Is Dandruff Contagious? And Other Important Questions About Those Frustrating Flakes

Medically reviewed by Sarah Taylor, MD on February 8, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney on February 8, 2017
is dandruff contagious

Dandruff is an aggravating and often embarrassing scalp condition. It’s also surprisingly common.

If you’re starting to notice a few suspicious white flakes on your clothing, don’t despair! Get some of your most pressing questions about dandruff answered here, including the root causes, potential side effects, and how to control it.

Overview

Dandruff is a pesky condition characterized by white flakes on the scalp. Aside from itchiness, the flakes can come loose from the scalp and cover your hair and clothing. While not typically considered a serious medical condition, dandruff can cause significant worries and frustrations.

The good news is that dandruff is very treatable, and it doesn’t cause significant long-term problems.

What is the cause of my dandruff?

Sometimes a lack of shampooing can cause oily buildup on the scalp, resulting in dandruff flakes. However, it’s a myth that dandruff is directly linked to poor hygiene. Even if you wash your hair regularly, you may still develop those pesky flakes.

Many people have dandruff, but it can be more noticeable if you frequently wear dark-colored clothing or if your hair is a dark color.

How much do I have to worry about side effects?

While dandruff itself may not cause side effects, certain dandruff-controlling products might. Be careful with shampoos that contain coal tar, as they can discolor your hair. People with white, gray, and blonde hair tend to be the most vulnerable to these types of side effects.

Additionally, coal tar can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight — you can prevent sunburns of the scalp by limiting exposure, or by wearing a hat outdoors.

Is dandruff contagious?

No, dandruff is not contagious! It is more of a nuisance than a cause for worry about any sort of epidemic. You can’t give dandruff to anyone, and you won’t catch the flakes from friends and loved ones who have it either.

Will I lose my hair?

Dandruff itself isn’t a cause for hair loss. While it’s possible to have hair loss and dandruff at the same time, there is no cause and effect between the two conditions.

Sometimes hair loss is seen in severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis. Unlike typical uninflamed dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis (more severe dandruff) can be significant, affecting the face, scalp, and sometimes even the entire body. In addition to dandruff, thicker flaking, redness, and oily yellow plaques can appear.

How can I treat dandruff?

Medicated dandruff shampoos are the most common treatment options for an itchy, flaky scalp. The following can potentially help:

  • Head and Shoulders (contains pyrithione zinc)
  • Neutrogena T-Gel (coal tar)
  • Neutrogena T-Sal (salicylic acid)
  • Nizoral (ketoconazole)
  • Selsun Blue (selenium sulfide)

Whichever shampoo you use, make sure you leave it on the scalp for at least five to 10 minutes to give the product time to work.

Some people also see some improvements with tea tree oil, or shampoos containing this essential oil. The downside is that tea tree oil can cause allergy symptoms in some users, thereby worsening skin problems on the scalp.

Do I need to go to the doctor?

Mild cases of dandruff don’t require a doctor’s visit. If you still experience dandruff problems despite treatment and lifestyle remedies, then it may be time to call a dermatologist for help. Other conditions can look like dandruff, such as eczema, psoriasis, or a fungal infection, but require very different treatment.

How do I prevent dandruff for good?

Once you have dandruff, chances are that you will get it again in the future. There is no cure for dandruff, but regular use of antidandruff shampoos can help keep it at bay. Aside from treating flakes as they come up, you can take some preventive measures to make sure they don’t appear in the first place.

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