Most people focus on the flakes when it comes to dandruff.

Itching, on the other hand, could be the most unpleasant side effect. So, what is your itchy scalp trying to tell you? Learn about the most common dandruff symptoms and how to restore your scalp’s health.


What are the causes and symptoms of dandruff?

The main symptoms of dandruff are flaky skin and an itchy, scaly scalp. White, oily flakes commonly accumulate in your hair and on your shoulders during the fall and winter months, when the air is dry.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of your itchy, flaky scalp, but here are a few common culprits:

  • skin that is irritated and oily, also known as seborrheic dermatitis (a more severe form of dandruff)
  • not shampooing frequently enough, causing skin cells to accumulate and cause flakes and itching
  • Malassezia yeast irritates your scalp and causes excessive skin cell growth.
  • Contact dermatitis, which causes your scalp to be red and itchy, can be caused by a variety of personal care products.

Men are more likely than women to develop dandruff. People with oily hair and those suffering from certain illnesses (such as Parkinson’s disease or HIV) are also at a higher risk. Although you may have first noticed symptoms around puberty, dandruff can appear at any age.

So, what is your itchy scalp attempting to communicate? Here are four typical responses.


Not all shampoos are the same

If your scalp is itchy, you may find some relief by using over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos formulated to help with dandruff.

It may take some trial and error to find the right fit, so if you haven’t had luck in the past, try again. Changing between two or more shampoo types can also help.

If you are unsure which to choose, consult your doctor. When shampooing, you may need to use a special shampoo to control dandruff (optimal frequency varies based on hair type).

Once you’ve got things under control, you might only need to use the shampoo every now and then to keep the effect going.



A dry scalp will flake and itch, but the flakes you’ll see with dry skin will be smaller and less oily. Itching can be relieved by restoring moisture to the scalp.

Your best moisturizer may already be on your kitchen shelf. Coconut oil has moisturizing and antibacterial properties, making it an excellent natural remedy for dry skin.


Practice good hygiene and stop scratching!

Shampooing frequently enough can keep oils at bay, reducing dandruff symptoms. Try to resist the urge to scratch your scalp while you’re at it. The itchiness is caused by dandruff irritation, but scratching aggravates the irritation and creates a vicious cycle.

Using too many hair products can irritate the scalp and cause itching. Experiment with removing anything extra from your personal care routine and gradually reintroducing it to determine which gels, sprays, and other products do not aggravate your symptoms.


You need to relax

For some people, stress can aggravate or even worsen dandruff. While stress does not cause Malassezia to grow on your scalp, it can thrive if your immune system is compromised, which is exactly what stress does to your body.

Relax for the sake of your scalp. Try going for a relaxing walk or doing yoga. You might even find it useful to keep a journal of stressful events. Make a list of what they are and how they affect your dandruff. That way, you’ll be able to do everything you can to avoid potential triggers in the future.


When to see your doctor

The good news is that many dandruff cases can be effectively treated with over-the-counter shampoos and other lifestyle changes.

However, dandruff isn’t the only reason you might have an itchy scalp. If your dandruff is especially persistent or itchy, you may have psoriasis, eczema, or true fungal infection. Your doctor can assist you.

Make an appointment with your doctor if your itch persists or your scalp becomes red or swollen. Check-in if shampoos aren’t working, if the redness and flaking spread to your face or other parts of your body, if you see lice or nits in your hair, or if the itching becomes unbearable.

While dandruff can be bothersome and embarrassing at times, it rarely indicates a more serious health problem. Itching and flaking are frequently relieved by over-the-counter shampoos and treatments. Continue to experiment with different brands and types until you find something that works for you.