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

  1. 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.
  2. Psoriasis

Causes and Risk factors for dandruff

  1. 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:
  2. Dry skin
  3. Not shampooing enough or having too much oil on your scalpMalassezia 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.
  4. Sensitivity to hair care products
  5. Hormonal changes
  6. 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.
  7. Illness
  8. Neurological disorders e.g Parkinson’s disease
  9. 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.
  10. Immune suppression

 How to treat/alleviate dandruff symptoms

For moderate to severe dandruff, it takes patience and persistence to control it.

  1. Learn to control stress.
  2. 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.

  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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 peopleNever use it undiluted.
  6. 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.
  7. Check all your current hair products. Eliminate them one by one to see if anyone is aggravating your dandruff.
  8. Try using an anti-dandruff hair treatment.
  9. Eat a healthy diet. A diet that provides enough zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats may help prevent dandruff.
  10. Doctors believe that sunlight may be good for dandruff. However, don’t forget to use sunscreen.

Read more

Special note about Anti-Dandruff shampoos

dandruff shampoo

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:

  1. Zinc pyrithione shampoos (such as Head & Shoulders). These contain the zinc pyrithione which has antifungal properties, thus reducing the fungus which promotes dandruff.
  2. 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.
  3. Shampoos containing salicylic acid (such as Ionil T). These shampoos help to eliminate scale.
  4. 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.
  5. 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, much like the ones you find here

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.

Sizzling Mommy Signature

About the author
Dr Fomsky

Nigerian-born Dr Fomsky is a God-lover, a wife, a mom of three, a medical doctor by day. Plus she owns a Nigerian-based online hair product store called Sizzelle.
Dr Fomsky is very passionate about hair, skin and weight management. Since she's had her babies, she's been struggling to keep her weight and her tummy down!
At night, she likes to read books, write blog posts and leave comments on other blogs. She lives in Alberta, Canada and is also the author of Solving your relaxed hair breakage book .
LAST RELAXER DAY: December 15th, 2016
BIG CHOP: January 14th, 2017
Natural Hair, Unknown Porosity, Fine Hair strands, Low to Moderate Density

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18 Comments to Dealing with dandruff in African hair: a peculiar issue!

  1. Ima-Ima says:

    Thanks for the nice write-up. Keep on with the good work.

  2. Myne Whitman says:

    Head and Shoulders is one I trust too. And you have a great list of tips, thanks for sharing.

  3. […] Dealing with dandruff in African hair: a peculiar issue! […]

  4. Grace Uduak Gbobo says:

    What products can you recommend for African hair, special attention on Nigerian hair both male and female?

    I must recommend you for your write-up

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      Hi Grace. Thank you for the compliments on the write-up.
      I don’t think there is much difference in they products used in treating dandruff in African hair. I think the main difference is the frequency of use. For African hair, I would rather recommend that you shampoo your hair every 4-7 days to prevent over drying the hair.
      On the days in between your shampoo, for African females, you can spray your scalp lightly with a moisturizing spray. I described how to make yours in the post. Or you can apply an anti-dandruff treatment on your scalp on the ‘in-between’ days. An example of an anti-dandruff treatment is Sulfur 8 hair & scalp cream. However, use any product with thick oils cautiously as it might worsen your dandruff: If you use any anti-dandruff treatment and you find that it worsens your problem, discontinue.
      For African guys, you can use an anti-dandruff conditioner on the in-between shampoo days. (Head and shoulders has one which I think you can find in many shops in Lagos). For females, If you can manage styling your hair everyday, you can also condition your hair everyday.
      Many of the anti-dandruff shampoos I listed above can be found in pharmacies like Health Plus & Med plus (in Lagos) and maybe Sofo pharmacy in Port Harcourt. I’ve seen Neutrogena T-Gel in Med plus.
      You could also add tea-tree oil to your leave-ins, conditioners and shampoos. I think and have tea tree oil.

  5. […] Dealing with dandruff in African hair: a peculiar issue! […]

  6. […] Eating a healthy diet also provides zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats which may help prevent dandruff. READ MORE!!!….. […]

  7. Mary Ware says:

    Hello Dr. Fomsky! The best I have ever used is the GKhair anti-dandruff shampoo to banish the pesky white flakes from my itchy and flaky scalp. Very effective anti-dandruff shampoo as for as I have personally used and experienced. Love it. 🙂 <3

  8. Adwoa says:

    Hello Dr. Fomsky,

    Thank You so much for the write-up. My cousins 3.5 yo has the yeast issue in her scalp and the back of her neck also noticed a few spots on her forehead. She took her to the dermatologist and was told to get the OTC medicated shampoo nizarol and 2 sample gels for maintenance. As a rescue, she prescribed the Fluocinolone scalp oil.

    Were just really concerned b/c she has a lot of hair and was wondering if she could do anything else such as deep conditioning instead of hot oil treatment. What can she use to keep the scalp moisturized?? I know you mentioned zinc anc b vitamins to help prevent dandruff. Do you think this can be hereditary?

    • Dr Fomsky says:

      Thanks for your comment Adwoa. Yeast infection of the scalp is called seborrheic dermatitis and it can be hereditary as you rightly reasoned. She needs to use the hot oil treatment to loosen the scales from the scalp before shampooing. It’s not a good idea to leave the oil in the scalp or use very oily products because that can worsen it. She can use an oil-free conditioner to ‘wash’ her scalp. That can keep it moisturized or spray water on her scalp daily.

  9. Eliza says:

    Speaking from my own experience: Sometimes the shampoo itself can be the cause of the dandruffs. Instead of using shampoo, try a using clay with apple cider vinegar mixed in or a clay shampoo soap bar. Using sulfur too eliminates dandruff. I use an oil from with sulfur that stopped the dandruff. The only issue I have with it is the smell, as sulfur smells bad, but I bear with it and use it when I am not going out, as it treated my scalp issue plus it made my hair grow.

  10. Marsha says:

    I’ve noticed that Ketoconazole and Zinc pyrithione shampoos have changed the texture of my relaxed hair, and makes my hair shed pretty bad. Have you heard this before? and which would you recommend For relaxed hair? Thanks

    • Dr Fomsky says:

      Hi Marsha, I’ve never heard that Ketoconazole and Zinc pyrithione shampoos could make hair shed. I can’t really recommend any of them for relaxed hair because I don’t their long-term effect.

  11. Sabrina says:

    Hi Dr. Fomsky. My name is Sabrina and I am just finding out about my “Low Porosity” hair. I’d never heard of it before. My hair has always been beautiful and basically healthy!

    But now as we speak, it is shedding in my hands. My scalp feels tight and itchy dry. I think I feel a balding spot and I am so overwhelmed!! My beautiful fro has shrunk to ……

    I want to see a dermatologist but know of one here. I wanted to know what do you suggest? I have raw honey. I was reading about it might help.

    Is Dr. Miracle products good for this? I need help right now!! please!!

    I’m 53 and hurting

    • Dr Fomsky says:

      Hi Sabrina, I’m so sorry that I’m just responding to this message. I can’t begin to imagine how it must hurt to be losing so much of your hair and having a tight, dry, itchy scalp. Since I can’t see your hair, I don’t feel qualified to make any comments on what you can do. As a result, I advise that you see a dermatologist or trichologist as soon as possible. Much love.

  12. Marshs says:

    Thank You!

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