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How to get rid of dandruff

Woman checking her hair for dandruff
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Lots of people experience dandruff from time to time and can treat it successfully with anti-dandruff shampoos. If your dandruff is more severe, however, you might need help from a doctor and prescription medication – read on to find out more.

What causes dandruff?

Dandruff is a common condition that affects the skin on the scalp, causing small amounts of skin to flake off into the hair. Dandruff can be caused by mild seborrrhoeic dermatitis, which can affect almost 50% of adults; this is where the skin becomes inflamed in areas with a lot of sebaceous glands (the glands that release sebum to keep the skin lubricated).

People with seborrheic dermatitis are thought to be more sensitive to a type of yeast fungus which occurs naturally on the skin – this is why dandruff can be treated with anti-fungal shampoos. Normally this yeast (Malassezia) is harmless, but in people with seborrheic dermatitis it can cause an inflammatory reaction that leads to itching and flaking of the skin.

Other causes of dandruff include eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, ringworm and – in babies – cradle cap.

How do I know if I have dandruff?

The main symptom of dandruff is the appearance of white or grey skin flakes in your hair, which may fall onto your shoulders. You may also have an itchy and dry scalp, which you’re tempted to scratch. If you have other symptoms like scaly, red patches on the face or on other areas of the body, it’s likely you have a skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis – in this case you should speak to a doctor.

Diagnosing dandruff

You don’t need to see a GP to have dandruff diagnosed and if your symptoms are only mild, you can pop to your local pharmacy or browse LloydsPharmacy.com to pick up an anti-dandruff shampoo.

However, if your dandruff is very bad or your scalp is very itchy, red or swollen it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor – if you don’t have time to make an appointment, you can always try Online Doctor’s VideoGP service.

Online Doctor VideoGP

How to treat dandruff

The NHS advice for dandruff is to try treating your symptoms with an anti-dandruff shampoo for one month (and you may need to try more than one type, to find one that works for you). Anti-dandruff shampoos are widely available at pharmacies and normally contain one of the following ingredients:

If your symptoms don’t improve after using an anti-dandruff shampoo for one month, you should speak to a doctor. You’ll probably need a face-to-face or video appointment so the doctor can look at your scalp and try to come to a diagnosis.

Using an anti-dandruff shampoo

If you aren’t sure how to use your anti-dandruff shampoo you can ask for advice from the pharmacist. Otherwise, refer to the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with it. Anti-dandruff shampoos normally need to be used a couple of times a week. Most types will need to be rubbed into the scalp and left for a few minutes before rinsing out.

Shop anti-dandruff shampoos

Treating severe dandruff

Moderate to severe dandruff that is caused by something like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis might need prescription treatment like corticosteroid cream or, in the event of an infection in the skin, antibiotics may need to be prescribed.