The loss of skin cells from the scalp is a normal part of the life cycle of skin cells. However, excessive flaking of the scalp, or dandruff, is a common cosmetic problem experienced by millions of people. Dandruff is not contagious and is normally not a serious problem. Some cases of excessive dandruff accompanied by intense itching and patches of flaky skin on the face or elsewhere are actually a form of eczema referred to as seborrheic eczema.
Dandruff is believed to be related to a fungus known as malassezia (formerly termed pityrosporum) that lives on the scalp of most people. In some cases, overgrowth of the fungus results in the flakiness of the skin characteristic of dandruff. The reasons for the overgrowth of fungus are unclear but may be related to increased oil production, hormonal changes, stress, neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease, recovery from chronic conditions such as stroke or heart attack, suppression of the immune system, and infrequent shampooing. There is also some evidence that dandruff may run in families. Scalp flakiness may also be caused by psoriasis or other skin ailments or infections.
Other causes of flaky scalp
- Changes in Weather or Humidity
- Cradle Cap
- Hair Care Products
- Infrequent Shampooing
- Scalp Folliculitis
- Tinea Capitis
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Fight Dandruff: How to Treat, Control, and Prevent Flakes
Dandruff (Seborrhea) is a common scalp condition resulting in white flaky skin shedding from the scalp. Learn more about the...
Home Remedies for Psoriasis
Discover home remedies for psoriasis and help heal irritated skin.
Picture of Dandruff
A mild skin condition that produces white flakes that may be shed and fall from the hair. See a picture of Dandruff and learn...
Picture of Yellow Dandruff
If dandruff flakes are greasy and yellow, the probable cause is the skin condition known as seborrheic dermatitis; seborrhea is...
Psoriasis Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Take the mystery out of psoriasis. Take the Psoriasis Quiz and see what you know about the types, symptoms, treatments and more.
Psoriasis Types, Images, Treatments
What is psoriasis? Explore psoriasis treatment options such as topical ointments, phototherapy, natural remedies and more. Learn...
Sun-Damaged Skin: Pictures of Sun Spots, Wrinkles, Sunburns
See how sun damaged skin can cause wrinkles, moles, melanoma (skin cancer) and more. Explore sunburn relief and how actinic...
Types of Psoriasis: Medical Pictures and Treatments
Learn about the common skin condition psoriasis. Explore about the different types of psoriasis such as vulgaris (plaque...
Causes of Flaky Scalp
Dandruff (seborrhea) is a skin disorder that results from neither too much moisture nor too much oil. Dandruff can be treated with shampoos that contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole.
Dandruff vs. Dry Scalp
Dandruff is a condition characterized by small white flakes that shed from the scalp. Dry scalp is simply dry skin on one's head. Dry scalp is uncommon, and dandruff is very common. Dandruff treatment and prevention incorporates the regular use of an anti-dandruff shampoo.
Head Lice vs. Dandruff
Dandruff is a condition that causes dry flakes on the scalp. Lice are parasites. Head lice infestations are very contagious. Both head lice and dandruff have similar signs and symptoms: scalp itching and tiny white material on the hair shafts. Lice treatment involves the application of over-the-counter shampoos that contain permethin or pyrethrin followed by nit and louse removal with a fine-toothed comb. Dandruff treatment incorporates the use of anti-dandruff shampoo.
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales. There are several types of psoriasis, including psoriasis vulgaris, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and pustular psoriasis. Symptoms vary depending on the type of psoriasis the patient has. Treatment of psoriasis may include creams, lotions, oral medications, injections and infusions of biologics, and light therapy. There is no cure for psoriasis.
Scalp Psoriasis (Psoriasis of the Scalp)
Scalp psoriasis causes red, raised, scaly patches that may extend from the scalp to the forehead and the back of the neck and ears. Symptoms and signs include itching, hair loss, flaking, silvery scales, and red plaques. Treatment includes topical medicated shampoos, creams, gels, oils, ointments, and soaps, medications, and light therapy.
Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)
Sunburn is caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. UV rays can also damage the eyes. Repeated overexposure to UV rays also increases the risk for scarring, freckles, wrinkles, and dry skin. Symptoms of sunburn include painful, red, tender, and hot skin.The skin may blister, swell, and peel. Sun poisoning (severe sunburn) include nausea, fever, chills, rapid pulse, dizziness and more. Home remedies can help relieve sunburn pain, blisters, and peeling. Severe sunburns may need medical treatment. Sun protection and sunscreen for an person's skin type is recommended to decrease the chance of a severe sunburn and sun poisoning.