The Truth Behind the Flakes: Are You Sure That’s Just Dandruff?

black women dandruff dry scalp

We’ve brought an expert in because this is serious.

I was a senior in college when I noticed something was wrong with my scalp. It was red, extremely itchy, and tender. All I could feel were roads of scales trailing around my hairline, which I couldn’t help but pick. As I sat on my bed, wondering why this was happening to me, I resorted to Google for help. After looking up my symptoms, conditions such as scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis came up as the top results, but it wasn’t until I read the words peeling scales might cause temporary baldness or alopecia that made me worry.

I didn’t go to class or work that day. Instead I took out my weave, cut off the net that saved me from digging my nails deeper into my scalp and unraveled my braids. After I detangled my hair, I ran to a nearby beauty supply store and bought two products from Shea Moisture – African Black Soap Dandruff Control Shampoo and Conditioner. (I opted to use products with all-natural ingredients just to be on the safe side.)

Once I arrived back to my dorm room, I massaged my scalp with coconut oil to loosen the scales, parted my hair in four sections before braiding it and jumped in the shower.  After a few rounds of shampooing and conditioning my scalp felt less irritated, especially after I used Design Essentials Anti-Itch Shampoo from their Therapeutics line. (Hey, I wanted to make sure that I never had to deal with this issue again, so I stepped out of my all-natural plan). Sue me.

As I later discovered, the symptoms that arise from having Seborrheic Dermatitis, like most (if not all) scalp disorders, are chronic. Like millions of other Americans who are dealing with this condition, the flare-ups come and go, but with proper education and management, I was able to understand my scalp condition, develop an effective hair care regime, and make appropriate lifestyle changes to keep symptoms from reoccurring too often.

In the pursuit of helping you understand everything about seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis and dandruff, American Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Jeanine B. Downie will disseminate what these scalp conditions are, their causes, treatment and management options, triggers and more.

There Are Levels To This

Dandruff occurs due to “an overgrowth of yeast on the skin,” says Dr. Jeanine, B. Downie, which causes the scalp to flake since it’s feeding on the oil and skin cells on your scalp.

If your dandruff gets progressively worse, you may actually have seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory form of dandruff, which looks like “macules or thin plaques with a reddish or yellow appearance,” or “dry white or moist oily scales,” on the scalp, according to studies preformed by the  National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Studies from the NCBI also show that “[seborrheic dermatitis] affects approximately six million people in the United States,” but despite how common this condition is the side effects are daunting. In addition to having a red and scaly scalp, which is also seen with patients who have scalp psoriasis (a condition that causes thicker and somewhat drier scales than seborrheic dermatitis) other symptoms include skin flakes that may attach to the hair shaft and baldness due to constant itching.

WARNING: Itching an infected scalp will cause hair loss, which I experienced. (Thank God for Simplicity Oil! I used it two times a day to grow my hair back.)

What Are The Triggers?

These scalp disorders are triggered by “weather changes, stress, hormones, family history and product buildup,” says Dr. Jeanine B. Downie.


For mild cases, Dr. Downie suggests products such as, Neutrogena T/Sal and Neutrogena T Gel, but if there are no improvements, move onto prescription products, such as Clodan Shampoo, which is “safe for all hair types, is non irritating for the scalp and while some people use it every other day, other people can use it just once a week,” she says. Dr. Downie also recommends anti-fungal creams such as Promiseb, Naftin (gel or cream) and Synalar Solution.

Is There A Cure, Doc?

Unfortunately, there’s no known cure, but Dr. Downie says that symptoms can be managed with appropriate medication, as well as making certain lifestyle changes.

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