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Dandruff: Calming a Hyperactive Scalp
If you battle an itchy, flaky scalp, your hairstylist may be able to recommend products that will help. Learn just what your hair’s hiding with Groupon’s guide to dandruff.
Like the rest of the skin, the scalp constantly replaces its old cells with new ones, but when this process goes awry, clumps of dead cells can become large and visible—a phenomenon known as dandruff. It’s a common and seemingly simple complaint, but in fact scientists only came to fully understand the organism that causes it quite recently, as BBC News reported in 2007.
The culprit is a yeast-like fungus, Malassezia globosa, which commonly lives on the human head in populations approaching 10 million. This fungus eats sebum—the oily substance produced by glands to keep the skin waterproof and strengthen hair, which it needs to obtain fatty acids. When M. globosa breaks down the sebum it creates an acidic compound that penetrates the top layer of skin, irritating the scalp, which in turn reacts by generating new cells faster. Whereas the scalp would typically regenerate its skin in a month, it now completes the process in two weeks.
What results is a pileup of cells, apparent in the large, white flakes that fall to the shoulders and show up on dark clothes. More than half of Americans are susceptible to the reactions caused by M. globosa, and dandruff often begins to appear shortly after puberty along with acne and T-shirts with rude slogans about snack foods.
Although dandruff can cause itching, scratching the scalp leads to visible flakes and weakened hair. Some milder cases can be treated simply by washing the hair more, but most cases require over-the-counter shampoos with active ingredients such as selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, sulfur, or tar. Using the shampoos every day can make the symptoms disappear, and weekly or monthly use reinforced by highlights that spell “no trespassing” can keep them from coming back. If these don’t help, it may be necessary to go to a doctor for a medicated shampoo.