Dandruff can be frustrating enough without dealing with misinformation. So many sites and influencers claim to have the (unproven) cure for dandruff or worse; they help spread harmful myths that reinforce embarrassment and shame around flaking. In this post, we’re breaking down some of the most popular myths out there related to dandruff, debunking them with science, research, and years of dermatological experience. Keep reading to get the scoop on what’s really going on when you have a case of dandruff.
Okay, let’s start with some facts. What is dandruff, really?
Dandruff itself refers to a build-up of sebum on the scalp. It’s often yellowish in color and can feel sticky. This build-up frequently flakes off the scalp, leading to a dusting of skin molecules and leftover oils on your shoulder. The good news? Dandruff is common and easy to treat. Scientists have been researching this condition for decades. Dandruff is believed to be linked to an overproduction of yeast (aka fungus) on the scalp that belongs to the genus Malassezia. Before you get grossed out, you should know that all human beings have a variety of fungi and bacteria on their scalps.
In fact, a healthy and functioning scalp should have lots of each. The issue is when the balance of the scalp’s microbiome gets disrupted or out of whack.
This yeast feeds on sebum, which is your scalp’s naturally produced oils. When the yeastdominates a scalp’s microbiome, it will feed on sebum faster than normal, causing your hair follicles to produce more and more sebum. This overproduction of sebum leads to the classic symptom of dandruff: flaking. Despite what anyone else may tell you, that is why dandruff happens. On that note, let’s touch on some of the biggest myths around this common scalp condition.
We’ve seen it all. Over the years, we’ve noticed so many dandruff misconceptions that it’s hard to keep count.
As a company that values science and prioritizes sharing information and education, seeing a hair health myth is just the worst. After all, healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp.
One of the most widespread myths about dandruff is that it’s a result of poor hygiene. This is not true. There is no direct link between hygiene and dandruff, and people of all different lifestyles and backgrounds can experience dandruff flaking. We’re not saying you should toss your hair-washing schedule out the window. A healthy scalp is important. We’re just saying that if anyone tries to tell you that you’re experiencing dandruff because your hair is dirty, they’re wrong.
This myth is a little more understandable, as the symptoms of dandruff and dry scalp often look and feel similar. Both dandruff and dry scalp can result in flaking, itching, and irritation, but the former is linked to fungal overgrowth, and the latter is linked to dehydration of the scalp.
You’re actually dealing with opposite issues: too much oil versus not enough oil. A number of things can contribute to dry scalp. These factors include the weather, your diet, how often you’re washing your hair, and with what products, as well as any chemical treatments you’ve done. Then there’s your scalp’s UV exposure and your own intake of water. Generally, you’ll be able to see the difference between these two conditions. If the flakes are oily and yellowish in color, they’re likely dandruff. If the flakes are more fine like powdered sugar, then you’re probably dealing with a dry scalp. For more information on the differences between dandruff and dry scalp, read our full post about it here.
If you look up “how to treat dandruff” on the internet, you’ll probably come across a number of blog posts claiming that items from your kitchen are all you need to cure your case. The only way to stop dandruff is to use a medicated shampoo specifically formulated for curbing the growth of Malassezia with a proven active ingredient.
Zinc Pyrithione is proven to stop dandruff. You never want to treat your scalp like a testing ground for whatever the internet believes is the cure of the week. Natural ingredients like rosemary oil, lavender, and castor oil can all be great for your scalp health, but they can’t fix the problem (i.e., an overabundance of fungus).
Rather than going to the store and picking up raw ingredients to dump on your head, seek out hair care products that include these ingredients as part of a professionally formulated dandruff treatment.
The only way to stop dandruff is to use a medicated shampoo specifically formulated for curbing the growth of Malassezia with a proven active ingredient.
There are a lot of shampoos that market themselves as anti-dandruff, but if it doesn’t include one key ingredient, they won’t do the trick. Always check the label for Zinc Pyrithione when you’re purchasing dandruff shampoo and leave on treatments like serums. Studies show that Zinc Pyrithione stops dandruff in its tracks, thanks to its powerful antifungal properties. The correct dosage of Zinc Pyrithione can inhibit the growth of fungi on the scalp by interrupting their reproductive process and starving them of iron.
In other words, Zinc Pyrithione prevents further overproduction of yeast and restores balance to your scalp’s microbiome. Our Balancing Shampoo and Restoring Serum both contain Zinc Pyrithione for it’s flake-fighting powers. The Balancing Shampoo will become your best friend during wash days, while the Restoring Serum will feel like a lifesaver between washes to promote a healthy scalp for healthy-looking hair.
Because dandruff is often misattributed to dirt, sweat, and oil, some people think that the scalp condition is specific to summer. At the same time, other people misidentify dry scalp as dandruff and consider it a wintertime issue. The truth is you can experience dandruff any day of the year as it can be linked to anything from your genetics to lifestyle factors like your diet, climate, and stress levels.
Some people suggest laying off exfoliation when you have dandruff because the scalp is already irritated. We understand the thinking there, but we disagree for the most part.
Remember that dandruff is related to a build-up of sebum. In addition to using an anti-dandruff shampoo, exfoliating is a great way to clear away the flakes on the scalp and prevent them from falling on your shoulders.
That said, if your scalp is severely inflamed, don’t go for exfoliation but do seek out medical help. A painful scalp could be a sign of a different, more dangerous condition.
For a typical case of dandruff, the key is how you exfoliate. Once a week, try using a gentle scalp brush on a dry scalp that helps lift sebum, product buildup, and oil from the scalp without damage. Exfoliating can help increase circulation to your scalp, which may help encourage a healthy scalp (and feels like a luxurious massage!). Our Scalp Brush is made with flexible silicone bristles, ensuring that your massage is both moderate and effective. Try it on dry hair before your next wash day and see just how much better your cleanse can feel.
Again, this is a myth that comes down to language. Dandruff itself will not cause hair loss, but its symptoms may contribute to hair loss. For example, many people who experience dandruff report an itchy scalp.
If you itch too aggressively, you can damage hair strands and follicles, which can lead to hair loss. Similarly, a case of dandruff may be linked to an increase in stress. Dandruff can be aggravated or made worse by severe stress, as can hair growth.
While dandruff doesn’t necessarily cause hair loss, it may potentially be linked to it.
Educating yourself is one of the best things you can do to take care of your scalp. Hair care tends to get treated like a cosmetic pursuit, but it is closely linked to the health and balance of our scalp.
The next time you hear anyone spreading these dandruff myths, send them our way. Together we can clear away misconceptions and kick the flakes to the curb.
Our best-selling duo! The medicated Shampoo tends to your dandruff while the Conditioner’s combo of colloidal oatmeal and coconut oil moisturizes your scalp and hair. Safe for everyday use. Check out The "Triple Threat" Set if you flake on the regular and could use a bit more control.