What does YOUR dandruff say about your health?

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While we might think of dandruff as a minor annoyance or more as a cosmetic issue, in fact, more attention could give you valuable insight into your overall health.

Consulting dermatologist Dr Eva Melegh has identified the different types of dandruff and what they mean, from large waxy flakes caused by a fungal infection to small white, non-irritating flakes caused by a burnt scalp.

While the common skin condition is not harmful, an itchy scalp with fine white flakes could indicate an allergy, while yellow flakes and an inflamed scalp can mean eczema.

Here, Femail reveals how to decode any clues that might linger in your hair.

Consultant dermatologist Dr. Eva Melegh has identified the different types of dandruff and their significance. Image bank

LARGE WAX FLAKES

Can mean: Scalp fungus

A common cause of dandruff is the fungus called Malassezia globose which feeds on the oils in our skin and hair. It produces oleic acid, which can irritate our skin.

In some people, this triggers an immune response which can lead to rapid turnover of skin cells, producing fungal dandruff. It is more common in those with oily hair.

Dandruff shampoos usually contain zinc pyrithione, the most common antifungal ingredient. However, excessive use of anti-dandruff shampoos can lead to dry and sensitive scalp and cause different kinds of dandruff, so their use should be limited.

SMALL DRIED WHITE SNOWFLAKES WITH ITCHES

It could mean: scalp allergy

Small, dry, white flakes with an itchy, tight scalp, which often gets worse shortly after washing your hair, could be due to an allergy.

Studies show that about 10 percent of the population suffers from an allergy to a common preservative used in most standard shampoos called MITT (Methylisothiazolinone). Additionally, allergies to perfumes and detergents in shampoos can also trigger scalp allergies.

I suggest chemical-free, restorative scalp treatments to reduce irritation, improve scalp hydration, and repair skin barrier function through the use of prebiotic ingredients.

Small, dry, white flakes with an itchy and often worsening scalp soon after washing the hair can be due to an allergy.  Image bank

Small, dry, white flakes with an itchy scalp that often gets worse soon after washing the hair can be due to an allergy. Image bank

SMALL DRIED WHITE SNOWFLAKES WITHOUT ITCH

It could mean: burnt scalp

As we all apply sunscreen to ourselves, few of us realize how exposed and sensitive the scalp is to UV damage.

Scalp sunburns are very common, especially if you have thin hair, and even hot shower water can slightly burn the scalp.

So if you’ve been in the sun on the weekend or on vacation or turned up the heat in the shower and a week later you have an itchy, scaly scalp without itching, chances are you’ve suffered from burns.

The solution is in fragrance-free moisturizing shampoos and leave-in scalp serums for better scalp conditioning. Stick to lukewarm showers and wear a hat during sunny hours until things improve.

WHAT IS ECZEMA?

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that results in redness, blistering, oozing, peeling, and thickening.

It usually appears during the first months of life and affects about 10% of babies.

The cause of eczema is not fully understood, but it is believed that the skin’s barrier to the outside world is not functioning properly, allowing irritants and allergenic substances to enter.

It can be genetic due to the disease that often plagues families.

In addition to affecting their skin, sufferers can experience insomnia and irritability.

There are many factors that can make eczema worse. These may include:

  • Heat, dust, soap and detergents
  • Being sick, like having a cold
  • Infections
  • Dry skin
  • Stress

There is no cure for eczema, however, 70 percent of children with eczema no longer have the disease by their teenage years.

Patients should avoid known triggers for flare-ups and use emollients.

Source: British Skin Foundation

YELLOW FLAKES WITH FLAMMABLE SCALP

Can mean: Eczema

Seborrheic dermatitis is an underlying inflammatory skin condition caused by loss of moisture from damaged skin barrier function and then secondary bacterial infection usually due to oil from hair follicles.

It is likely that patches of eczema are present on other areas of the body, most likely the cracks in the arms and knees and behind the knees, although sometimes they can appear only on the scalp.

Prescribed mild corticosteroid scalp washing may calm inflammation, although corticosteroids are not suitable for long-term use.

As a preventative for daily use, use a chemical-free, fragrance-free and scalp cleansing shampoo that helps repair the skin’s barrier function. Try Hydrosil Scalp Shield Shampoo with Prebiotics for Scalp Barrier Repair. Avoid sticky or scented hair products.

SMALL WHITE FLAKES WITH HAIR LOSS

Can mean: Vitamin deficiency

Small, fine white flakes with increased and sudden hair loss could indicate an avitamine deficiency.

Deficiencies in iron, copper and zinc as well as a lack of essential fatty acids, often caused by low-calorie weight loss diets, can cause your scalp to flake and hair loss.

Try taking vitamin B12, biotin, zinc and omega fatty acid supplements or regular multi-peptide serum for hair density.

LARGE SILVER SNOWFLAKES WITH GRAY AND RED SCALES ON THE SCALP

Can mean: scalp psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is one of the most common places where psoriasis appears first and is often mistaken for normal dandruff.

Large silvery flakes with round red and grayish patches of skin on the scalp are indicators of the disease, which affects around 2% of the UK population.

It is caused by an acceleration of cell production in the skin. Normally, a skin cell matures in 21-28 days. Psoriatic cells, however, renew themselves in 2-3 days and in such a profusion that living cells reach the surface and accumulate with the dead cells still in visible patches.

Solution Coal tar shampoos are commonly prescribed to treat scalp psoriasis, but they are messy, smelly, and not particularly effective. Instead, try Oregon Shampoo & Conditioner, two hair care products developed by a British trichologist and tested at the University of Bath for use on scalps prone to psoriasis.

SMALL FATTY YELLOW FLAKES WITH STAINS ON THE SCALP

Could mean: Folliculitis

Yellowish, oily flakes with spots or cysts on the scalp could be a warning sign of folliculitis, a common skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed.

Scalp acne occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, or bacteria, and subsequently become inflamed or infected.

Hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy, and menstruation can be a trigger for scalp acne. Additionally, sticky or pore-clogging hair products like hair gels and hairsprays can also make the problem worse.

Prescription medicated shampoos normally containing salicylic acid and / or glycolic acid can help treat the problem or, in more severe cases, benzoyl peroxide.

Shampoos or scalp tonics containing tea tree oil or birch water can also help preventatively for daily use.


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