Anyone who suffers from dandruff knows that it can occur at any time – it’s not just a cold weather, high indoor heat problem.
We touched base with experts on the flaky scalp skin, Philip Kingsley Brand President and Consultant Trichologist, Anabel Kingsley and Kerry E. Yates, Founder of Colour Collective, Beauty Expert, and Trichologist in Training for what causes the condition, common triggers, and how to keep it at bay – especially during the drying summer months.
Dandruff happens, Here’s Why
“For many, dandruff occurs when the microbiome of their scalp becomes imbalanced,” explains Anabel. “Yeasts naturally live on our scalps, and usually do not cause any problems. However, when a certain species of yeast called the Malassezia yeasts overgrow, this can cause skin cells to divide too rapidly – leading to tell-take flakes and itching. Malassezia yeasts thrive in an oily environment, and so are likely to overgrow if you shampoo infrequently or have a naturally oily scalp.” However, how much this affects you depends on your own chemistry, as it is thought that some people’s scalps are simply hyper sensitive to normal levels of these yeasts.
Dandruff can also be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, “which is a condition that makes your scalp oily and scaly,” notes Kerry.
Pay attention to Triggers
Like most skin conditions, dandruff has triggers – these include extreme stress, illness, monthly hormonal fluctuations, and certain foods (like full fat dairy products). These triggers are especially worrisome for those who are already prone to it but can happen in those who have never experienced it in the past.
“Your scalp’s delicate balance can be thrown-off kilter by similar things that may impact the skin on your face,” notes Anabel, who stresses that times of big hormonal changes, like puberty and pregnancy, as well as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can cause dandruff in people who usually don’t experience it, or who have never had it before.
Dandruff is more common for certain people and not others, but the reason why is still unclear. Aside from some people being more sensitive to Malassezia yeasts than others, it’s also more common during puberty (i.e. in your teenage years) when testosterone, and therefore oil production, increases,” says Anabel.
While you cannot cure or 100% prevent dandruff, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a flare-up. One of the most important things you can do is to simply shampoo regularly. Shampooing removes excess oils, “which helps to keep yeast levels in-check and makes it harder for them to over-proliferate,” says Anabel. “The massaging action of shampooing also helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your scalp.”
Managing stress is also essential (always the case) as stress can disrupt your skin’s barrier function. While Anabel admits there’s no one-size-fits-all for stress management, Anabel’s clients swear by yoga, Pilates, swimming and mindfulness, as well as dietary changes.
If you’re particularly prone to dandruff or are prone to the more severe form of it (seborrhoeic dermatitis or ‘dandruff’s big brother’), Anabel suggests using targeted products as part of your regular hair care regime. “Use a weekly targeted scalp mask, a daily anti-microbial scalp toner – and shampoo your hair with an anti-dandruff shampoo every other wash, like PK Flaky/Itchy Scalp Mask, Flaky/Itchy Scalp Toner & Flaky/Itchy Scalp Shampoo,” she recommends.
Dandruff v. everything else
Dandruff is easily confused for other scalp conditions, including psoriasis, which is an auto-immune condition. “Psoriasis typically causes tight. thick, white, asbestos-like plaques that have bleeding points underneath. Unlike dandruff, psoriasis requires prescription products and treatments,” Anabel clarifies.
Dandruff can also be mistaken for a dry scalp, which occurs when the top layer of skin “the epidermis” lacks moisture. This typically occurs because of the weather but can also happen when your scalp is not producing enough, or adequately replacing, sebum (oil). This tends to happen with age.
“While a dry scalp is common – it’s not quite as common as having dry skin elsewhere, such as your hands, arms, legs and even your face. This is because your scalp is a highly sebaceous environment (i.e. it contains more oil glands, and therefore produces more oils, than most other parts of your body). A dry scalp is more common in the summer months as the scalp can become sunburnt,” says Anabel.
How to Eliminate Dandruff
Treat a scalp condition as you would a regular skin condition – it needs consistent and daily treatment to bring it under control. “After all, your scalp is simply an extension of the skin on your forehead – and so skincare should not stop at your hairline,” says Anabel.
In order to combat dandruff, your scalp needs to be cleansed daily with a targeted shampoo. “I love our Flaky/Itchy Scalp Shampoo,” she explains. “It contains Piroctone Olamine – which specifically targets the Malassezia yeasts. As added bonuses, it smells of fresh green apples, and does not strip or tangle hair.”
After shampooing and conditioning, apply a soothing and anti-microbial scalp toner containing ingredients such as witch hazel and camphor, like PK Flaky/Itchy Scalp Toner. “You can also apply a toner as required throughout the day whenever you experience irritation or an urge to scratch. It’s important not to scratch, as doing so can further aggravate your scalp and initiate an infuriating ‘itch-scratch cycle’. Scratching can also introduce bacteria into the scalp and cause infection. Once, ideally twice, a week apply a targeted scalp mask.”
What you eat can also impact dandruff production. Anabel recommends eating plenty of foods rich in anti-inflammatory Omega 3’s – like salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, seaweed and chia seeds, or taking supplement. Lastly, avoid foods and drinks known to commonly trigger dandruff including full-fat dairy products, like cheese, as well as champagne, white wine, and very spicy and sugary food.
“Try eating a balanced diet with minimal processed foods and fats – junk food can cause internally stresses which can impact scalp health,” adds Kerry.
Long term fixes
If you find yourself experiencing dandruff in the summer (or the winter), Anabel recommends the following must-have list of ingredients that will help banish pesky flakes once and for all.
• Piroctone Olamine – An anti-microbial ingredient that specifically targets the Malassezia yeasts responsible for dandruff. (Found in the whole PK Flaky/Itchy Scalp Range)
• Witch Hazel – helps to regulate sebum (oil) production (Found in PK Scalp Toners)
• Camphor – calming, anti-itch active (Found in PK Scalp Toners)
• Salicylic and Lactic Acid – effective but gentle exfoliants (Found in Flaky/Itchy Scalp Mask)
• Hyaluronic acid – moisturizing ingredient (Found in Flaky/Itchy Scalp Mask)
• Willow herb extract – Soothing ingredient that helps to preserve the scalps microbiota (Found in Flaky/Itchy Scalp Mask)
• If you use dry shampoo, choose one with scalp benefits. The PK One More Day Dry Shampoo contains Allantoin, a soothing anti-itch and anti-flake ingredient. Also, don’t consistently use dry shampoo as a replacement for real shampoo.
“My favorite go-to natural option is anything with tea tree oil,” says Kerry. “A natural anti-fungal, tea tree tackles the yeast growth that is a main cause of dandruff.”
Dandruff fact v. fiction
Dandruff affects the quality of your hair overall. “A flaky scalp can cause excessive hair shedding and affect the integrity of the hair shaft as it exits the hair follicle,” Anabel says. However, the biggest myth about dandruff is that it’s an oily scalp or seborrheic condition, instead of a dry one. “Don’t rub in oils to remove it – this will simply give you sticky and greasier flakes – rubbing pure oil into your scalp can also cause contact dermatitis,” Anabel warns.