The most embarassing thing that could happen when you're dressed up for an interview or a formal dinner, is an all-consuming need to scratch an itchy scalp and also know that a cascade of white flakes would follow, onto a jet black blazer- laid bare for all to see. Dandruff is a medical problem that has managed to unite over half the adult population across the world - beyond gender, age and race.
What Causes Dandruff?
This scalp condition is caused by a fungus, Malassezia, which feeds on sebum (the oily matter secreted by the sebaceous glands on our scalp) and the dead skin cells which occur naturally due to formation of new skin. Although this microbe is a normal part of the scalp, this is when it turns problematic- the fungus feeds on sebum, breaking it down into fatty acids that may irritate the sensitive scalp of many. This is also the reason for dryness and itchiness on the scalp, leading to the dead skin cells accumulating into visible flakes. The level of sensitivity of people to these fatty acids determines whether they develop acute or mild dandruff.
Malassezia thrive in moist environments and thus, become a nuisance during summers and monsoons due to excessive humidity and sweating. However, the cold wind during winters robs the scalp of moisture and leads to dryness that results in itching and flaking. Clearly, dandruff is on duty all year round. Although there is no way to completely banish it from our lives (and hair) there are a lot of remedies that can be used 'at home' to keep it under check (so you don't have to shy away from those dark tees or dresses, in fear of that unsightly 'chalk powder' on your shoulders).
Quick Home Remedies
1. Do not oil hair and keep it on for long
Delhi-based Dermatologist Dr.Deepali Bhardwaj says, "It's a pure myth that oiling is good for hair with dandruff". "In fact", she affirms "applying oil will lead to more dandruff as oil is like food for Malazzesia which leads to dandruff."
Applying oil to a dry, itchy scalp may sound like heaven but may only exacerbate your dandruff condition, especially when you let it sit on your scalp for longer periods of time.
Vinegar helps in treating itchy, dry skin and also helps to kill dandruff-causing fungus and bacteria. The acidic content of vinegar is supremely beneficial to drastically reduce flaking. Dr.Deepali advises, "My favourite home remedy is to apply an equal quantity mixture of white vinegar with water on the scalp skin about half an hour before a head wash."
3. Baking Soda
Baking soda, acts as a scrub and exfoliates the scalp gently, without irritating it and removing dead skin cells. Exfoliation is essential to ensure there is no build up of flakes on the scalp that make dandruff even more visible. Dr.Sirisha Singh, Medical Director and Consultant Dermatologist at The Skin Centre in New Delhi says, "Baking soda, along with its exfoliation and anti-fungal properties, also soothes the scalp and reduces redness and itching."
All of us are aware of the role that neem extract plays in almost all skin medications because of its antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Since dandruff can mostly be attributed to fungal colonization of scalp, it is only right to turn to this age-old remedy for skin ailments. Natural is always the best way to go; however Dr. Sirisha Singh cautions us to use a very diluted version of neem (neem boiled in water) for the scalp as concentrated versions may only irritate the skin further.
5. Tea Tree Oil
All anti-acne and anti-fungal medications boast of tea tree oil due to its exceptional power to fight fungal and bacterial infections. Add a drop or two of tea tree oil to your shampoo and wash normally and notice the results sitting in the comfort of your home!
The pungent smell of the occasional garlic clove may make it a No-No for some but its medicinal value is definitely something that cannot be overlooked. Garlic is immensely beneficial as an anti-fungal natural product and the benefits of raw or crushed garlic (avoid cooked garlic for treating medical conditions) have mesmerized man for centuries. Pound a clove or two of garlic and after mixing with water, use it on your scalp to see quick results. The smell? You could always mix in a little honey and ginger!
Not only is aloe vera cooling but also mildly exfoliates the skin and has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. It is best to directly extract some from the aloe vera plant- it is transparent and has a thick consistency. It can be applied in the scalp and then washed off with a medicated anti-dandruff or mild shampoo. Dr. Sirisha also recommends this herb to calm down an irritated scalp and provide relief from inflammation.