Dandruff is a major problem worldwide, with scientists believing it affects almost half of the world’s population with estimates of over 50 million cases in the U.S. alone.
Although little white flakes on your scalp or trail of ‘snow’ on your shoulders and collar can be unsightly and often quite embarrassing, dandruff itself is not considered a danger to your health and it’s not contagious either.
People who suffer with hair loss often also have dandruff. Or is it a case of people with dandruff suffer from hair loss? Does dandruff cause hair loss or does hair loss cause dandruff is a question that many researchers have tried to answer.
Dandruff and Hair Loss: Is There a Link?
At some time in our lives, most of us will experience dandruff. Although it’s certainly not a danger to our health, it’s something we want to avoid or get rid of as quickly as we can. Fortunately, in most cases dandruff is quite easy to control with use of a shampoo or a herbal treatment working in the space of just a few weeks.
Hair loss is another fact of life that can take a toll on yourself esteem, with hair thinning or hair fall being associated with ageing. When hair loss occurs prematurely we look for other reasons why this may be happening. As dandruff often accompanies hair loss, a reasonable question to ask would be; does dandruff cause hair loss?
Most scientific studies have found little evidence of a relationship between dandruff and hair loss, but scientists are keen to point out that many of the underlying causes of dandruff can also affect hair loss. Itching caused by dandruff and many of the chemicals we use to treat dandruff can also have a negative effect on hair loss. It’s safe to say that dandruff has an indirect effect on hair loss rather than actually causing it.
A Healthy Scalp Equals Healthy Hair
There are many factors that can contribute to dandruff on the scalp, including age, gender, diet, hair care regimes and even the weather. Health issues like psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and eczema can also irritate the scalp and cause dandruff. Many of these factors are also the cause of hair thinning or loss.
Seborrheic dermatitis causes an excess production of sebum, one of the body’s natural oils, on the scalp which can feed the Malassezia yeast that causes dandruff. It also causes a hostile environment for hair follicles, often clogging them with excess oils or nearby inflamed skin cells provide unhealthy conditions for hair to grow. Therefore, seborrheic dermatitis that causes severe dandruff may cause hair loss, not the dandruff itself. Hair loss can be reversed by reducing the inflammation.
The hair loss affected by seborrheic dermatitis is fortunately only temporary. As the condition improves and dandruff disappears so hopefully hair shedding will decrease. A group of 150 men in a study in 2002 found that six months using anti dandruff shampoo not only cleared up their dandruff but also slowed down or stopped hair loss.
Don’t Scratch Those Itches
It can be tempting to rub the constant irritation caused by the intense drying up of the scalp that accompanies disorders like psoriasis or eczema, but this continuous scratching can lead to hair fall due to friction. Almost 20 out of every 50 women suffer from mechanical hair loss due to intense itching or scratching of the scalp.
Excessive scratching of the scalp can weaken hair strands at the root which often break away causing hair loss. While scratching you may even be pulling or scraping the hair away from your head which adds to hair loss. Dandruff shampoo specialist Head and Shoulders has found in its own research that hair which grows on a dandruff-irritated scalp is more damaged than hair from a healthy scalp. By giving into that temptation to scratch you can cause further damage to the scalp or hair and cause more strand breakage.
Stopping scratching and investing in a scalp-soothing bottle of dandruff or specialized psoriasis/eczema shampoo may help you keep more of your hair, but if you’re losing hair anyway, for other reasons like genetics or just getting older, it’ll have little effect. The scratching itself is responsible for hair loss, not the dandruff. Dandruff has shown no role in pattern baldness or associated hair loss.
A Vicious Circle
Unfortunately just as increased dandruff production can lead to more hair loss, it can happen the other way around too, with hair loss contributing to dandruff. As we see the effects of hair loss, we often take measures that can make the dandruff problem worse.
Thinning hair, or hair loss, is a problem of the hair while dandruff affects your skin or scalp. Seeing hair float towards the drain in the shower can make some people think they lose more hair when they wash it. Fearing more hair loss, they can often stop washing their hair as regularly which can create a more unhealthy scalp and do little to stop the hair loss; there will just be more of it next time you wash. People with cases of dandruff should really wash their hair daily to remove as much of the dead skin cells build up and reduce flaking. Although you may see some hair loss at first, this will often be temporary as you improve both the scalp condition and your hair.
Shampoos for dandruff treatment can often contain ingredients that strengthen the hair or boost production of hormones that can stimulate hair growth. Botanicals that boost collagen production can lead to more hair growth while some shampoos even contain the protein keratin which can strengthen the hair already on the scalp and reverse the effects of hair loss. Studies have also shown ketoconazole, an active ingredient used in a large number of dandruff shampoos, can stimulate hair growth significantly.
Hair Loss Treatments and Dandruff
Unfortunately, hair loss shampoos are not as kind to the scalp or dandruff and may even cause dandruff where previously there was none. Prescribed medications or ointments too can cause dandruff-like symptoms.
One of the main offenders is minoxidil, a component of may hair loss treatments. Minoxidil contains alcohol which dries out the scalp. Initial side effects can be a dry dandruff-like flakiness with dandruff setting in after a couple of months. Switching to another medication or simply using a good dandruff shampoo should resolve the problem fairly quickly. In more severe cases, a prescription topical steroid cream can help.
Finasteride, another medication for hair loss, doesn’t cause flaking and may be more suitable for people prone to dandruff. It’s advisable to check the ingredients before using any hair restorative formula for any allergens that may irritate the scalp. If you notice an increase in flaking or dandruff, stop using the formula immediately and with severe reactions seek medical help.
The Chicken and the Egg Syndrome
Which came first, dandruff or hair loss? Although there’s definitely a relationship between dandruff of the scalp and hair thinning or loss, it’s far stretched to say that dandruff causes hair loss. Dandruff is what many doctors call a cosmetic disease as it’s not contagious or life threatening. Left untreated though, it can cause inflammation and itchiness of the scalp that can result in temporary hair loss.
To understand how dandruff affects hair loss you need to look at the underlying causes of the dandruff itself. Seborrheic dermatitis is a scalp condition that causes both hair loss and dandruff, with many researchers believing that most people who suffer from hair loss also suffer some from some variant of dermatitis. Studies have shown reversing dermatitis can also reverse hair loss. It can also help alleviate dandruff too, a double winner!
Hair loss, or the treatment of hair loss can actually cause dandruff. Shedding of the skin caused by harsh chemicals or simply residues of skin left by the hair follicles breaking away add further irritation to the scalp which may result in dandruff. Looking at the contents of that follicle-enriching shampoo you’ve been using may be the first thing you need to do to prevent more dandruff and thus more itching and more hair loss.
In answer to the question does dandruff cause hair loss, the answer is a resounding NO! Studies have found very little evidence to suggests otherwise. Most of the hair loss that’s associated with dandruff is caused by the trauma of constant scratching and friction on the hair. To fix temporary hair loss caused indirectly by dandruff, you need to get to the root of the dandruff problem first.