Dandruff, while not a serious medical issue, can lead to hair fall, itchy scalp and can be a cause for general embarrassment. In winter, the problem only compounds. Dr Jyoti Gupta, a consultant dermatologist based in New Delhi, says, “Dandruff is a common condition that can leave the scalp inflamed and itchy. This can cause white flakes to dust across the hair. And while not contagious, nor, in most cases, painful, dandruff can be a burden – especially during the winter months.”
Dandruff In Winters: Causes
To treat dandruff, it’s important to know the cause of dandruff. “Dry scalps are different. Dandruff occurs because of break and skin barriers along with wrong oil or lipid layers. Once you figure out the root cause of your dandruff, you can treat it properly,” says Dr Gupta. She lists some of the most common causes of dandruff during winter and what to do about them.
Extremely Dry Skin: This can lead to breaking and skin barrier, causing the body to think that more oil is required leading to wrong oil accumulation causing flakes or dandruff.
Less Hair Wash: Most people think that too frequent hair wash leads to dandruff. “But the fact is that for those who are already at risk for dandruff, washing infrequently can worsen the condition. This is because it causes more oil and dead skin to sit on top of your scalp, worsening dandruff,” says Dr Gupta.
Use Of Hot Water, Heaters, Caps: In winter, people often use hot water to wash their hair. “We also tend to wear woollen caps to keep ourselves warm. All this leads to inflammation on the scalp, leading to more itchiness and dandruff. This occurs because heat damages the hair follicles and disrupts the natural oil balance of the scalp. The flora of the skin changes and can lead to fungal growth, which in turn leads to dandruff,” says Dr Gupta. She adds, “The major culprit of dandruff is a fungus called Malassezia. This fungus exists on most adults’ scalps. It feeds on the oils on your scalp, breaking it down and leaving oleic acid in its place. Many people are sensitive to oleic acid. The body then reacts to this acid by increasing the speed at which skin cells renew. It is an attempt to rid the scalp of the irritant and can cause flakes or dandruff. The flakes are dead skin cells that visibly accumulate on the scalp or even shoulders.”
Sebo-Psoriasis: Though dandruff is a disease and not a symptom, dandruff-like flakes are commonly seen in scalp psoriasis and some other scalp conditions too, says Dr Gupta. “Psoriasis can cause dryness and dandruff-like flakes, along with inflamed skin, patches that may extend beyond hairline and itching. It aggravates during winter. It is important to consult a dermatologist in such a case and start with proper medications. Dry flakes can also occur due to scalp dryness but this needs to be differentiated from dandruff,” says Dr Gupta.
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How To Treat Dandruff
Treating dandruff is sometimes a matter of trial and error if done without proper guidance, says Dr Gupta. While most of the treatment line is the same for every cause, some causes like yeast infection and medical scalp conditions need dermatologist attention. Dr Gupta lists the following steps:
Say No To Hot Water: One can avoid taking showers in very hot water and switch to warm or a little cold water, especially for the scalp, if suffering from dandruff.
Limit Friction: Limit the wearing of hats and scarves, especially those of synthetic materials.
Limit Oil Usage: People think that oiling hair regularly would decrease dandruff, but this is not the case. Too much oiling can lead to more dandruff. Oiling should be done half an hour before hair wash, and if it is needed to moisturise the scalp.
Shampoo Your Hair: Frequent shampooing leads to less dandruff. Those who have dandruff should use medicated shampoos containing zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, etc
“Sometimes oral medications are also needed (antifungals, anti-inflammatory, etc) but all this needs proper consultation with a trusted dermatologist,” Dr Gupta signs off.