The Facts about Dandruff

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Published on April 12, 2019

The Facts about Dandruff

Photo of man with dandruff flakesPhoto of man with dandruff flakesDandruff is a common condition that is not contagious or dangerous. Although it’s embarrassing and can be itchy, it won’t hurt you or anyone else. In most cases dandruff can be controlled with over-the-counter dandruff shampoo, but if that isn’t working, see your doctor to rule out an underlying cause.


The symptoms in teenagers and adults are white flaky pieces of dead skin that fall off of the scalp onto hair and shoulders. Some people notice more dandruff in the fall and winter months when the indoor air is dryer due to heating. Infants can get cradle cap, which is a type of dandruff normally found in newborns but can appear anytime during infancy. Cradle cap is not dangerous and usually clears up on its own. Your pediatrician can advise you whether or not special care is needed.


According to PIH Health board certified dermatologist, Patrick Dominguez MD, there are several causes of dandruff, including:

Seborrheic dermatitis

This condition is the most common cause, and is marked by irritated, oily skin that may affect the scalp, eyebrows, back of ears, sides of the nose, groin area or armpits.

Contact dermatitis

This is sensitivity to hair care products such as shampoo or dyes.

Dry skin

When dry skin is the cause, the flakes are smaller and less oily than other causes and redness or inflammation is unlikely.


Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the scalp of most adults but is irritating to some people, causing dandruff.

Not shampooing enough

Unwashed hair leads to oil build up that can cause dandruff.

Risk Factors

Anyone can have dandruff but certain factors make some people more susceptible:

  • Excessively oily hair and scalp.
  • Age: most people experience dandruff from young adulthood to middle age, but it can continue into older age.
  • Being a male: some researchers think that male hormones contribute to dandruff because more men have it than women.
  • Illness: it’s not clear why, but people with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, HIV infection and compromised immune systems are more likely to develop dandruff.

For more information or to make an appointment, visit or call 562.789.5429.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.