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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).
How to get rid of dandruff: remedies
Although there is no cure for dandruff, people can reduce and practically eliminate the symptoms and signs associated with dandruff; some obtain good results with over-the-counter dandruff shampoos that contain zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid or selenium sulfide. However, these shampoos are not a cure for dandruff because such shampoos only cause smaller and less visible flakes to be shed. Frequent washing even with regular shampoo may also reduce dandruff symptoms and signs.
If yeast/fungi that occur normally on skin or scalp are contributing to dandruff symptoms and signs, some doctors recommend 1% ketoconazole (Nizoral shampoo) to reduce symptoms, although there is no credible evidence that this prescription shampoo works better than the over-the-counter variety.
When should I contact a medical caregiver about dandruff?
Most people do not need to contact a medical caregiver about dandruff. However, if itching is increasing and is associated with dandruff, if dandruff shampoo fails to reduce dandruff symptoms, or if inflammation (skin or scalp redness and swelling) and severe skin shedding occurs, contact a physician.
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Dandruff PictureA mild skin condition that produces white flakes that may be shed and fall from the hair. See a picture of Dandruff and learn more about the health topic.
Dandruff SlideshowDandruff (Seborrhea) is a common scalp condition resulting in white flaky skin shedding from the scalp. Learn more about the causes of dandruff as well as treatments like dandruff shampoos and more.
Dandruff vs Dry ScalpDandruff 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 DandruffDandruff 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.
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ketoconazoleKetoconazole (Nizoral, Extina, Xolegel, Kuric) is an anti-fungal medication prescribed to treat fungal infections such as thrush, ringworm, jock itch, athlete's foot, dandruff, tinea versicolor, blastomycosis, histoplasmosis, and coccidiomycosis. Side effects and drug interactions should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Ketoconazole Cream nizoral vs Lamisil terbinafineKetoconazole cream and Lamisil (terbinafine) are antifungal medications used to treat fungal infections such as jock itch and athlete's foot. Ketoconazole cream is also used to treat ringworm, dandruff, and tinea versicolor.
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SeborrheaDandruff (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.
Seborrheic DermatitisSeborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition. Symptoms and signs include a red, scaling rash on the scalp, face, ears, and torso. Treatment often includes the use of a medicated shampoo and the application of a topical steroid lotion.
selenium sulfide-topicalTopical selenium sulfide (Head & Shoulders, Selsun Blue, SelRx, Selsun Rx) is included in shampoos and lotions that treat seborrhea, dandruff, and tinea versicolor.
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StressStress occurs when forces from the outside world impinge on the individual. Stress is a normal part of life. However, over-stress, can be harmful. There is now speculation, as well as some evidence, that points to the abnormal stress responses as being involved in causing various diseases or conditions.
Stress Management TechniquesStress may be considered as any physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental unrest and that may be a factor in disease causation. An important goal for those under stress is the management of stress in our lives. Elimination of stress is unrealistic, since stress is a part of normal life. We can however, learn to manage stress through techniques such as exercise, relaxation, meditation, time management, and support systems so that we have control over our stress and its effects on our physical and mental health.