Every winter I receive a flurry of questions relating to dandruff. While the colder months have their many charms, ‘tis also the season for flakes and itching. Luckily there are many effective methods of combatting this common annoyance; from changes in your diet and lifestyle to the use of targeted products. In turn, looking after your scalp in such a way will improve the general health of your hair – a happy scalp goes a long way to promoting happy hair days.
Dandruff usually occurs when a yeast naturally found on the scalp (called malassezia furfur) overgrows. This causes skin cells to replicate themselves much more rapidly than they should, resulting in tell-tale flakes and itching. Most of us will experience dandruff at some point. The scalp is sensitive to external as well as internal changes, such as a shift in seasons, a change in diet, rocketing stress levels and fluctuating hormones.
Certain foods are known to worsen an itchy and flaky scalp. Not everyone’s mind you – what may upset your scalp may be fine for someone else. However, at our Clinics in London and New York we have found that full fat dairy products, very spicy or sugary foods and white wine and champagne are the worst offenders – basically all the decadent things in life! Some people find that just one piece of cheese or a glass of their favourite Sancerre can flare-up symptoms. If you are prone to dandruff, try finding your trigger foods and drinks by process of elimination. Let us thank our lucky socks red wine and spirits are not on the list…
Stress can upset the delicate balance of scalp flora. We aren’t entirely sure of the exact mechanism, but it’s probably because stress can increase male hormone levels, which in turn can affect the scalp. Stress may also play havoc on the immune system. Regardless, the most effective way to combat stress-related dandruff is to find an effective way to manage stress levels. At our Clinics we suggest mindfulness, meditation, Pilates, getting enough sleep and doing low-intensity exercise a few times a week.
Culprit: Not Shampooing
Flakes aren’t always ‘true dandruff’. They can also make their debut when you aren’t cleansing your scalp often enough. After two days of not shampooing, dead skin cells simply accumulate on the scalp, become visible and irritate the skin. To prevent this problem, try to wash your hair at least every other day. If you simply cannot do this, which I know is often the case for those with coarse or curly hair, use an exfoliating scalp mask once a week and an antimicrobial scalp toner every morning and evening.
Scratching an itchy scalp can set off a vicious cycle. You scratch; the scalp gets more irritated and itches even more. You scratch again – and on it goes. Anytime you feel the urge, reach for a soothing anti-microbial scalp toner and dab it onto affected areas. We make a hand-bag friendly scalp toner called Flaky/Itchy Scalp Toner.
You should use a targeted shampoo and scalp toner every day and an exfoliating scalp mask twice weekly until symptoms clear. Then reduce to every other day with the shampoo and toner for another 10 days.
When to See a Doctor
Dandruff is a non-inflammatory scalp condition. If your scalp is red, bleeding or inflamed or your flakes are very thick and hard to remove you may have another scalp condition and should see your doctor, trichologist or dermatologist for treatment.