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– A flaky scalp is often a sign of dandruff, a skin or scalp condition that affects up to half of all people at some point in their lives, being more common in males. Dandruff not only causes scalp flaking, some people afflicted with it experience itching that can be severe. Plus, the constant itching and flaking can be a source of embarrassment. Dandruff is often confused with a dry scalp but it’s most common in people who have an oily skin or scalp condition.
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Dandruff has been linked with a scalp fungus called Malassezia globosa. This pesky fungus produces enzymes that break down a sticky substance called sebum, produced by sebaceous glands, into oleic acid. Oleic acid causes skin cells to be shed more rapidly and released as clumps or flakes. Dandruff is most common on the scalp but it can appear on other areas of the body that have hair follicles too.

A number of factors can make dandruff worse. These include not shampooing often enough, increased humidity, stress and sweating. Dandruff may also be worsened by conditions that reduce immunity since the immune system helps to keep the Malassezia fungus linked with dandruff in check. That’s why people with certain illnesses are more susceptible to dandruff.

Fortunately, there are ways to lessen the impact dandruff has on your scalp – and your life. If you have an oily scalp, shampooing more often, as often as once a day, helps to reduce flaking and wash away oils that promote growth of Malassezia globosa. It’s a good idea to avoid using oil and wax-based hairstyling products that can build up on your hair and scalp as this may worsen the itching and flaking.

What type of shampoo is best? There are anti-dandruff shampoos specially made to address the problem of dandruff. They contain ingredients that fight the fungus linked with dandruff and help to normalize scalp shedding and flaking. Ketaconazole, zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide are common ingredients in dandruff shampoos that reduce fungal growth on the scalp and relieve dandruff symptoms. Tar and salicylic acid help to reduce flaking.

Tea tree oil also appears to be effective on dandruff. It’s a popular ingredient in natural dandruff shampoos. One way it works is by blocking the activity of Malassezia globosa on the scalp, thereby reducing flaking and irritation. Some dandruff shampoos contain other soothing botanicals that help to ease inflammation and itching. Aloe vera is a natural ingredient that soothes scalp irritation. You can find it as an ingredient in some dandruff shampoos. You’ll need to use these shampoos consistently and frequently at first to keep dandruff under control. After the symptoms have improved, you can decrease the frequency to two or three times a week. Dandruff shampoos are more effective if you leave them on your scalp for a few minutes before rinsing.

If you continue to experience itching and flaking despite using a shampoo made to address dandruff for several weeks, see your doctor. In some cases, an itchy, flaky scalp has another cause that requires a different approach.

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