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Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 3, 2021.

What is Dandruff?

Harvard Health Publishing

Dandruff is a condition in which dead skin cells are shed from the scalp in large enough amounts to be noticeable. When these dead cells stick together, often because of surface debris and oil in the hair, they are noticeable as flakes in the scalp and on clothing.  

Dandruff is a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis of unknown cause. It is more of a nuisance and a cosmetic problem than a medical one. 


Symptoms include flakes of dead skin, itching and scaling on the scalp.


In most cases, dandruff can be self-diagnosed without the aid of a physician.

Expected Duration

Dandruff is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that comes and goes. It may disappear or be less severe in the warmer months.


Although there is no way to prevent dandruff, regular use of an anti-dandruff shampoo can control the problem. Avoid exposing your scalp to excessive heat, such as through frequent use of a hair dryer.


There are many effective shampoos on the market to control dandruff. Look for active ingredients such as salicylic acid, tar and selenium. Most shampoos work best if they are left on for several minutes after lathering and then rinsed out thoroughly. Reapply if directed. When over-the-counter products are not strong enough, a prescription medication can be requested from a health care professional. 

When To Call A Professional

If dandruff symptoms persist or worsen — with severe flaking, itching, scaling or redness — see a doctor for more intensive therapy. 


Dandruff is usually a chronic condition, so it will tend to come back. Use an antidandruff shampoo once or a twice a week to help control it.

Learn more about Dandruff

Associated drugs

Mayo Clinic Reference

External resources

American Academy of Dermatology

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.