itchy scalp is the body’s reaction to a sensitivity to or overgrowth of a type of yeast, called Malassezia, that normally lives on the skin.

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What is dandruff or an itchy scalp?

Dandruff is a common condition that causes the skin on the scalp to feel itchy and flake off. While it isn't a contagious or serious condition, it can cause irritating itching and visible skin flakes can cause feelings of embarrassment.

Around 50% of the adult population will have dandruff or an itchy scalp at some point in their lifetime, and in most cases, it is easily treated.

What are the symptoms of dandruff or an itchy scalp?

The main symptoms of dandruff are flaking of the skin and itching. You may notice skin flakes on your scalp, in your hair, eyebrows, beard or moustache, or on your shoulders and upper back where flakes have fallen from your head and settled.

The symptoms of dandruff or an itchy scalp often become more severe and noticeable if you're experiencing stress, and when the weather is cold and dry.

What causes dandruff or an itchy scalp?

Dandruff or an itchy scalp is considered to be a mild form of seborrhoeic dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes the skin to be red, itchy and flakey. It’s not clear what causes some people to develop seborrhoeic dermatitis, but it's thought it could be a sensitivity to or an overgrowth of a yeast that lives on our skin called Malassezia.

It’s thought that the reaction of the body’s immune system to the yeast is what causes inflammation, redness and itching on the scalp, usually resulting in white or grey flakes of skin coming away.

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of developing seborrhoeic dermatitis, including:

  • Psoriasis

  • Lichen planopilaris

  • Acne

  • Rosacea

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Epilepsy

  • Alcoholism

  • Depression

  • HIV

  • Eating disorders

  • Recovering from a stroke or heart attack

It can also be triggered by common lifestyle and environmental factors, such as:

  • Stress

  • Hormonal changes

  • Illness

  • Harsh detergents, solvents, chemicals and soaps

  • Cold, dry weather, or a change in the season

  • Certain medications

How is dandruff or an itchy scalp diagnosed?

At OneWelbeck, a consultant dermatologist will be able to diagnose dandruff simply by looking at your hair and scalp, in most cases. If it’s unclear what’s causing your symptoms, or if the scalp appears to be affected by an infection or another skin condition, your consultant may take a scraping of your skin to send to the lab for analysis.

How can dandruff or an itchy scalp be treated?

In most cases, medicated shampoos, anti-inflammatory lotions and tablet treatments will be effective in the treatment of dandruff and an itchy scalp. If your symptoms are a result of another condition, such as psoriasis or lichen planopilaris, treatments may be prescribed to treat these, which will in turn lessen your symptoms of dandruff and an itchy scalp.

Dandruff or itchy scalp Specialists

By having a complete and integrated team of sub-specialty experts under one roof we ensure that patients are seen by the right consultant at every appointment. Our hair and scalp health specialists cover a wide range of dermatological conditions, and our dedicated allergy specialists are recognised leaders in their field.