Why Do I Have Dandruff All of a Sudden and How to Get Rid of Them

Why Do I Have Dandruff All of a Sudden and How to Get Rid of Them

Dandruff is a common yet often misunderstood scalp condition that can cause significant discomfort and embarrassment. It manifests as flaky skin on the scalp, often accompanied by itching and redness. Understanding the underlying causes and effective treatments is crucial for anyone struggling with dandruff, especially those with sensitive skin or existing scalp conditions. Additionally, with the rising interest in natural remedies, many are keen to explore alternative solutions for managing this pervasive issue.


Key Takeaways

  • Dandruff is a widespread scalp condition characterized by flakiness, itching, and sometimes redness.
  • It is not solely caused by poor hygiene but is influenced by various biological, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
  • Effective management involves understanding these causes and applying the right treatments, whether medical or natural.
  • Individuals with specific risk factors or severe symptoms should seek professional medical advice.


What Is Dandruff?

Definition and Overview

Dandruff is a common scalp condition that leads to the shedding of dead skin cells in the form of flakes. These flakes can be white or yellow and are often noticeable on the scalp, hair, and shoulders. The condition can also cause itching and redness, leading to significant discomfort.


"Dandruff is much more common than people realize; 13 million Americans have had it," said Dr. Francesca Fusco, a board-certified dermatologist. "According to a recent study conducted by Unilever, most consumers who have had dandruff have suffered long term, with 51 percent having had dandruff for more than two years." (Source)



Common Misconceptions

Many misconceptions surround dandruff, which can lead to ineffective management strategies. One prevalent myth is that dandruff is solely caused by poor hygiene. In reality, while infrequent washing can contribute to the buildup of oil and dead skin cells, over-washing can strip the scalp of its natural oils, exacerbating the problem.


Another common misconception is that dandruff only affects those with oily scalps. In truth, dandruff can occur on both dry and oily scalps, as it is more about the scalp's reaction to Malassezia and its own oil production rather than the amount of oil present.


Causes of Dandruff

Biological Factors

The primary biological culprit behind dandruff is Malassezia, a yeast-like fungus naturally present on the scalp. While Malassezia is harmless in small amounts, its overgrowth can lead to dandruff.


Malassezia yeast is a type of fungus that naturally exists on the human scalp and skin, part of the normal skin flora. It thrives in lipid-rich environments, feeding on the oils (sebum) produced by the sebaceous glands in the scalp. Sebum is the oily substance secreted by these glands, designed to lubricate and protect the skin. While sebum is essential for maintaining skin hydration and barrier function, it also serves as a nutrient source for Malassezia. When Malassezia metabolizes the lipids in sebum, it produces by-products such as oleic acid, which can penetrate the skin barrier and cause irritation and inflammation, leading to the flaking and itching characteristic of dandruff. Thus, the balance between Malassezia yeast and sebum production is crucial: too much sebum can fuel excessive fungal growth, while too little can lead to dryness and scalp irritation, both scenarios potentially resulting in dandruff.




Lifestyle and Environmental Triggers

Various lifestyle and environmental factors can trigger or worsen dandruff. Stress is a significant contributor, as it can disrupt the skin's barrier function, leading to increased oil production and inflammation. Diet also plays a role; a diet high in sugars and fats can promote Malassezia growth.

"Eating food high in sugars, unhealthy fats or any food which produces inflammation adds to imbalances in the formation of skin and hair and hair follicles," says Dr. Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt Sinai School of Medicine in New York. She says the right nutrition can "help regulate oil production and have anti-inflammatory properties which can help with dandruff symptoms as well." (Source)

Climate changes can impact the scalp, too. Cold, dry air can lead to a dry scalp, while hot, humid conditions can increase oil production. Hair care practices, such as the frequency of washing and the types of products used, can also influence dandruff. Overuse of styling products, harsh shampoos, and infrequent washing can all contribute to the condition.


Who is Most at Risk?

Risk Factors for Dandruff

Dandruff can affect anyone, but certain groups are more susceptible. Adolescents and adults between the ages of 15 and 50 are most commonly affected, likely due to hormonal changes that increase oil production. Men are also more prone to dandruff than women, likely because they have larger sebaceous glands.


Genetic predisposition plays a role as well. If dandruff runs in the family, you might be more likely to develop it. Additionally, individuals with certain skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, are at a higher risk of experiencing dandruff.


Examining Personal Hygiene and Hair Care Routines

While poor hygiene is not the sole cause of dandruff, maintaining a balanced scalp environment is crucial. Over-washing can strip the scalp of oils, while under-washing can lead to an accumulation of oil and dead skin cells. Finding the right balance is key to managing dandruff effectively.


How to Get Rid of Dandruff

Medical Treatments

Medical treatments for dandruff typically involve the use of over-the-counter or prescription shampoos containing active ingredients like zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, or selenium sulfide. These ingredients help reduce fungal growth, remove excess oil, and promote the shedding of dead skin cells.


Zinc pyrithione, for instance, has potent antifungal and antibacterial properties that help control Malassezia by disrupting the cellular membrane of the fungus, thereby inhibiting its ability to grow and reproduce. Salicylic acid works by exfoliating the scalp, removing dead skin cells and preventing their buildup. Ketoconazole is a powerful antifungal agent that targets the overgrowth of Malassezia yeast by inhibiting the growth and spread of this yeast. Selenium sulfide helps reduce the rate at which skin cells die and flake off.


"My recommendation is that if your symptoms are mild, it's totally fine to try an anti-dandruff shampoo," says Dr. Caroline Robinson, M.D, F.A.A.D, founding dermatologist at Tone Dermatology in Chicago. "And then you can even alternate with a hydrating shampoo, and find one that helps more with your symptoms. However, if your symptoms are more severe, I would recommend just going to a dermatologist to get that diagnosis." (Source)


Natural Remedies and Home Solutions

For those interested in natural remedies, several options can help manage dandruff. Tea tree oil, known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties, can be added to shampoo or diluted with carrier oils for direct scalp application. However, it's important to note that tea tree oil, along with other essential oils, can be common skin irritants and should be used with caution. A study published in Contact Dermatitis highlighted that essential oils, including tea tree oil, are frequently associated with allergic contact dermatitis and are commonly found in personal care products. Therefore, it's crucial to perform a patch test before use and ensure proper dilution. (Source: Mowitz, M., Pontén, A., & Zimerson, E. (2013). Contact allergy to essential oils and fragrances frequently used in aromatherapy. Contact Dermatitis, 69(3), 152-159.)


Apple cider vinegar is another popular remedy. Its acidity can help balance the scalp's pH, reducing fungal growth and flaking. Mixing equal parts of apple cider vinegar and water and applying it to the scalp for a few minutes before rinsing can be effective.



Aloe vera, known for its soothing and moisturizing properties, can help alleviate itching and dryness associated with dandruff. Applying fresh aloe vera gel to the scalp and leaving it on for about 30 minutes before washing it off can provide relief.


While these natural remedies can be beneficial, it's important to consider potential allergies or sensitivities and consult with a healthcare professional if symptoms persist.


Preventing Dandruff Recurrence 

Daily Hair Care Tips

Maintaining scalp health and hygiene is crucial in preventing dandruff recurrence. Using the right hair care products is essential. Look for gentle, hydrating shampoos that promote a healthy scalp environment. Just Shampoo by The Better Scalp Company is a gentle fragrance-free shampoo free from common irritants.



Finding the right washing routine is also important. Washing the hair too frequently can strip the scalp of its natural oils, while infrequent washing can lead to oil and product buildup. A balanced approach, such as washing every two to three days, can help maintain a healthy scalp.


Lifestyle Adjustments

Adopting a holistic approach to scalp health can significantly reduce the risk of dandruff. Stress management techniques, such as regular exercise, meditation, and adequate sleep, can help maintain overall skin health. A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that support skin health, can also be beneficial. A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that lifestyle factors, including stress management and diet, play a significant role in maintaining scalp health and reducing the incidence of dandruff. (Source: Kondo, S., Kono, T., & Hirota, Y. (2008). The impact of lifestyle factors on scalp health: a population-based study. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 128(2), 452-457.)


When to See a Professional

Signs That Professional Help Is Needed

While many cases of dandruff can be managed with over-the-counter treatments and natural remedies, certain symptoms warrant professional medical evaluation. If you experience severe scalp irritation, persistent itching, or significant hair loss, it's essential to seek the advice of a dermatologist. These symptoms could indicate an underlying condition that requires specialized treatment.


What to Expect from a Consultation

During a consultation, a dermatologist will typically perform a thorough examination of the scalp and hair. They may ask about your medical history, hair care routine, and any other symptoms you're experiencing. In some cases, they may perform diagnostic tests, such as a skin biopsy or fungal culture, to determine the underlying cause of dandruff. Patch testing is also a common procedure, especially beneficial for people with sensitive scalps. This test involves applying small amounts of various substances to the skin to identify potential allergic reactions, helping to pinpoint specific ingredients in hair care products that might be causing irritation and exacerbating dandruff. Patch testing can be particularly valuable in developing a tailored treatment plan that avoids these irritants and promotes scalp health.



Treatment options will depend on the diagnosis and severity of symptoms. Your dermatologist may recommend prescription-strength shampoos, topical treatments, or oral medications. Open communication with your healthcare provider is crucial to ensure you receive the most effective treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.



Dandruff is a common and often frustrating condition that can impact an individual's quality of life. Understanding the causes and implementing effective treatments, whether medical or natural, is key to managing and preventing dandruff. By maintaining a balanced scalp environment, adopting a holistic approach to scalp health, and seeking professional advice when necessary, individuals can effectively combat dandruff and enjoy a healthier scalp.


Incorporating natural remedies into routine care and consulting professionals when needed can make a significant difference. At The Better Scalp Company, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive solutions and expert advice to help you achieve optimal scalp health. Remember, a healthy scalp is the foundation for beautiful, vibrant hair.


What Causes Dandruff: Frequently Asked Questions


Why do I have so much dandruff even after washing my hair?

Dandruff can persist even after washing your hair if the underlying cause, such as an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast or a sensitivity to hair care products, is not addressed. It's essential to use the right shampoo, whether that be a shampoo that contains active ingredients like zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole to effectively manage dandruff, or a shampoo that avoids ingredients you are sensitive to.

Can changing seasons affect my dandruff?

Yes, changing seasons can affect dandruff. Cold, dry air in winter can lead to a dry scalp, while hot, humid conditions in summer can increase oil production, both of which can exacerbate dandruff symptoms.

Are there any specific diets to help control dandruff?

A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that support skin health, can be beneficial in controlling dandruff. Foods high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics can also promote scalp health.

How to get rid of dandruff?

To get rid of dandruff, it's important to use the right hair care products containing active ingredients like zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, or selenium sulfide. If you have a sensitivity to certain ingredients in your haircare products, it’s crucial to avoid those ingredients. Additionally, adopting a holistic approach to scalp health, including stress management techniques, a balanced diet, and proper hygiene, can help effectively manage and prevent dandruff.


Read our other blog posts below:

Are natural products better for you? 

The top 100 skin allergens; a guide to a sensitive scalp

Eczema on head under hair: Symptoms, causes and treatment

Is Fragrance in shampoo bad?