Dandruff: the pesky, annoying snowflakes of the scalp that are widely misunderstood. Dandruff has been a problem for humans and animals for millions of years. The oldest case of dandruff recorded (so far) was on the skin of a microraptor from 125 million years ago (seriously!).
There’s maybe an important question on your mind: is it contagious or not? In addition to unraveling the answer, we’ll review the common contributors to dandruff and who is more likely to have it in the first place.
Dandruff is simply white, flaky pieces of skin that collect in the hair near the scalp. It can be itchy, irritating, and make plenty of people self-conscious about their hair’s appearance. In more severe cases, the skin may be patchy and red. Over time, it can collect on your scalp.
In the same family, Seborrheic Dermatitis has the same symptoms but is simply more severe. It can be itchier, flakier, and can spread to other areas of the body that produce sebum, like the face and chest.
People often attribute dandruff to a lack of hygiene, but that’s not true at all. You can have the utmost personal hygiene and still suffer from dandruff.
Instead, it’s all due to your scalp’s sensitive microbiome. Bacteria naturally live on the skin, which also includes the scalp. Dandruff appears when the scalp gets an overgrowth of Malassezia, a fungus that adores feeding on oils and dead skin.
Dandruff can appear for several reasons, some out of our control and some that can be adjusted with new lifestyle choices.
If you’ve ever taken an ancestry test, you may be surprised to see that some of them include a gene that indicates a predisposition to dandruff. That’s right — if your mother, father, grandparents, or other relatives have dandruff, it’s likely you will, too.
Sorry, this is one of those factors that can’t be controlled. But knowing that you are more likely to have dandruff at some point in your life can prepare you to tackle the problem. You can also ask your family what treatments work best for them.
Experiencing a lot of stress in your life? That could be contributing to more dandruff. When you’re stressed, you produce more sebum, and Malassezia loves to snack on excess oils.
Major life events, your job, your relationships, and so many other things can make us stressed. But if you’re looking to get it under control, make certain you’re finding time to enjoy calming hobbies and spend time with people who make you feel happy and secure. Consider taking up a meditative activity such as yoga.
Even something as simple as arts and crafts can distract you from the negative things happening in your life and redirect them into something productive and fun. Studies have shown that creativity can lead to increased dopamine production. The best part? You don’t have to be good at art to reap the benefits.
If you’re stressed, your diet may also be lacking. Make certain you are drinking enough water and eating nourishing, healthy food.
Going through puberty? Menopause? Pregnancy? Or just have wacky hormonal fluctuations? Hormones can disrupt sebum production and throw many of our body’s functions out of whack.
Especially for adolescents going through puberty, sebum production increases, resulting in more chances for Malassezia to thrive. Dry, irritated skin from a lack of oil production can also lead to dandruff.
Many cases of dandruff appear shortly after puberty begins or develop at some point during that period. As women go through menopause, hormonal shifts can disrupt the scalp’s microbiome, making dandruff appear in women who never previously had an issue with it.
Sometimes, hormones fluctuate as we get older with zero explanation as to why, so if none of the above make sense for why you’re suffering from dandruff, they're far from the only reason why it could be happening.
Some health conditions may make you more likely to develop dandruff. Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema can increase your chances of developing dandruff and even spread to other areas of the body. Any conditions that cause an increase in oil production or cause irritation in the skin can also lead to dandruff.
When the weather is especially hot and humid, it can create the perfect storm for Malassezia to grow. Winter weather is prime time for hats that can create a sweaty, warm environment for bacteria to thrive.
Winter weather can also cause dry skin, which can lead to flakiness. Dress appropriately for the weather and adjust your hair care routine for each season. If your scalp gets exceptionally dry, make sure you hydrate and moisturize your scalp.
Microorganisms can get freaked out by products like hair spray, mousse, and gel. The chemicals and other ingredients can disrupt your microbiome, even if you wash it out immediately.
Using a bunch of products over time can lead to product build-up that sticks around in your hair and scalp. Buildup can clog your pores, leading to scalp discomfort like itching, redness, and irritation. And, if irritants from product buildup stay on the scalp, they can lead to contact dermatitis and turn into a nasty case of dandruff.
Since a bacteria or virus doesn’t cause dandruff, it won’t hop from one human to another.
The answer? Nope. Not even a little bit.
Since a bacteria or virus doesn’t cause dandruff, it won’t hop from one human to another. So you don’t have to worry about “catching” dandruff from another person.
If you develop dandruff, it stays isolated to you alone. No need to lock yourself away in a tower until your dandruff disappears, but too many people feel that they need to do it out of embarrassment.
If you have dandruff, you’re not alone. Let’s say you’re walking down the street on a random day. You’re more likely to meet more people who also struggle with dandruff or some form of scalp discomfort than you are to meet someone with freckles on your journey.
And if a dinosaur fossil from millions of years ago has dandruff, think about how normal dandruff is among anyone.
Dandruff can be found in anyone, regardless of age or stage. It’s one of the most common skin conditions in the world, with a whopping half of the population reporting dandruff as an issue at some point in their lives.
That’s right — dandruff is wildly inclusive (and we’d bet you rather it was more selective).
For one-in-five people, dandruff is a chronic issue and needs a treatment that addresses the frequent flakiness and other woes dandruff brings. It most commonly affects people ages 20 to 50, but it can happen at any point in life. Even when you are no longer struggling through puberty or have finally made it “over the hill.”
Thankfully, we live in a world with tons of options to fight dandruff. Here are a few suggestions you can mix and match to help your dandruff.
While hygiene issues don’t cause dandruff, washing your hair helps control oil production on your scalp. Many people with chronic dandruff issues incorrectly think washing their hair too often can cause dandruff.
But the longer oils and dead skin have to ferment on your scalp, the more opportunities there are for dandruff to appear. While hair-washing routines depend on the person, most people are encouraged to wash their hair daily to control oil production.
You should drink the right amount of water each day for your overall health. But sometimes we all neglect the clear liquid for something with sugar or just plain don’t drink enough liquids at all. Water is essential to keep all organs functioning (yes, your skin is the largest organ!).
If you struggle with getting enough water in your daily routine, set reminders on your phone and carry around a water bottle with hour-by-hour markers of how much water you should drink at a time. If you’re stuck on soda or other sugary drinks, try finding no-calorie water flavoring packets to enhance your drink.
Processed foods can cause a spike in insulin, leading to excess oils in the scalp. Plus, a diet devoid of vital nutrients means your body can’t function as it should. In addition to a well-rounded diet with clean foods, vitamin B and zinc may support your scalp’s health.
Reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake may also support scalp health by not bogging down the body with junk. If it’s too busy processing junk, your body can’t focus on maintaining the best microbiome for your scalp.
Oftentimes, deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals can contribute to your scalp being thrown off balance. That’s why we’ve developed our Daily Scalp Essential supplement, which is scientifically formulated with scalp healthy ingredients like zinc, vitamins A, C, D, and E, and biotin along with botanicals and greens that will help support your scalp and hair health.
If you’re a fan of wearing hats or head scarves, you’re likely creating the perfect ecosystem for dandruff to appear. Allow your head to have some breathing room when possible, and thoroughly wash hats and scarves to keep them free from buildup and fungus.
If you love wearing either one, just ensure you wash it and thoroughly dry it before wearing it again. Even if the garment is clean, wet laundry still contributes to a moist and inviting environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive.
Evidence of early dandruff treatment is found as far back as the ninth century when our ancestors attempted to control their dandruff with fern leaves. Our guess is that it wasn’t too effective.
Today, we have a wide variety of products meant to tackle dandruff. The best dandruff fighters include the star active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione, which helps to reduce flaking and other burdensome symptoms of dandruff. Check out our Balancing Shampoo and leave-on Restoring Serum. Both formulated with Zinc Pyrithione and a host of natural ingredients that support your scalp and hair health while effectively fighting flakes.
It can be dizzying to decide which dandruff product is right for you. But not all products are made the same. It’s crucial to check the ingredients for not only key ingredients like Zinc Pyrithione, colloidal oatmeal, and piroctone olamine, but also ensure that certain chemicals and foaming agents are left off that list (like sulfates, parabens, phthalates, dyes, and synthetic fragrances).
Still scratching your head? Take our quick quiz to find the best recommendations for your unique scalp and hair needs. We’ve got you covered.
The ultimate set for addressing scalp discomfort holistically. Our best-selling dandruff shampoo & scalp conditioner meets the Daily Scalp Essential. Together, they target flaking and oil production (greasiness), keeping locks nourished and tangle free, while addressing any nutritional deficiencies that inhibit the growth of healthy hair.*