Dandruff: What Causes Scalp Flaking and Itchiness?

What Is Dandruff?

dry scalp

Dandruff is a skin condition affecting the scalp. It causes flaking of the skin on the scalp, as well as itchiness and dryness. In moderate to severe cases, dead skin flakes off of the scalp and may land elsewhere on the patient’s head or on their clothing. Dandruff is an incredibly common condition, affecting more than 3 million people per year in the US. Onset usually occurs around puberty and it is found more often in males than in females. While it is not medically dangerous, the apparent scalp flaking can cause some patients to have low self esteem or social anxiety.


The exact cause of dandruff is unknown, but it can be exacerbated or brought on by the following factors:

  • Cold weather
  • Sebaceous secretions
  • Skin allergies
  • Certain skin micro-organisms


There is only one type of dandruff. A closely related condition is seborrhoeic dermatitis, which causes dryness and irritation on the face as well as on the scalp.


  • Oily skin on the scalp
  • Flaky skin on the scalp
  • Dry scalp
  • Itchiness of the scalp
  • Irritation of the scalp
  • White scalp



Your primary care physician can diagnose dandruff. If they suspect that you have a very severe case that is affecting your quality of life, they may refer you to a dermatologist to help provide treatment.


Since dandruff is not a significant medical concern, many people do not seek treatment for it. If the symptoms become a nuisance or they are affecting the patient’s quality of life, there are various ways to treat dandruff. One way is with over-the-counter shampoos that are designed to combat dandruff. Commercial shampoos like Head & Shoulders moisturize the scalp and can reduce scalp flaking. In severe cases, medicated shampoos or anti-fungal treatments may be necessary to alleviate the dandruff symptoms.

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