3 Mistakes That Are Making Dandruff Worse, According to Dermatologists

Contrary to popular belief, dandruff is not the same thing as dry skin. Though both conditions may cause your scalp to itch and flake, true dandruff tends to come as a result of an overproduction of oil and yeast, which is the exact opposite of the dryness you may be mistaking it for—and treating it the wrong way comes with the risk of making things worse.

"Dandruff can be a symptom of a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which is an overgrowth of a yeast we all have on our bodies called Malassezia furfur," says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Connecticut. She explains that this overgrowth of yeast causes a disruption in our scalp's microbiome. Or in other words, the good bacteria on our skin that works to keep it healthy, can become overtaken, leading to flakes, odor, and discomfort. You'll know you're dealing with dandruff (instead of a standard dry scalp), if your flakes are accompanied by additional symptoms like grease, inflammation, or a funky stench.

Experts In This Article
  • Stacy Chimento, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami Beach, FL

There are a few things that can cause this overgrowth of yeast, including your products, your hair-washing routine, and even your stress levels. But because—let me repeat—dandruff is not the same thing as dry skin, there are some common mistakes that derms want you to stop making in your hair-care routine to avoid exacerbating things even further. Keep scrolling to find out what they are.

1. Not washing your hair enough

"Many people with dandruff mistakenly think they should wash their hair less frequently. This is a myth, regular washing is necessary to rinse the dandruff flakes and eliminate scalp debris. "Shampoo your hair daily, and use an anti-dandruff shampoo twice a week," says Stacy Chimento, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami.

She's a fan of dandruff-fighting products like Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo ($6), Head and Shoulders Clinical Strength ($18), and Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($46) for keeping flakes at bay. You can also go the DIY route and add essential oils for dandruff into a fragrance-free shampoo, like tea tree oil or lavender. On your non-dandruff shampoo days, look for products free from selenium sulfide, parabens, formaldehyde, triclosan, sulfates, phthalates, and synthetic fragrance, all of which will irritate your scalp even further. Our pick? SEEN Skin-Caring Shampoo ($29), which will gently cleanse your hair while also helping to balance sebum production on your scalp.

2. Skipping your post-sweat shampoo

Speaking of hair washing, when you're dealing with dandruff it's ultra-important to wash your hair after a workout. The reason? Yeast thrives in a warm, moist environment, which means that a sweaty scalp is basically its paradise. "Sweat glands secretion are mixed with bacteria if not washed, it can lead to the formation of fungal infections," says stylist Kristine Cruz. Because of this, you'll want to rid the area of moisture and bacteria ASAP immediately after any-and-every sweat session, which means hopping in the shower for a good, old-fashioned lather and rinse.

3. Trying to scrub away flakes

While it can be tempting to scratch or slough away your flakes (not to mention the fact that it feels pretty dang good), this removal method can actually make things worse. "With dandruff, the scalp is often inflamed, and scrubbing can potentially further irritate the skin," says Iris Rubin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of SEEN haircare. And this, adds Dr. Chimento, can lead to an infection. Resist the urge to scrub, and instead let your dandruff shampoo do the job for you.

For more insight on how to deal with dandruff, check out the video below.

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