When devilish dandruff strikes, it takes no prisoners and can leave sufferers feeling a tad frustrated. But, you may be mistaking something else entirely for common dandruff, so it's good to know how to tell if it's dandruff or another skin issue. Because there's no point wasting time trying to cure one ailment, when in fact, you're dealing with something different.
Even if you're a seasoned dandruff pro and you've seemingly suffered with it on and off all your life, it's always good to make one hundred percent certain that you know what's going on up there. You need to totally understand your flaky enemy (including its weaknesses) before you attack. Who knows, you may have been unknowingly suffering with a different kind of skin issue all this time, but been mistaking it for dandruff. If you feel like you're at your wit's end — and you've tried every home remedy and store bought dandruff product on the market — there could be something you've overlooked.
There could be many other reasons for the cause of your itchy or flaky scalp, that have nothing to do with dandruff. With this in mind, I spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky, about how to tell if you're suffering with dandruff or a different skin issue.
"Ordinary dandruff is a combination of built up oils on the scalp plus dead skin cells," says Dr. Prystowsky in an email to Bustle. "It is generally not very pronounced unless the hair/scalp are not shampooed often enough," she elaborates.
"For teenagers, men of all ages, and women in child reproductive years," she explains, "shampooing at least twice a week and sometimes even daily is necessary to control ordinary dandruff. Once the scalp is shampooed and dried, the scalp skin should not be scaly and look like normal hair bearing skin."
If you have children, or you're thinking ahead to the future, Dr. Prystowsky advises, "For children and post-menopausal women, the oil glands in the scalp are less active because androgen hormones are not driving the sebaceous (oil) glands to produce a lot of oil. For people in this category, shampooing once a week is usually adequate."
"If after shampooing and drying your scalp it does not look and feel normal, then there could be a medical condition going on such as skin infection, skin disease like psoriasis or eczema, and even skin cancer," explains Dr. Prystowsky.
She adds, "It is important to see your dermatologist so that the scalp can be evaluated so that important, treatable conditions are dealt with properly." When it comes to matters of health, it's never a good idea to put things off.
"Some of the common skin infections of the scalp can be due to head lice, impetigo (bacterial infection), fungus, and viruses such as herpes. Common skin diseases that cause scaling and redness of the scalp are seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis," says Dr. Prystowsky.
"Skin cancers that are common on the scalp include squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma," she explains, "a delay in diagnosis may occur because the condition is mistaken for something else or ignored."
"I have diagnosed skin cancer on the scalp in people as young as in their twenties, so remember to wear hats and put sunscreen along your part lines when outdoors in the summer," Dr. Prystowsky recommends.
Instead of getting freaked out about your dandruff or itchy, flaky, or sore scalp, nip your worries in the bud and make an appointment to see your dermatologist so they can diagnose your skin issue correctly.