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Can Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD on November 18, 2020
Dandruff can sometimes cause hair loss, but prompt treatment could prevent further damage to your scalp and hair.

For most people, dandruff is the annoying but harmless white flakes from your scalp that accumulate on clothing and sometimes on furniture. A 2015 Journal of Clinical and Investigative Dermatology article entitled "Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review" estimates that 50 million American adults have dandruff. 

It’s important to remember that dandruff is a problem with the scalp, not the hair. Doctors do not fully understand what causes it, but they do know that stress, weather changes, an overgrowth of natural yeast on the skin, and an imbalanced immune system may all contribute to the redness, itching, and overproduction of scale and flaking.  

According to Zain Hussain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey, untreated dandruff may also trigger hair loss. 

Can Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?

Dermatologists consider Seborrheic dermatitis as the usual cause of dandruff. This condition is an inflammatory skin disorder generally caused by a type of yeast called Malassezia. 

“It can flare with stress, changes in the environment, and with medical problems,” says Hussain. The inflammation may damage hair follicles over time which can prematurely push the hair from the growth phase into telogen, which is the phase where hair follicles rest and the hair falls out. 

Prompt treatment of dandruff may help. If treatment does not work, it may be because something else is causing the hair loss. 

Other Possible Causes of Hair Loss 

Dandruff is just one potential cause of hair loss, but it’s not the only cause. Even though a person has dandruff, it’s often the case that something else is going on that may better explain the loss of hair. 

According to a 2017 American Family Physician article entitled "Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment," some of the most common causes of hair loss include: 

  • Androgenetic alopecia: Better known as male or female-pattern baldness, this is the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women. 
  • Alopecia areata: This autoimmune disease causes the body to attack hair follicles, but is treatable. 
  • Tinea capitis: Sometimes confused with dandruff, tinea capitis is a fungal infection that can cause the hair to fall out. 
  • Telogen effluvium: This type of hair loss causes many follicles at once to enter telogen, the resting stage of hair growth during which hair does not grow. Medical conditions, stress, and medication may be the cause of this type of hair loss. 
  • Anagen effluvium: Most common among people undergoing chemotherapy, this type of hair loss usually follows medical treatments that cause the hair to stop growing. 
  • Cicatricial alopecia: Known also as scarring alopecia, this permanent form of hair loss causes inflammation on the scalp. This leads to scarring that damages the hair follicles, preventing further growth. 

Get Help Now 

Since there are multiple different types of hair loss and causes, it’s important to seek proper care for your specific condition. Most types of hair loss are treatable, and some are even reversible. Treatments work best when you initiate a treatment plan early on.