What Is Dandruff? Dandruff is a common scalp condition that that causes flaky skin and an itchy scalp. What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Dandruff? Common signs and symptoms of dandruff include: white flakes of dead skin in your hair and on your shoulders red, crusty, or raw areas on your scalp an itchy scalp What Causes Dandruff? Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is not known, but it's likely a combination of things like: too much skin oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles a type of yeast found on the skin called Malassezia Stress, cold and dry winter weather, and some hair care products may make dandruff worse. Dandruff isn't contagious. You can't catch it from or give it to another person. Who Gets Dandruff? Almost anyone can have dandruff. Many teens and adults live with it. Hormone levels are high during teen years, which causes more oil production. This may be why dandruff usually begins around puberty. People with immune system problems (like HIV) or neurologic problems (like Parkinson's disease) are more likely to have dandruff. How Is Dandruff Diagnosed? Health care providers can diagnose dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis based on symptoms (like an itchy scalp and flakes on the shoulders) and an exam. How Is Dandruff Treated? In most cases, over-the-counter dandruff shampoo can control a person's dandruff. Check the labels for these common "active ingredients": selenium sulfide 1% shampoo (such as Selsun Blue®, or a store brand) zinc pyrithione shampoo (such as Head & Shoulders®, Zincon®, DHS zinc®, or a store brand) tar-based shampoo (such as T-Gel®, DHS tar®, Pentrax®, or a store brand). Tar-based shampoos can make the scalp more sensitive to sunlight, so users should wear a hat outside. Don't use a tar shampoo on dyed or treated hair. Long-term use can stain skin, hair, and nails. ketoconazole shampoo (such as Nizoral 1%® or a store brand) Follow the label directions on how much to use and how often. When your dandruff improves, it's OK to use dandruff shampoo less often. Once a week might be enough to keep flakes off your shoulders. If dandruff doesn't get better after 4–6 weeks, try another shampoo with a different active ingredient. Talk to the pharmacist if you have any questions about dandruff shampoos. When Should I Call the Doctor? Call your health care provider if: Your dandruff doesn't go away with dandruff shampoo. Dandruff or itching gets worse. Your scalp gets red or swollen. You have red and flaky skin in areas other than your scalp. The doctor may prescribe prescription-strength shampoos or topical steroids for itching and redness. What Else Should I Know? People with dandruff also may get seborrheic dermatitis on other parts of their body, including: eyebrows nose creases behind the ears in sideburns and beard areas Back to Articles Related Articles Hygiene Basics Puberty causes all kinds of changes in your body - and some may not make you feel very desirable. Read this article for information on dealing with greasy hair, perspiration, and body hair. Read More Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin Sometimes it may seem like your skin is impossible to manage, especially when you find a huge zit on your nose or a cold sore at the corner of your mouth. Here are ways to prevent and treat common skin problems. Read More Skin, Hair, and Nails Our skin protects the network of tissues, muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, and everything else inside our bodies. Hair and nails are actually modified types of skin. Read More A Guy's Guide to Body Image Many people think of guys as being carefree when it comes to appearance. But guys spend plenty of time in front of the mirror. And some worry just as much as girls do about their looks. Read More Eczema Eczema is a common skin problem among teens. If you have eczema, read this article to find out more about it and how you can deal with the skin stress. Read More Ringworm Ringworm isn't a worm at all - it's the name for a type of fungal skin infection. The good news is that ringworm is easy to treat. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.