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Condition Basics

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a shedding of the skin on the scalp. It leads to white flakes on the head, neck, and shoulders.

What causes it?

Dandruff is most often caused by a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. It can also be caused by eczema, a fungal infection, or psoriasis.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of dandruff include white, oily-looking flakes of dead skin in your hair and on your shoulders and an itchy, scaling scalp. Your scalp can be either too dry or too oily.

How is dandruff treated?

Home treatment often helps prevent and get rid of the symptoms of dandruff.

  • Use an anti-dandruff shampoo. A variety of shampoos are available without a prescription. Different shampoos contain different ingredients. Try several to help you find out which anti-dandruff shampoo works best for you. Sometimes a prescription shampoo is needed.
    • Shampoo daily to prevent a buildup of dead skin cells on your scalp.
    • If an anti-dandruff shampoo helps stop dandruff for a while but the dandruff problem returns, try a different anti-dandruff shampoo.
    • Alternate anti-dandruff shampoos with regular ones if you are worried about the effects of anti-dandruff shampoos' harsh chemicals on your hair.
  • Rub your scalp. When you wash your hair, lather once, rinse, then lather a second time and rub your scalp vigorously as you shampoo. This will help dislodge excess skin cells. Be careful not to rub so hard that you damage your scalp.
  • Let it soak. After you lather the second time, let the medicated shampoo sit on your head for 5 minutes. This will give the anti-dandruff shampoo time to work.
  • Rinse well. This will help get rid of all the cells you have loosened up during shampooing.


Current as of: November 16, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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