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Does dandruff cause hair loss? How a dry scalp affects hair health

Looking at what causes dandruff, how it affects your hair, and what to do about it.

Written by
Sarah Stivens
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 22, 2024
min read
Does dandruff cause hair loss? How a dry scalp affects hair health
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So many of us have been there — you're looking down at a favourite black or navy T-shirt and seeing flakes camping out on your shoulder. Old mate dandruff is visiting, and we don't remember sending an invitation!

An itchy scalp or dandruff might feel a bit embarrassing, but it's super common. It's also no reason to throw out half your wardrobe. The good news is there are treatments available. And, they can also prevent hair loss if that's something you're going through.

In this article, we'll have a look at what causes dandruff, how it affects your hair, and what to do about it.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a skin condition that causes the skin on your scalp to scale and flake away. This sometimes leads to intense itching — as you scratch, your hair can trap the small flakes of skin [1].

About half of people will experience dandruff in their lifetime, for a variety of reasons. Don't let the shampoo ads fool you.

It's normal for your scalp to shed skin cells, but usually, the cells are so tiny they're unnoticeable. Dandruff occurs when the scalp is inflamed, and this shedding becomes more intense. Inflammation causes your skin cells to stick together, causing larger skin flakes that are more visible [1].

Contrary to popular belief, dandruff isn't caused by bad hygiene — but it might be more noticeable if you don't wash your hair regularly enough [2]. It's also not contagious — if anyone tells you otherwise, give 'em our number.

So like, Tom Hanks on Castaway levels of grease isn't recommended, but neither is soaping up the old cranium multiple times a day. Next question: why are the itchy flakes showing up in the first place?

What causes dandruff?

Dandruff is a bit of an overarching term, and can sometimes get confused with other skin conditions.

While it'd be much easier to blame it on a single culprit (Brussels sprouts allergy sounds like a strong contender to us), there are a few reasons these dry flakes might've made an appearance.

Some of the causes of dandruff include:

  • Stress
  • Genetics (e.g. family history of dandruff, skin or scalp conditions) [1]
  • Using hair products that are too harsh for your scalp/that strip your hair of its natural oils
  • Cold weather or low humidity (causes the skin to dry out) [3]
  • Ageing (as you get older, your skin isn't as good at healing itself and this can cause an increase in skin conditions)
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Other medical conditions or underlying skin conditions [1].

What other conditions affect scalp health?

There are a few other causes of dry skin on the scalp, too.

Seborrheic dermatitis

While it might sound like a character from Star Wars, it's just another name for more severe dandruff.

It sometimes gets confused with dandruff's milder forms — the difference is, it can occur on other parts of your body as well. and it's caused by a reaction to yeast produced by the scalp [1].

With seborrheic dermatitis, you'll usually notice a flaky rash around your hairline and might also develop some redness.

Scalp psoriasis and atopic dermatitis

This can also show up on the scalp, especially if you already experienced these in other areas of your body [4].

If you're ever in doubt about what's causing dry skin on your scalp, it's best to get it seen by a dermatologist or healthcare provider so they can rule out any health conditions [3].

If the temptation to scratch is taking up more energy than deciding your next Netflix binge, it might be time for us to talk about the other bit of this frustrating puzzle: hair loss.

Does dandruff cause hair loss?

When your scalp isn't at its healthiest, it can definitely affect the way your hair grows. If your hair is a lush green lawn, then your scalp is the soil — it plays a vital role in producing healthy hair follicles [4].

We know from earlier that dandruff is associated with inflammation in the scalp. This chronic inflammation can definitely lead to more hair shedding — enter dandruff-related hair loss. The constant itching can also injure your hair and lead to breakage or thinning hair.

At the risk of overdoing the metaphor — dandruff is the weed choking your beautifully manicured turf.

The more severe dandruff is, the more hair loss you might experience. The medical gurus call this dandruff-associated smouldering alopecia. If you ask us, that doesn't sound very hair growth-friendly.

Lots of studies on dandruff and scalp health have come to the same conclusion — untreated dandruff can lead to premature hair thinning, hair loss, or balding [5].

Can a dry scalp cause hair loss?

Even if you haven't noticed flaky skin on your clothes or in your comb, it doesn't mean it's time to ignore your noggin.

A dry scalp can happen when your skin loses too much moisture. This might be because of hair products that irritate the skin or from being exposed to cold weather (fun fact: cold air draws moisture away from the skin and dries it out) [4].

While you don't want to over-wash your hair, not washing it often enough can also lead to skin/scale buildup [1].

Proper scalp care keeps your hair follicles happy and more likely to stick around. If left untreated, a dry scalp can most definitely lead to hair loss — not even Fabio would be immune [5].

Treating hair loss: happy scalp, happy strands

Knowing what's going on up top is all well and good, but how do you actually treat hair loss? First let's start with the basics. If dandruff and poor scalp health are causing your hair loss, it's time to get your scalp condition back to a 5-star rating.

This might look like: changing up your hair routine, eating a balanced diet, looking after your immune system, keeping warm in cold weather, and learning to manage stress.

Other small changes might help, like:

  • Avoid picking at dandruff or itching your scalp
  • Choose your hair products carefully (make sure they're helping, not hindering your treatment)
  • Keep your nails short (you'll do less damage to your scalp and prevent extra breakage or fallout) [6].

Getting the proper treatment is super important for dandruff and other scalp conditions. Anti-dandruff shampoo and medical dandruff treatments (sometimes with anti-fungal properties) might be the way to go [6].

It's always important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatment, or if a treatment isn't working the way it should. Here's to a less itchy future!

Other hair loss treatment options

Then there are the big guns. To recover from hair loss and get things growing again, you need a good treatment regime.

Pilot's clinical hair loss treatment is convenient, discreet and most importantly, effective. You can get started at home with our online quiz which helps us understand your hair loss concerns. Our Aussie practitioners provide personalised advice and a treatment plan, which is discretely shipped to your door.

We know our hair treatments are effective because they're based on science. The ingredients we use are proven to help 90% of men keep their hair, 66% regrow hair and only 2% have any side effects.

Does hair loss from dandruff grow back?

Yes! (who needs suspense, this is serious business). Dandruff usually only causes temporary hair loss — let the celebrations begin!

Once you treat dandruff or clear up a scalp condition, the hair should regrow. The best way to avoid hair loss is always prevention, so making sure you look after your scalp even while you're completing treatment is really important [6].

If you're wanting to get some extra mileage out of your hair loss treatment, you should supplement it with some scalp-friendly hair products.

We've got a Hair Growth Booster Kit that'll ramp your treatment up to the next level with four products. The Hair Growth Booster Kit contains the Thicken Shampoo and Keep Conditioner, which are formulated with ingredients like saw palmetto, niacinamide, biotin, zinc and caffeine for healthy hair growth.

The Biotin Hair Gummies are designed to support the synthesis of Keratin, the protective protein that makes up your hair (and makes it stronger and less prone to damage), while the Derma Roller allows you to try derma rolling at home and helps stimulate hair follicles to encourage hair growth.

And for goodness sake, be gentle

If you're going to the trouble of getting your hair back to its former glory, there's no use treating it like roadkill you scraped off the freeway. In other words, be nice to your hair/scalp!

While you're healing dandruff or a dry scalp, it's important to style your hair with care. This means avoiding heat where possible (especially if you're a blow dry/hot tool fan), laying off the hair dye, and not styling it roughly or too tightly [8]. Pretend your scalp is a brand-new puppy if you have to.

While hair loss is inevitable for most of us, and dandruff affects almost everyone, neither has to rule your life. When treated early and properly, you'll be back to black T-shirt territory in no time.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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