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Dandruff and Itching: Why Is My Scalp Itchy?

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Dandruff is a fairly common problem for many people. While dandruff is no cause for alarm or a medical emergency, it’s embarrassing for many people to be seen with flakes on their hair and shoulders.

Most cases of dandruff are easy to treat. Many find that switching to a natural anti-dandruff shampoo and changing their hygienic habits can keep their hair free of dandruff. But for people with more persistent cases of dandruff, consulting a dermatologist can help them find a medical solution for dandruff.

Dandruff, overall, isn’t a serious problem. But what does it mean if you experience both dandruff and an itchy scalp?

Having dry skin

Dandruff flakes are the dead skin cells of your scalp. There are many causes of dandruff that might explain why you have it, but it’s generally due to the fact if your scalp lacks the oils it needs to stay moisturised, your scalp’s skin cells build up and form dandruff.

These flakes can end up irritating your scalp, making it itchy and causing you to scratch often. Too much scratching can cause you to leave your skin raw and prone to developing sores that can feel even more painful.

Your shampoo’s ingredients

Some regular shampoo and anti-dandruff shampoos may contain ingredients that can further irritate your scalp. This could be an allergy to some of the artificial ingredients or simply because some ingredients can change your scalp’s microbiota or change the moisture in your scalp. In this case, try changing your shampoo, ideally to one with natural and organic ingredients.

Your shampooing habits

Shampooing your hair is necessary because it gets rid of the dirt, debris, and excess oils trapped in your hair. By leaving your hair unwashed for days, these particles can remain in your hair, making it feel dirty. And the oils can make your hair limp and greasy. If you’re not shampooing your hair daily, the dead skin cells of your scalp can build up into dandruff flakes and cause irritation, which leads to itchiness.

While dandruff doesn’t necessarily mean a person is unhygienic, dandruff and itching may be a sign that you need to shampoo more often. There’s no one recommendation that fits all people: some prefer to wash their hair every day, while others shampoo every other day. As a rule of thumb, you should be shampooing every time your hair feels oily.

Undiagnosed skin conditions

Certain skin conditions can affect your scalp and cause itching. One example is seborrheic dermatitis, a condition where you develop dandruff and your scalp is irritated and oilier. This is usually linked to a fungal infection from a Malassezia, a type of fungus that feeds on the oil secreted by your scalp.

Other possible skin conditions include psoriasis and eczema, skin disorders that can cause dandruff and dry your scalp which can cause irritating dryness, and another fungal infection called tinea capitis or scalp ringworm. In these cases, you might have to see a doctor to have these conditions treated.

Most cases of dandruff can be easily treated using the right shampoo and proper haircare. But if you feel that the itching is becoming distracting, it may be time to visit a dermatologist to determine the cause of it and a possible solution.


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Peter Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.

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