5 Dandruff Causes That Have Nothing to Do with Dry Skin

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021

Contrary to popular belief, dandruff is not caused by dry scalp. Here are some of the true dandruff causes that not many people are aware of.

You’re sensitive to your hair’s natural fungus

Contrary to popular belief, dry skin isn’t one of the causes of dandruff. The real culprit: an overgrowth of a common yeast called pityrosporum orbiculare. The yeast feeds on skin oils, which may explain why people with oily scalps are more susceptible to dandruff. “Some people make oil that is particularly likely to harbor this organism, and they get dandruff at the drop of a hat,” explains Robert T. Brodell, MD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS. Normally, a mild case of dandruff will respond to self-treatment, so give home remedies or over-the-counter dandruff shampoos about two weeks to work. Check out these other 21 reasons your scalp might be itchy.

Woman on the phone looking as if stressed.

You’re stressed out

One of the many dandruff causes is stress. It may serve as a clue that you need to relax. “Stress can worsen any skin condition,” says Lotika Singh, MD, a dermatologist in Garden City, NY. Stress promotes oil production, which leads to more yeast and dandruff. It may also  impairs your immune system and can be one of the causes of dandruff, provoking flare-ups. It . “Particularly in the cases where the dandruff is itchy,” she adds. “[Stress] can perpetuate an itch-scratch cycle: the more the patient scratches, the itchier it becomes.” Incorporate relaxation techniques into your everyday routine. Try yoga, a daily walk, or some deep breathing (inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four).

Woman shampooing her hair in the shower.

You’re not shampooing (or rinsing) your hair enough

Followers of the “no-poo” (no shampoo) trend say frequent washing can strip your hair of necessary oils. But when those oils build up it can create a hotbed for flakes. “Dandruff can result when there’s a build-up of oils/sebum or sweat on the scalp, says Dr. Brodell. “Washing hair more frequently can help reduce the sebum and control dandruff and its symptoms.” Just take care to rinse shampoo thoroughly: leftover residue could also create a feeding ground for pityrosporum orbiculare. If you’re looking for a real solution to flaky scalp, try these dandruff shampoos.

Omega-3 fatty rich foods like nuts, avocados and salmon.

You’re not eating properly

Another sneaky dandruff cause that has nothing to do with dry skin is your diet. It’s not too surprising that healthy skin and hair are supported from the inside out. While experts won’t go so far as to blame dandruff on a poor diet, certain foods may cause a flare-up, especially if you’re already prone to dandruff. “Full-fat dairy foods like cheese and cream can lead to dandruff in some patients,” says Elizabeth B. Houshmand, MD, a dermatologist in Dallas, TX.  They may increase inflammation and oil production, which may lead to dandruff. Dr. Houshmand advises avoiding full-fat dairy and foods high in saturated fats. On the other hand, Dr. Houshmand says foods rich in zinc like oysters, red meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seafood, may help control sebum production. “If you have dandruff, foods rich in B vitamins may help,” she says. “Evidence shows that B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (riboflavin), can help reduce dandruff.” Try these natural dandruff remedies.

Woman with brown hair getting her hair done (and hair sprayed) at the salon.

You’re over-styling your hair

Using thick pomades or certain oils can potentially worsen dandruff. “Yeast feeds off lipids and can proliferate in their presence,” says Dr. Singh. Cut back on hair products when possible if you think they might be one of your causes of dandruff. These styling products can build up on your hair and scalp and trap scalp oils. Now that you know the dandruff causes to avoid, don’t miss these other mistakes that make your hair unhealthy.