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Why dandruff occurs: Learn why Malassezia calls your head home sweet home

Dandruff is one of the most annoying conditions to have. Especially when we were a teenager. Not only does the scalp itch, but your friends would boycott you because they think it's contagious. It is so common that it affects more than half of the adult population in the world. If you have wondered why it occurs and the best way to get rid of it, keep reading.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a condition where the cells on our scalps, or corneocytes, are shed. Because of oil, these dead cells get clustered together to form white or yellow flakes. If you have this condition, you may have noticed tiny white flakes on your shoulder, the side of your nose, and behind your ear. 
Some common symptoms include flaking and mild itchiness. Red and greasy patches on the skin and a tingly feeling on the scalp are other symptoms of Dandruff.

What causes dandruff

This itchy, irritating disease is caused by our usually friendly fungi, Malassezia Globsosa. Talk about betrayal, right? Malassezia loves oily places because it feeds on them. Our body hairs release an oil called sebum, which protects the skin and the hair. Now, answer this? Which body part has the most hair?

DING! DING! DING! It's the head! Malassezia nests on our scalp.


When Malassezia feeds on the sebum, it breaks them down into two components. Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The fungi only consume saturated fatty acids leaving unsaturated fatty acids on the scalp. The unsaturated fatty has two compounds, oleic acid, and arachidonic acid. 
Oleic acid initiates an inflammatory response that causes redness and itching. Whereas Arachadonic acid increases cell cycle rate, leading to our skin cells growing and dying quickly. Usually, it takes 3-4 weeks for our skin cells to replace themselves. But Malassezia fastens the process to 2-3 days. 
All these excess dead cells clump together because of oil to form yellowish-whitish flakes. Malassezia only harms when their population explodes, usually when you have an oily scalp. While Malassezia is a microbial cause and the main culprit here, there are a few other non-microbial factors that can cause or worsen Dandruff:

  • Damage to Scalp: Any activity which damages the scalp or Stratum corneum can promote the growth of fungi. That's why you should not scratch your head even when itchy.

  • In-consistent hair washing: Not washing hair frequently can also result in Scruff (flakes). Excess oil can accumulate in your hair, promoting Malassezia growth.

  • Genetics: Some people are less tolerant to oleic acid, so even if there is little fungal growth on your head, your head may feel itchy. A genetic predisposition for an oily scalp will also give you an itchy head.

  • Other conditions: Medical conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, contact dermatitis, and a weakened immune system also make one more susceptible to Malassezia overgrowth.

Does an oily scalp lead to Dandruff?

In most cases, an oily scalp is a culprit behind Dandruff. Malassezia has a lot of food to eat and grow if you have an oily scalp. The overgrowth of Malazesia will cause more production of oleic acid and more dead cells.

Watch our experts explain this in an easy, fun way to learn more. 

How to treat dandruff

Now comes the real question. How to get rid of this disease? Balance Ayurveda has the answer for you. There are several treatments you can try. To get rid of dandruff, you can try the following tips: 

Find the right Shampoo: As Malazessia is a fungus, shampoos containing anti-fungal ingredients such as zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole can help you control flaking. First, however, you must carefully read and follow the instructions for the product you choose.

Keep your head clean: Once you've found the right shampoo, it's time to put those key ingredients to work. First, make sure your scalp and hair are clean and healthy. If there has been considerable sweating or spillage, carefully wipe it up as quickly as possible. Leaving undesired material on your scalp for an extended period merely encourages the growth of Malassezia.

A healthy diet: Whatever you want to achieve, diet is everything. A healthy and balanced diet that reduces excess sugar, carbs, and dairy will undoubtedly improve the texture and quality of your skin. Combine your diet with Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo.

To manage symptoms of dandruff, you can try the following tips: 

Stop Scratching: Scratching aggravates the condition because as you scratch away flakes from your head, you also lose some skin, producing bleeding, pain, and redness. 

Salicylic acid: Salicyclic acid will help reduce itching. You can try shampoo, serums, toners, etc, containing this acid.

Tar-based shampoos: Coal tar slows how quickly skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. But only use it after consulting with a dermatologist as it can cause color discoloration and increase the scalp’s sensitivity to sunlight.

Treatment according to Ayurveda: Ayurveda suggests Dandruff is caused by anger and stress. Ayurvedic treatments include:

  • You can use borax on your hair. Keep for 5 to 10 minutes and then wash out. 

  • Wash the affected region with the alkaline solution of Kodrava seeds

  • Hair massage with Gunja and Bhrijgraj Oil 

A Quick Recap

The characteristic white or yellow flakes of Dandruff are nothing but dead cells. Malassezia causes inflammation and rapid shedding of scalp cells in the form of flakes. While this condition can be treated at home with a suitable scalp care regimen, reach out to a doctor if it persists despite your best efforts. 

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