Is Dandruff (Seborrhea) Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Dandruff Treatment

Treatment of seborrhea (dandruff) is directed at fighting the skin inflammation. This is done either directly, by using cortisone-based creams and lotions (which reduce inflammation), or by using topical anti-yeast lotions and shampoos.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff (also known as seborrheic dermatitis) is a scalp condition, usually chronic, in which skin on the scalp forms flakes that are then shed from the scalp. These flakes consist of dead cells, and while it is normal for dead cells to be shed, with dandruff, a large number of these cells are shed at a faster rate than normal and become visible in the hair and on clothing. The cause of dandruff is not well known; some individuals consider it related to variations in hormone production.

Is dandruff contagious?

No, dandruff is not contagious or infectious. However, dandruff may get worse if certain yeasts and/or fungi that normally occur in small numbers on the scalp are increased in numbers. The increase in these microbes can contribute to increased flaking in dandruff. Because most of these organisms are already present on the skin, they are not considered to be contagious causes of dandruff.

However, another term that modifies the word dandruff is walking dandruff. This skin condition is usually seen in dog skin infected with small mites. These mites can be transmitted to other animals, including humans; consequently, walking dandruff in dogs, cats, and other animals can be contagious to humans. Walking dandruff in animals (and in humans) can be cured with topical medication to kill mites. This is in no way related to the dandruff that is commonly seen on the scalp of many individuals.

How will I know if I have dandruff?

A person will know they have dandruff if they see whitish, dry-appearing thin flakes in their hair, on their scalp, or on their clothing. Itching of the scalp may also be associated with dandruff. Some symptoms and signs of dandruff may improve after a reduction of stress; others may have a reduction in symptoms and signs during the summer months. Usually, a person does not need a medical caregiver to diagnose dandruff.

What causes dandruff?

Because the cause of dandruff is unclear and dandruff is not considered to be contagious, the only spread of dandruff is usually on the person's body. In most individuals, dandruff is confined to the scalp. However, dandruff may spread in an individual by occurring all over the scalp and may occur in other areas on the skin (for example, nasal folds on the face).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/7/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Skin Care & Conditions Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors