Overview

Dandruff is a common condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake. It isn't contagious or serious. But it can be embarrassing and difficult to treat.

Mild dandruff can be treated with a gentle daily shampoo. If that doesn't work, a medicated shampoo may help. Symptoms may return later.

Dandruff is considered to be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. In babies, seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap.

Symptoms

Dandruff signs and symptoms may include:

  • Skin flakes on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or mustache, and shoulders
  • Itchy scalp
  • Scaly, crusty scalp in infants with cradle cap

The signs and symptoms may be more severe if you're stressed, and they tend to flare in cold, dry seasons.

When to see a doctor

Most cases of dandruff don't require a doctor's care. See your primary care doctor or a doctor who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist) if your condition doesn’t improve with regular use of over-the-counter dandruff shampoo.

Causes

Dandruff may have several causes, including:

  • Irritated, oily skin
  • Not shampooing enough
  • A yeastlike fungus (malassezia) that feeds on oils on the scalps of most adults
  • Dry skin
  • Sensitivity to hair care products (contact dermatitis)
  • Other skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema

Risk factors

Almost anyone can have dandruff, but certain factors can make you more susceptible:

  • Age. Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age. That doesn't mean older adults don't get dandruff. For some people, the problem can be lifelong.
  • Being male. Because more men have dandruff, some researchers think male hormones may play a role.
  • Certain illnesses. Parkinson's disease and other diseases that affect the nervous system also seem to increase risk of dandruff. So does having HIV or a weakened immune system.