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Dandruff itself does not cause hair loss, but the two may be linked. This is because some infections and medical conditions can cause both dandruff and hair loss.
Dandruff is very common. People with dandruff and dandruff-like symptoms might lose hair, especially if the dandruff is severe.
The cause of the hair loss is not the dandruff itself. Instead, it is the cause of the dandruff that also leads to hair loss.
That said, severe dandruff may damage the scalp or hair follicles, causing hair to thin or stop growing.
Anyone who suspects that dandruff is causing hair loss should see a dermatologist to ensure that the problem is not something else.
This article looks at the link between dandruff and hair loss, prevention, and when to see a doctor.
Dandruff refers to the dry, itchy flakes of skin that develop on the scalp. It is a symptom, not a specific diagnosis.
Many factors can cause dandruff, such as dry skin, diet, stress, and some shampoos and hair products.
Dandruff itself does not cause hair loss. However, severe dandruff can cause a person to scratch their scalp so hard that they injure it.
Repeated inflammation in the hair follicles can cause damage and scarring, slowing or stopping hair growth. This can cause weak or thinning hair. Twisting the hair, aggressively brushing it, or scratching the scalp may make this type of hair loss worse.
Some medical conditions can also cause dandruff or flaky skin on the scalp, including seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, scalp psoriasis, and scalp ringworm. Some of these conditions are also associated with hair loss.
Any condition that causes skin flakiness or makes the outer layer of skin shed at an unusually fast rate may cause dandruff.
If a person does not seek treatment, these conditions may also damage the scalp and cause hair loss.
The following conditions can cause both dandruff and hair loss:
- Fungal infections: Tinea capitis, or ringworm, can cause intense itching on the scalp. Some people also notice dry flakes or blisters, and the hair may fall out in clumps. Some other fungal infections can also cause dandruff symptoms and lead to hair loss. Antifungal treatments can help treat these conditions.
- Scalp psoriasis: Psoriasis is a type of autoimmune condition that can affect the scalp, causing itchy, scaly patches to develop. Although it is not dandruff, it causes dandruff-like symptoms. A person may notice bald spots where the scaly patches develop.
- Folliculitis decalvans: This rare inflammatory condition destroys hair follicles. It also causes itchy red patches to develop on the scalp. A person may think that they have dandruff because of the itching that this condition causes.
- Lichen planopilaris: More common in women, lichen planopilaris causes a dry, flaky rash to develop on the scalp. It can also cause the hair to fall out in clumps. Dandruff treatments will not treat this condition, but the symptoms are similar to those of dandruff.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis can affect any part of the body. It commonly affects the scalp, where it may cause a red or grayish scaly rash that itches, as well as greasy patches. Left untreated, it may damage the hair follicles. Aggressively scratching the area may intensify the damage.
Any condition that causes the scalp to itch or burn may cause hair loss when a person scratches their scalp or twists their hair. Children in particular may respond to scalp pain by pulling the hair.
In people with both dandruff and hair loss, there is no guarantee that the two are linked. Some people may have dandruff, perhaps due to dry skin, as well as a condition that causes hair loss, such as:
- male pattern baldness, a hormonal type of hair loss that both men and women can develop
- telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss caused by infection, injury, or stress
- alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition
- inflammation or scarring of the scalp
- scalp infections
People with a history of dandruff may experience occasional flares of dandruff, even after successfully treating it.
The following are some strategies that can prevent dandruff-related hair loss:
- See a dermatologist or other healthcare provider for dandruff that does not respond to dandruff shampoo or other treatments.
- If the hair comes out in clumps, see a doctor, as this may signal another scalp or hair issue.
- Shampoo the hair regularly. Infrequent washing may increase the risk of dandruff. The American Academy of Dermatology recommend that Caucasian and Asian people wash their hair daily, and that African American people wash their hair weekly.
- Carefully follow the instructions on the bottle of dandruff shampoo. Some shampoos may need to remain on the scalp for several minutes to be effective.
- Avoid aggressively brushing or twisting the hair and massaging or scratching the scalp. If the itching is unbearable, ask a healthcare provider about medication to help with itching.
- Avoid very tight hairstyles. These may damage the scalp and hair follicles, slowing hair growth. Tight hairstyles may also break the hair.
- Do not delay dandruff treatment. Use a dandruff shampoo at the first sign of dandruff and seek medical advice if symptoms do not improve within a week or two.
Some people may find that their dandruff shampoo leaves the hair dull or dry. Dry, damaged hair breaks more easily and may fall out. Use a high quality conditioner after dandruff treatment.
If the damage persists, try alternating dandruff shampoo with another shampoo.
Dandruff is very common, and most people are able to manage the symptoms with home treatment.
People with dandruff are unlikely to lose their hair. However, untreated dandruff may be a culprit in hair loss. Even when dandruff is not the primary cause, it may damage the scalp and accelerate hair loss due to other causes.
Numerous conditions can mimic the symptoms of dandruff. If dandruff does not get better with home treatment, if the itching becomes intolerable, or if the hair continues to fall out, see a dermatologist.