What Causes Dandruff?

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what causes dandruff

It's deeply unpleasant to wake up one more expecting things to go your way and then to discover that you've got a walloping case of dandruff. But guess what? Dandruff is one of the most common skin ailments in the entire country, and while it's nasty, it's usually absolutely treatable. 

What causes dandruff? Well, dandruff itself is actually a reaction wherein the body produces too many skin cells which gather on the scalp and fall off in flakes onto shoulders. There are lots of different things that can cause this drying of the scalp, but there's one thing that we can all agree on: no matter what causes it, getting a case of dandruff isn't just painful, uncomfortable and gross, it's also totally annoying in every shape and form! 


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While there are dozens of different things that can cause dandruff, there are some common things that kick it into high gear. Keep them in mind as we enter the colder months of the year when you're way more likely to be exposing your poor scalp to colder climates that it can handle. Taking care of your hair starts with taking care of your scalp. Start treating it well and it will respond in kind.

It's also worth mentioning that it isn't just having a dry scalp that causes dandruff. Having an unhealthy scalp also causes dandruff. If your scalp gets too dry, it's not producing enough oil, and if your scalp is too oily, it overproduces oil, both of which can trigger dandruff. 

1. Unbrushed hair 

Not all hair types require the same amount of brushing. But for the most part, every single hair type does require brushing or combing out throughout the week or month. What happens when you don't brush your hair often enough? You can develop a case of dandruff. 

Dandruff can collect and thrive around your hair's cuticles. If you aren't evenly distributing the oils in your hair with brushing, you aren't just inviting tangles, you're inviting your dead skin flakes to collect on top of your scalp, leading to blockages, which can lead to unhealthy hair, which can lead to dandruff. 

2. Allergies 

You know how sometimes you'll buy a new tube of mascara and find your eyes watering all day? Or maybe you get a new lotion and your arms and legs break out in hives? When this happens it's usually because we have an allergy to the product that we have purchased.

This can be true for all things that touch the scalp, too. You might think that new finishing spray is the bee's knees, but it could be that your scalp doesn't. Trying changing out your products if you suspect they may be to blame for your latest case of dandruff. 

3. Stress 

Guess what's not good for your entire body? Stress. All you need to go is a cursory Google and you'll quickly find that many prominent scientists, researchers, and doctors have concluded that when you get actively stressed out, it actually causes a gigantic change in your physical makeup. That's right: when you're stressed you're chemically a different person than you normally are. 


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One of the shifts that happen when a body is experiencing stress is that the scalp is negatively influenced. Sudden changes in the health of your scalp can lead to hair loss. So, stress isn't just something to tweet about — it's something we should all make a concerted effort to fight in order to stay happy and healthy... and hairy.

4. Overstyling 

That's right. You just want to look awesome every live long day, but tragically, if you're a person who co-sleeps with their blow dryer and you've noticed that you've got more of the white storm happening on your scalp right now, your blow dryer may be to blame. 

Step away from the blowouts, girl, because you're in danger! Blow dryers are great at drying out your tresses, but they are also great at drying out your scalp.

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A dried out scalp is an unhealthy and flaky one riddled with dandruff. It's also hard to bounce back once you've got it, because using a blow dryer makes your dandruff even worse! Give your hair a break between blow drying if you suspect this is where your case of dandruff came from.

Curlers, curling irons, and even straighteners (anything that adds heat to your scalp) is going to run the risk of drying out your scalp when used daily. If you absolutely must, make sure you're giving your scalp some good loving on your off days. Try a fancy hot oil treatment, for example! 

5. Skin conditions 

If you know that you've already got a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, you may find that you get also dandruff. This kind of flaky stuff is just your skin condition manifesting itself on another part of your body. To treat it, speak with your dermatologist about your different options.

A word of warning: the scalp and the hair are different than other areas of your body like your face. As such, slapping on a cream designed for your cheeks onto your scalp with the doctor's say so could end in veritable disaster. 


RELATED: The Best Hair Products For Scalp Build-Up: 15 Solutions That Actually Work


Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.