Dealing with dandruff in African hair: a peculiar issue!
Someone asked me how to treat dandruff and I decided I would reply with a post on dandruff.
What is dandruff?
It is a skin condition which occurs anywhere there is hair but it mainly affects the scalp, presenting as flaking and itching. When you see white, oily flakes all over your hair, shoulders and clothes (usually with an itchy scalp), you probably have dandruff. Dandruff tends to get worse when the weather is dry or cold e.g during the dry season/ harmattan (in tropical regions) OR winter & autumn (in temperate regions).
Similar conditions which might be confused with dandruff are
- Seborrheic dermatitis: If your scalp is still itchy inspite of using dandruff remedies OR your scalp becomes red and/or swollen, you should see a dermatologist. You might be having seborrheic dermatitis: he/she will prescribe something that will deal with this.
Causes and Risk factors for dandruff
- Dandruff is caused by an infection with a fungus called Malassezia. When there is an overgrowth of this fungus on your scalp, it can result in a flaky, itchy scalp. The exact reasons what stimulates overgrowth of this fungus is not yet clear. However, certain other factors have been linked with the occurence of dandruff:
- Dry skin
- Not shampooing enough or having too much oil on your scalp. Malassezia feeds on oils in your scalp. For that reason, having excessively oily skin and hair makes you more prone to dandruff. Men tend to have more oily scalps than women so they are more prone to dandruff.
- Sensitivity to hair care products
- Hormonal changes
- Stress affects your overall health, making you susceptible to a number of conditions and diseases. It can even help trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms.
- Neurological disorders e.g Parkinson’s disease
- Poor diet. If your diet lacks foods high in zinc, B vitamins or certain types of fats, you may be more likely to have dandruff.
- Immune suppression
How to treat/alleviate dandruff symptoms
For moderate to severe dandruff, it takes patience and persistence to control it.
- Learn to control stress.
- Cleanse your scalp often. If you tend to have an oily scalp, daily shampooing or co-washing may help prevent dandruff. Since African hair is drier than other people from other races, shampooing your hair too often can lead to dry hair and hair breakage. Treating dandruff in black hair is just a little bit different. I recommend that you shampoo your hair not more than twice a week. If you are not wearing any hair extensions or weave, I rather advise that you co-wash your hair daily or every other day instead of shampooing. That will keep your scalp reasonably clean and your hair moist at the same time. If you choose to co-wash frequently, read the ingredients on the bottle. As much as possible, it should not contain any oil or protein. I have listed a few examples of oil-free protein-free conditioners you can use to co-wash your hair. Some of them do contain tea tree oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia Leaf Oil), lavender and other essential oils. These help to treat your scalp and will not make your scalp oily.
- Head & Shoulders Smooth and Silky Dandruff Conditioner
- Dove Oxygen Moisture Conditioner
- Herbal Essences Naked Cleansing Conditioner
- Herbal Essences Color Me Happy Cleansing Conditioner
- Jason Normalizing Tea Tree Treatment Conditioner
- Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Conditioner
- Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Lavender Mint Moisturizing Conditioner
- Herbal Essences Tea-Lightfully Clean Refreshing Conditioner
- You might need to deep condition before you co-wash your hair. Most deep conditioners contain oils which can leave your scalp feeling oily if you use them after co-washing. Instead, it might be a good idea to deep condition and then remove the excess oil by co-washing after rinsing out your deep condition.
- If you have a weave or braids installed, your scalp can dry out because of infrequent conditioning. You can reduce the dryness of your scalp by putting some water in a spray bottle and adding a few drops of oil to that bottle. You can also shampoo and condition your scalp and tracks underneath the weave once a week. Don’t keep your extensions on for more than 4 weeks if possible.
- Tea tree oil is an essential oil which can provide some dandruff relief. It comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal agent. You can add it to your shampoos, conditioners and leave-in treatments. It is also included in a number of shampoos and conditioners. This oil may however cause allergic reactions in some people. Never use it undiluted.
- If you are into the habit of using a lot of products: reduce the amount of oils, hair sprays, styling gels, mousses you use. They can lead to buildup of oil on your scalp & hair, resulting in dandruff.
- Check all your current hair products. Eliminate them one by one to see if anyone is aggravating your dandruff.
- Try using an anti-dandruff hair treatment.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet that provides enough zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats may help prevent dandruff.
- Doctors believe that sunlight may be good for dandruff. However, don’t forget to use sunscreen.
- The Science behind co-washing part 1
- The Science behind co-washing part 2
- Difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners
Special note about Anti-Dandruff shampoos
As I said before, since African hair is drier than other races, I don’t think you should wash your hair more than twice a week. When you do apply your shampoo, massage it into your scalp very well and then leave it in for at least five minutes — this gives the ingredients time to work. Anti-dandruff shampoos are classified according to the medication they contain:
- Zinc pyrithione shampoos (such as Head & Shoulders). These contain the zinc pyrithione which has antifungal properties, thus reducing the fungus which promotes dandruff.
- Tar-based shampoos (such as Neutrogena T/Gel). Coal tar is a byproduct of the coal manufacturing process. It slows the rate at which skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. As a result, dandruff is reduced.
- Shampoos containing salicylic acid (such as Ionil T). These shampoos help to eliminate scale.
- Selenium sulfide shampoos (such as Selsun Blue). These shampoos have two actions: firstly, acting against the dandruff-causing fungus, Malassezia. Secondly, they slow the death rate of skin cells on your scalp. They can however discolour chemically coloured hair and grey hair so ensure that your rinse such shampoos properly.
- Ketoconazole shampoos (such as Nizoral). These shampoos are available as an over-the-counter shampoo or sometimes by prescription. It is an antifungal agent that usually works when all other shampoos have failed.
If you’ve been co-washing your hair frequently and it’s still not providing any relief, you may need to increase the number of times you shampoo your hair. If you have shampooed faithfully for several weeks and there’s still a dusting of dandruff on your shoulders, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo or treatment with a steroid lotion.
If you experience stinging, itching, burning, redness or difficulty breathing after using any anti-dandruff agent, discontinue use, seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible.
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