What Causes Dandruff? 4 Main Causes

Dandruff is a common scalp condition affecting nearly half the global adult population. It is characterized by shedding dead skin cells from the scalp, resulting in visible flakes on the hair and shoulders. Symptoms often include an itchy and flaky scalp.

The presence of dandruff can significantly impact an individual’s confidence and social interactions. The constant worry about visible flakes can lead to self-consciousness, often causing individuals to shy away from social situations and avoid wearing dark-coloured clothing.

Interestingly, despite being a common condition, dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene. It is usually the result of an overproduction of oil on the scalp or a reaction to a yeast-like fungus. Millions of people around the globe are navigating the same journey toward a healthy scalp. At Capstone Medical Centre, we’re here to help every step of the way.

Main Causes of Dandruff

1. Scalp Skin Cell Turnover

Our skin, including the scalp, constantly renews itself through a process called skin cell turnover. Imagine it like a conveyor belt: new cells are born at the bottom, travel upwards, and eventually get shed at the surface. This cycle takes about 28 to 40 days.

Dandruff happens when scalp skin cells shed too quickly. Instead of a smooth flow, the cells flake off in bigger chunks, forming those white flakes we all know. Two main culprits can cause this rapid shedding:

  • Oily scalp: Sometimes, our scalp produces too much oil, which can irritate the skin and speed up cell turnover.
  • Yeast overgrowth: A naturally occurring fungus called Malassezia can sometimes overgrow on the scalp, triggering faster skin cell shedding.

Several things can affect how fast our skin cells turn over, including:

  • Age: As we get older, this process naturally slows down.
  • Genes: Some people are just more prone to dandruff than others.
  • Overall health: When we’re stressed, sick, or not getting enough sleep, our skin can react by shedding cells faster.
  • Diet: What we eat can impact our skin health, potentially influencing dandruff.
  • Sun exposure: Too much sun can damage the skin and disrupt the cell turnover process.
  • Skin conditions: Certain skin problems like eczema can also affect cell turnover.

2. Malassezia Fungus

Malassezia is a type of fungus that commonly resides on humans’ scalps. It is a normal part of the skin microbiota, but it can overgrow and cause various skin disorders under certain conditions. These disorders include pityriasis versicolor, folliculitis, dermatitis, and dandruff.

One of the most common manifestations of Malassezia overgrowth is dandruff. Dandruff is characterized by the presence of white or yellow flakes on the scalp, accompanied by itching and irritation. This condition is caused by the overgrowth of Malassezia yeast, which feeds on the sebum produced by the scalp.

The immune system’s role in Malassezia-related dandruff is complex. While the immune system typically helps protect the body from harmful substances, it can sometimes overreact to the presence of Malassezia, leading to inflammation and the symptoms associated with dandruff.

3. Dry Skin & Irritated Scalp

Dry skin can definitely team up with dandruff to make things worse. When your scalp gets dry, it can get irritated and start flaking – these flakes might look just like dandruff, especially if your scalp is already dry to begin with.

So, what dries out your scalp? A few things can be culprits:

  • Weather: Cold and dry air can zap moisture from your scalp, leaving it feeling itchy and flaky.
  • Harsh shampoos: Some shampoos are a bit too tough and can strip away your scalp’s natural oils, leading to dryness.
  • Scratching and allergies: If your scalp is already irritated from scratching or allergies, it can become inflamed, which can make the flaking and itching even worse. It’s a vicious cycle!

4. Other Contributing Factors

Infrequent shampooing can make dandruff more obvious and worse because frequent hair washing helps to naturally exfoliate the dead skin on your scalp.

Certain hair products can irritate the skin, leading to dandruff in some individuals. It might also trigger an allergic reaction or irritation.

Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and traumatic brain injury have been linked to dandruff. The exact reason for this link is not fully understood, but it may be related to changes in the skin and scalp caused by these conditions.

Dandruff Management & Treatment

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Beating Dandruff: Your Treatment Toolbox

Dandruff can be a real drag, but there are ways to manage it effectively:

  • Start simple: Gentle cleansing is key. Regularly washing your hair with a mild shampoo helps remove excess oil and dead skin cells contributing to dandruff flakes.
  • Step it up with medicated options: If a gentle shampoo isn’t enough, medicated shampoos are your next weapon. These are specially formulated with ingredients that target dandruff-causing factors.
  • Medicated solutions: Scalp treatments that work similarly to medicated shampoos are also available. They help control oil and skin cell buildup, reduce itching and flaking, and promote a healthier scalp.

Whatever treatment you choose, following the instructions carefully is crucial to seeing results. If your dandruff persists even after regular treatment or becomes severe, it’s best to consult a dermatologist for further evaluation and a personalized plan.

At Capstone Medical Centre, our dermatologists diagnose and treat scalp conditions like dandruff. We understand that each individual’s scalp health is unique, and therefore, we offer personalized treatment plans tailored to your specific needs. 

Dandruff Prevention Tips

Preventing dandruff flare-ups involves a combination of good hygiene practices, dietary adjustments, and stress management. Here are some actionable tips:

1. Regular Hair Washing

Maintain a regular hair-washing routine using gentle shampoos. Wash your hair often if you have fine or naturally straight hair or an oily scalp. 

For those with coarse or naturally curly hair, wash your hair when needed. This helps to reduce oil and skin cell buildup, which are common triggers for dandruff.

2. Healthy Scalp Maintenance 

A healthy scalp is the foundation of healthy hair. Managing stress and maintaining a balanced diet can significantly improve scalp health. Chronic stress can contribute to scalp issues such as dandruff and hair loss. 

Nutrient deficiencies can affect the health of your scalp and hair. To support overall scalp health, ensure your diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

3. Natural Oils for Scalp Health 

Natural oils such as lavender, peppermint, and tea tree oil have anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties that can help to reduce dandruff, itchiness, and inflammation on the scalp. 

Additionally, these oils can promote blood circulation in the scalp, stimulating hair growth and preventing hair loss. 

Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before applying them directly to the scalp.


In conclusion, dandruff is a common scalp condition caused by factors such as accelerated skin cell turnover, the Malassezia fungus, dry skin, and an irritated scalp. While various treatments are available, a dermatologist at a hair clinic should evaluate persistent dandruff. 

At Capstone Medical Centre in Southbank, Australia, we’re here to help you achieve a healthy scalp. Don’t hesitate to contact us for a further consultation.


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