Duff and Dandruff

Not All White Flakes Are Alike

Dear Ask a Stylist,

How do I get rid of my dandruff? White flakes are embarrassing!


Dear Sarah,

First you need to determine if you have dandruff or if you actually have dry scalp. Dry scalp also has white flakes, but the flakes are usually smaller and accompanied by a tight, itchy scalp. This can be caused by a number of things including diet, hair products, allergies, and weather conditions. Treating for dandruff when the scalp is actually dry may worsen the problems of white flakes. The vast majority of people who think they have dandruff don’t have it.

What I am calling true dandruff is caused by a fungus called malassezia. Malaseezia is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the heads of most adults without causing problems, but can occasionally worsen or flare up. The fungus, which feeds on scalp oils, can irritate your scalp, causing more skin cells to grow. The old skin cells clump together to form rather large white flakes.

Since malassesia feeds on oil, you might be able to reduce it by shampooing your hair more often. Use oily hair styling products such as smoothing serums only on the hair shaft and ends of your hair, not at the roots, so as to avoid getting the product on the scalp. Besides too much oil, this type of dandruff may also be exacerbated by hormones, stress, or illness.

If your dandruff is quite severe, you may have to ask a doctor for a medicated shampoo. The medication in the shampoo will help eliminate the fungus that is causing your dandruff. Over-the-counter shampoos do not contain the same amount of the medication, and may not be strong enough to knock out the fungus. Often, with a prescription shampoo, once you complete the bottle, the fungus is gone, the dandruff is under control, and you may switch back to a non-medicated shampoo. Make sure to not use one that is too high in oil content.

Crescent LoMonaco works at Head West in Santa Barbara, CA. She’s been a stylist for 10 years and is happy to take your questions, which you can send to

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