There are so many treatments out there for dandruff, from shampoos, tonics, essential oils, and even therapy (stress can also trigger this itchy, flaky culprit), that it can be hard to know what to select. And if that’s not complicated enough, dandruff doesn’t just fall under one category—in fact, there are four types of dandruff—and each type warrants a different treatment protocol.

So first things first, you need to identify what type of dandruff you have, before you are able to treat it.

Fungal Dandruff 

Fungal dandruff is very common, and unlike other fungal infections, this is not contagious. Fungal dandruff is caused by a fungus called Malassezia, which exists on most adults’ scalps and feeds on the oil, breaking it down and leaving oleic acid in its place.

While not everyone is sensitive to oleic acid, in cases of those who are, the body reacts by renewing cells faster than usual, resulting in dead skin cells appearing as flakes, and this also results in an itchy scalp. The key to treating fungal dandruff is using a shampoo containing an anti-fungal agent such as selenium sulfide and coal tar.

Oil-Based Dandruff  

A more severe dandruff-causing condition is seborrheic dermatitis. This inflammatory skin disease affects the body’s seborrheic (oily) areas like the scalp. 

The problem with seborrheic dermatitis is that the experts haven’t nailed down its exact cause. It’s often linked to the aforementioned Malassezia that causes fungal acne, as well as excess sebum production, genetics, immunocompromised patients, and nutritional deficiencies.

One way to identify seborrheic dermatitis is by its colour and appearance— large, yellow flakes on your scalp instead of small, white flecks, and/or red patches and scaly skin.

To treat oil-based dandruff, using shampoo with 1% ketoconazole, like selenium sulfide, reduces fungus and inflammation. Your treatment may also require a topical steroid, such as clobetasol .05%, in severe cases.

Dry Scalp-Related Dandruff  

If your skin get dry and flaky, especially during the colder months, your scalp can suffer from the same problem too. A dry scalp can be triggered by temperature changes, ageing, or even contact dermatitis caused by an inflammatory reaction to haircare products.

Treating a dry scalp is the same as treating dry skin on your face or body—in addition to using a moisturising hair mask, a shampoo focusing on hydrating ingredients, such as shea butter and argan oil can also help.

Skin Condition-Related Dandruff 

Dandruff may also result from common skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema. Psoriasis often causes a fine scaling that looks like dandruff, while on the other hand, eczema will leave your scalp dry, itchy, and inflamed.

If you are unable to identify which type of dandruff you have, it is best to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. Until you identify the type of dandruff you are suffering from, you are not going to be able to fix the problem. It also doesn’t hurt to practice good personal hygiene. Washing your hair every day or every other day will keep your scalp and hair healthy, not to mention clean and un-stinky.