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Dandruff is a common skin condition. It's not harmful and you cannot catch it.

Check if it's dandruff

A close-up of dandruff in someone with white skin and brown hair. Several white flakes of skin can be seen in the person's hair.
Dandruff causes white or grey flakes of skin to appear on the scalp and in the hair.

The flakes are often more noticeable in darker hair and if they fall from your scalp onto your shoulders.

Your scalp may also feel dry and itchy.

How to treat dandruff yourself

Use an anti-dandruff shampoo to treat dandruff. There are several different types you can buy from pharmacies or supermarkets.

Look for a shampoo that contains 1 of these ingredients:

  • zinc pyrithione
  • salicylic acid
  • selenium sulphide (or selenium sulfide)
  • ketoconazole
  • coal tar

A pharmacist can tell you how to use the shampoo.

Use the shampoo for a month to see if your dandruff gets better. You might need to try more than 1 type to find a shampoo that works for you.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you still have dandruff symptoms after using anti-dandruff shampoo for a month
  • your dandruff is bad or your scalp is very itchy
  • your scalp is red or swollen
  • you have flaky, itchy patches on your face or other parts of your body

The GP can check your scalp for skin conditions that could be causing your dandruff.

Causes of dandruff

Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene, although it may be more obvious if you do not wash your hair regularly.

Stress and cold weather may also make dandruff worse.

A list of conditions that cause dandruff and their main symptoms.
Symptoms Possible causes
Scaly, itchy and red patches on skin on scalp, face and other areas of the body Seborrheic dermatitis
Red or silver rash on scalp, sometimes with patchy hair loss Tinea capitis, known as ringworm
Dry, red, flaky and very itchy skin on areas of the body Eczema
Red, irritated skin, may also have blisters and cracked skin; reaction to products such as hair dye, sprays, gels or mousses Contact dermatitis
Red, flaky, crusty and sore patches of skin covered with silvery scales Psoriasis
Greasy, yellowish crusts on baby's scalp, eyebrows and nappy area Cradle cap

Do not worry if you're not sure what's causing your dandruff. Follow the advice on this page and see a GP if things do not get better in a month.

Page last reviewed: 23 December 2022
Next review due: 23 December 2025