An itchy, flaky scalp is more than an annoyance. It’s a signal from your body that your scalp needs attention – it is demanding attention! I get this question in my office a lot, so I wanted to share some dandruff deets with you guys!

Why It’s Happening:

Dandruff is caused by a naturally-occurring microbe (tiny organism, in this case a fungus) on your scalp called “Malassezia Globosa.” This tiny organism feeds on natural oils which your pores release onto your skin and scalp called “sebum.” As the sebum is broken down, it produces oleic acid. One in two people are sensitive to oleic acid (so, it’s very common). If you have the sensitivity, your scalp responds by becoming irritated, inflamed, red and itchy. To get rid of this irritation, your body tells your brain to shed skin cells faster than usual. This rapid shedding is what causes dandruff flakes to appear on your scalp.

When it Tends to Happen:

Although dandruff is not caused by cold, winter air, it can be aggravated by the cold, dry air. So, you might notice that it’s more pronounced during the winter months.

If you have certain medical conditions, you can also be more prone to dandruff.

Of course, scalp health is important from a cosmetic standpoint because dandruff is not aesthetically pleasing and is often deemed socially undesirable. But, the more significant issue is that scalp health impacts our hair health as well. Our scalp skin is very delicate and has a higher number of oil glands, sweat glands, and hair follicles than the skin on other parts of our bodies. Chronic dandruff arising from scalp inflammation most likely will impact the health of our hair – but harsh scalp treatments are also not conducive to healthy hair. Given that healthy hair and a healthy scalp typically go hand in hand and complement one another, companies are now starting to focus not only on hair health, but also on scalp health and on maintaining the proper pH for your scalp and hair.

What to Do:

Most people benefit from washing their hair every few days, but my patients with dandruff often find that they benefit from washing about every other day.  The Malassezia feeds on natural oils, so the more you rinse away their food, the less likely they are to trigger inflammation.  while natural oil buildup is fine in most people, and can easily be camouflaged with a dry shampoo, in people with dandruff those excess oils can sometimes do more harm than good.

I’m also asked a lot whether probiotics can help. The quick answer is yes – probiotics can help to rebuild and strengthen the scalp’s skin barrier! So, eating yogurt with live cultures or sipping a probiotic is another way to help alleviate that itchy, flaky scalp.

Another tip I provide to my patients is to let go of their love of lathering. So many people believe that when they are lathering their hair, they are thoroughly cleansing it. As I tell my patients, the more suds and bubbles, the more damage the shampoo is doing to your hair. The detergents that give you those foamy bubbles are the same detergents that are damaging the hair shaft. Detergent is actually an overachiever when it comes to cleansing your hair, stripping your hair and scalp of the healthy oils and natural protective barrier while irritating your scalp and prompting your skin to produce even more oil to compensate for its loss. Look for sulfate-free products which are much more gentle on your scalp and your hair!

Want to check out more of my input when it comes to healthy hair and a healthy scalp? Check out these posts, which include product recommendations: (1) The Evolution of Hair Care: Is Water Actually Damaging Your Hair and (2) Have You Been Washing Your Hair All Wrong?

Dr. Whitney

I wanted to share additional hot tips on the three key topics I covered on today’s show, so here we go!

Focus on: SHAVING

Myth v. Fact:

As I discussed on the show, shaving doesn’t cause your hair to grow back thicker! That is just a myth.

If you shave AGAINST the grain (up the leg), your hair grows back FEELING coarse and thick. Instead, if you first shave WITH the grain and then shave against the grain (as a second pass for a close shave), this technique actually causes new hairs to grow in with a tapered end that FEELS thinner as it regrows. So shave down, then up.

More Shaving Tips:

I recommend shaving later on during your bath or shower, so that the warm water and steam have a chance to warm up your skin and hair. After your shower or bath, I also recommend applying an oil like Bio Oil or Sunflower Oil to your legs to trap in moisture and to prevent razor burn. A little known fact is that our lower legs become dry and ashy naturally because we don’t have many oil glands in that area. You will see an improvement in your skin after just one application of oil on your lower legs!

Focus on: DANDRUFF

Why does it happen?

As I touched on during the segment, the cause of dandruff is a naturally-occurring microbe (tiny organism, in this case a fungus) on your scalp called “Malassezia Globosa.” This tiny organism feeds on natural oils which your pores release onto your skin and scalp called “sebum.”

As the sebum is broken down, it produces “oleic acid.” One in two people are sensitive to oleic acid. If you have the sensitivity, your scalp responds by becoming irritated, inflamed, red and itchy. To get rid of this irritation, your body tells your brain to shed skin cells faster than usual. This rapid shedding is what causes dandruff flakes to appear on your scalp.

Although dandruff is not caused by cold, winter air, it can be aggravated by the cold, dry air.

How should I treat it?

As I tell my patients, the best way to treat dandruff is to choose an effective anti-dandruff shampoo. It is important to look for a formula with good cosmetic qualities, so it doesn’t dry out your hair and is both gentle and effective. An anti-dandruff shampoo must be left on the hair for at least 5 minutes for the active ingredients to optimally work. Continual maintenance is necessary to prevent dandruff from coming back.

Are there DIY Options?

Yes! Tea tree oil is one of the only essential oils that kills yeast on contact. So, when my patients ask about at-home dandruff remedies, I often recommend this DIY Tea Tree Oil Dandruff Treatment:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of tea tree oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • A squirt bottle

Directions:

Pour 1 tablespoon of tee tree oil into 1 cup of warm water in a squirt bottle. Shake well. After shampooing, spray the mixture all over your scalp, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Pat the excess moisture out, but do not wash out.

I also often recommend this DIY Dandruff Scalp Mask:

Mix salt and mineral oil to create a scrub/mask for your scalp.  Apply the treatment to your wet scalp and rub it in.  Put on a shower cap and let the treatment sit.  The salt exfoliates the flakes from your scalp and the mineral oil works to break up the oil on the scalp.

Focus on: THE LOOFAH

Ditch the Loofah:

As I covered on air, loofahs are too abrasive for your skin and by their nature, are very porous. When people use a loofah to scrub off dead skin cells, those cells become lodged in the nooks and crannies of the loofah. When you add a warm and moist environment of the bathroom, your loofah becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. If you want to exfoliate in the shower, use a sugar-based scrub or a motorized brush like the Clarisonic.

Healthy Skin Tips:

As I tell my shower-happy patients, we are so obsessed with hygiene that we end up hurting our skin.  In addition to overusing loofahs, we tend to overuse antibacterial soaps and wash cloths, to the detriment of our skin. We over-cleanse and over-strip our skin not only of our natural oils, but we also end up removing many of the healthy bacteria that live on our skin.  These friendly bacteria help to protect our skin from pathogens, irritants and allergens, and they also help to regulate the pH and moisture levels in our skin. When we wash them off, we compromise our skin barrier.

For these reasons, for healthy, glowing skin, I recommend using gentle cleansers that are hydrating and soap-free. I also recommend using skincare products with probiotics in them after cleansing. These products help to replace the lost bacteria with friendly strains which support the health of our skin.

@DrWhitneyBowe

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This site offers health, wellness, fitness and nutritional information for educational purposes only. The information on this website is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

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