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What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a skin condition that results in flaky or scaly skin on the scalp. Many people who suffer from dandruff have oily hair and an itchy head.

What does dandruff look like?

Dandruff presents as white, oily flakes of dead skin that dot the hair and fall from the scalp to the shoulders. In severe cases, the scalp may develop red, scaly patches.

Is dandruff harmful?

Dandruff is usually not painful, but it can be itchy and uncomfortable. Dandruff alone is not a harmful skin condition, but sometimes it develops as a side effect to greater health issues.

What causes dandruff?

Dandruff may be caused by one or a combination of skin conditions with varying levels of severity.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is the most common cause of dandruff. It is marked by red, irritated, greasy, and oily skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales. Seborrheic dermatitis often affects the scalp, but it also develops in other areas rich in oil glands, such as eyebrows, sides of the nose, back of the ears, sternum, armpits, and groin area.


Malassezia is a yeast like fungus that can be found on the skin of most adults. Even though it is present on nearly everyone, it seldom causes problems. In rare cases, malassezia irritates the scalp and causes excess skin cells to grow. The extra cells die and fall off, making them appear white and flakey in the hair.

Dry Skin

Dry skin causes a much milder form of dandruff. The scalp is usually less oily and flaking is not as visible with this type of dandruff.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is skin irritation caused by contact with triggering substances. Sometimes sensitivities to ingredients in hair care products and hair dyes can activate a reaction on the scalp, causing scaling and flaking that ultimately results in dandruff.

What treatments are available at Skin And Cancer Institute for dandruff?

While many dandruff products are available over the counter, persistent and severe dandruff is best treated with prescription strength therapies. Our skin care specialists at Skin And Cancer Institute will determine the cause of your dandruff and then prescribe the most effective treatment available to reduce and even eliminate your symptoms.

Zinc Pyrithione Shampoo

Prescribed for dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis and malassezia, this shampoo contains antibacterial and antifungal agents.

Coal Tar Shampoo

Coal tar shampoo slows skin cell death on the scalp, greatly reducing the amount of visible flaking.

Selenium Sulfide Shampoos

Selenium sulfide shampoo slows skin cell death and fights the effects of malassezia.

Salicylic Acid Shampoo

Salicylic acid shampoo reduces scaling on the scalp, but it is not recommended for those with severe flaking.

Ketoconazole Oral Medication

Ketoconazole is a broad spectrum antifungal pill that is often prescribed when medicated shampoos fail. Due to the high incidence of side effects associated with ketoconazole, it is only used for the most severe cases of dandruff.

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