Winter dandruff is hard to miss when the season calls for dark sweaters and jackets. Although it can be embarrassing, dandruff isn’t a sign of poor hygiene or dirty hair; it’s the result of dry skin on the scalp.
Winter dandruff is no different than dandruff seen during the rest of the year, but the condition does occur more often in cold, dry weather.
A common symptom of dandruff is an itchy scalp, but when you give in to the itch by scratching, it loosens the flakes causing them to scatter. The result is a sprinkling of white dots that spill onto your shoulders and back.
It can be tempting to shampoo your hair more frequently in an attempt to banish the flakes, but excess brushing and washing with regular shampoo often makes flaking worse. For best results, most dermatologists advise patients to use over-the-counter dandruff shampoo and scalp treatment products.
Dandruff shampoos are categorized by the medication they contain, including:
- Zinc pyrithione – this is the active ingredient in common dandruff shampoos such as Head & Shoulders. It contains antifungal and antibacterial agents
- Salicylic acid –products containing salicylic acid, such as Neutrogena’s T/Sal are effective, but can be drying
- Coal tar – tar-based shampoos, like Neutrogena T-gel, slow the skin cell cycle and reduce flaking. These products may also discolor light colored hair, so may not be the best choice for those with blonde or gray hair
- Selenium sulfide – is effective against mild cases of fungus and can reduce flaking. Selsun Blue is one example of a dandruff shampoo with selenium sulfide
- Ketoconazole – if dandruff is due to a fungal infection, antifungal shampoos such as Nizoral may be the best choice
Use a dandruff shampoo in place of your regular shampoo every other day until the condition resolves, then reduce usage to two times a week as needed. In some cases, rotating between two different types of dandruff shampoos is more effective than using a single dandruff preparation.
If your winter dandruff doesn’t go away with over-the-counter dandruff shampoos, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. Some medical conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, fungal infections and eczema can also produce dandruff. These conditions may require prescription strength medications.