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Dandruff causes

Dandruff happens when very small dead skin cells build up on your child's scalp.

Shedding dead skin cells is normal, and we don't know why they build up and make dandruff in some people. It might be because of an overreaction to a yeast (malassezia) that lives in our hair follicles, or it might be a type of eczema.

Dandruff is normal and common in children, teenagers and adults.

Symptoms of dandruff

If your child has dandruff, he might have a very dry or itchy scalp. You'll see lots of tiny white flakes of dead skin in his hair and on dark clothing.

If your child scratches a lot, her scalp might become red and sore.

You're more likely to see dandruff once your child reaches puberty. It's also more likely to affect boys and men.

Dandruff might look like cradle cap, which is a pale yellow, scaly, oily crust that babies can get on their scalps. But with cradle cap, the scale is more noticeable, and it's often thick, yellow and harder to remove.

You might also be concerned that your child has psoriasis. But in psoriasis the scales are much thicker and silvery, and they often occur in obvious patches.

When to see a doctor about dandruff

Take your child to see your GP if:

  • the dandruff doesn't improve after 2-3 weeks using the treatment described below
  • your child has thick, flaky patches in the scalp (this could be the first sign of psoriasis)
  • your child keeps scratching despite treatment
  • your child has a rash on his body.

Dandruff treatment

You can usually control dandruff by washing your child's hair regularly with a medicated shampoo like a:

  • 2% ketaconazole shampoo - for example, Nizoral
  • selenium sulphide shampoo- for example, Selsun
  • coal tar shampoo- for example, T-gel.

Massage the shampoo into your child's scalp, and leave the shampoo in contact with her skin for five minutes, then rinse out.

Brush your child's hair before shampooing to remove some of the dead flakes, but don't brush too hard because it might irritate your child's skin.

Once the dandruff is under control, cut back the use of medicated shampoo. For example, you can wash with normal shampoo for one wash, then use medicated shampoo for the next wash.

You can keep using medicated shampoo to prevent the dandruff from coming back.