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Psoriasis vs. dandruff: learn the difference & get treated

Written by Ross Goodhart

Reviewed by Julie Karen, M.D.

The relationship between psoriasis and dandruff is a bit like the relationship between tangelos and oranges. We know they’re connected, but most of us couldn’t say exactly how.

But when it comes to scalp care, understanding the relationship between psoriasis and dandruff just might be crucial for your long-term health. To help you brush up on psoriasis and dandruff, we’ve put together this quick guide. Read up on these two flaky skin conditions and learn how to get relief in no time.

Psoriasis and dandruff: what are they?

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that impacts many biological systems in the body, including the musculoskeletal and immune systems. Like dandruff, psoriasis is often identified by irritated patches of scaly skin. Key word: scaly.

Dandruff, on the other hand, is a more common condition. It is the flaking of your scalp as a result of irritation. Key word: flaking.

But here’s the tricky part: Flaking can be triggered by a number of medical conditions, including psoriasis (the scaling). That means you may have dandruff, psoriasis, or both. 

Neither dandruff or psoriasis is contagious or necessarily harmful to your general health. However, you should seek medical treatment if your skin starts to bleed or scalp cracks under your hair due to excessive dryness or abrasion. 

What Causes Psoriasis?

Scalp psoriasis often causes your hair and scalp to flake and produce irritable, oily skin. To keep your skin feeling fresh and clean, it’s important to understand the causes of psoriasis. 

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means that it’s caused by the body’s immune system. In those with scalp psoriasis, white blood cells mistake one’s own skin cells for a foreign invader and attack them. 

According to research from the University of California at San Francisco, genetic sequencing technology has identified “trigger genes” that may lead to chronic psoriasis. In other words, experts believe that psoriasis is a genetic disease. 

Fortunately, psoriasis is treatable. There are plenty of proven methods for containing psoriasis, minimizing its symptoms, and treating the disease altogether. 

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff - which affects half of the world’s population - is flaking of the scalp that results from irritation. Flaking can be triggered by psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, dry scalp, and a number of other conditions. But why exactly do we see this response in some individuals and not others?

Surprisingly, there’s still no conclusive explanation behind the dandruff phenomenon. However, most experts agree that pesky strains of a yeast known as Malassezia are part of the problem. This fungus seems to cause dehydrated cells to die and fall off in the form of flakes that appear white or yellowish - easy to spot on the shoulders of dark-colored clothing. So, dandruff isn’t just a matter of having a dry and itchy scalp - instead, it’s about the microbiome of your scalp.

...scalp psoriasis can appear in the form of cracks and itchy skin. In other cases, seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis takes the form of an eczema-like scaly or flaky scalp.

Although Malassezia is thought to be the root cause of dandruff, there are several other risk factors that are associated with dandruff, including the following:

  • Autoimmune deficiencies via medications or illnesses
  • Dehydrated and unwashed hair
  • Contact dermatitis from hair products
  • Lifestyle factors including stress, climate, diet, and others

Where does psoriasis occur on the body?

Autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis develop when special protein cells, known as antibodies, attack healthy tissues instead of pathogens (disease-causing organisms). Consequently, the production of skin cells ramps up dramatically and can cause flaky patches all over the body, including on the scalp.

The scalp isn’t the only place that psoriasis can manifest on the body. In fact, it’s not even the most common - not by a long shot. Other areas on the body where you’re most likely to run into psoriasis plaques include:

  • Upper back
  • Kneecaps
  • Hips
  • Elbows

In some cases, scalp psoriasis can appear in the form of cracks and itchy skin. In other cases, seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis takes the form of an eczema-like scaly or flaky scalp. In all cases, scalp psoriasis involves flaking and the creation of dead skin cells. 

Preventing dandruff and psoriasis

Neither scalp psoriasis nor dandruff can be cured. The good news is that dandruff can be managed easily and effectively with a dandruff shampoo formulated with Zinc Pyrithione. Like Jupiter’s. Our Balancing Shampoo does a bang-up job of cleansing and soothing your scalp, while fighting off flakes.

Shameless plugs aside, you can also help minimize the symptoms associated with seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis by regularly brushing your hair. Remember always to brush away from your scalp, so you can spread the natural oil of your hair away from your skin. This technique can help relieve the urge to scratch your oily skin and may help stave off fungal activity.

To treat psoriasis, talk to your doctor about additional medications and practices. 

The easiest way to manage dandruff

At Jupiter, we’ve dedicated all our time and attention - many many hours and years collectively pouring over research and clinical trials and doing some of our own - to find the best method and treatment to help fight dandruff. Our dandruff and scalp care products are formulated with effective ingredients to relieve flaking, itching, and redness, and will leave your hair and scalp looking its best. Take our quiz to find the best solution for you.

Balancing Shampoo

Meet our medicated head honcho. This soothing cleanser gets to the root of dandruff (flaking, irritation, dry scalp), thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Proven to also reduce hair breakage by 30% - with a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender - it’s bound to elevate your mood and your shower.

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.

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