Learn about dandruff

Dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a common skin condition in which inflamed skin peels in flaky white or yellow scales. The scales form on oily areas such as the scalp, face, or inside of the ear, and can sometimes, but not always, present with red skin.

These flaky scales can also appear on:

  • Eyebrows
  • Eyelids
  • Creases of the nose
  • Lips
  • Behind the ears
  • Outer ears
  • The middle of the chest

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What Causes Dandruff?

The exact cause of dandruff is not known, but your hormone levels, a weakened immune system, nutrient deficiency, or problems with your nervous system may play a part in its appearance.

Arthur Heun, MD, of the Department of Dermatology at UPMC, says causes of dandruff can include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Weather extremes
  • Oily Skin
  • Use of certain lotions

“If you notice redness or peeling, avoid lotions and other skin and hair care products with alcohol, as these may cause stinging or worsen redness,” he says. “Use caution when your skin is exposed to the sun, try to incorporate more zinc in your diet, and drink plenty of water.

Learn more about dandruff



Getting Rid of Dandruff

Several over-the-counter treatments, including medicated lotions and dandruff shampoos, can help you fend off flakes.

“You should use a product that says ‘seborrheic dermatitis’ on the label,” says Dr. Huen “Something that has coal tar, zinc or zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, resorcinol, ketoconazole, or selenium sulfide in the ingredients will be the most effective since it is specifically formulated to treat dandruff.”

If your dandruff seems severe or persists after over-the-counter treatment, ask your doctor to make a specific recommendation or prescribe a stronger shampoo or lotion, a corticosteroid, or an immunomodulator to suppress the immune system and treat the inflammation.

Dandruff is a chronic condition, but it can be controlled with treatment. Dr. Huen reminds those who suffer from dandruff that treatment may be a little different for each person.

“Dandruff can be managed, and the most important step is listening to your own skin,” he says.

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.