Dandruff flakes can be a problem at any age, though dandruff in children is not as common for those younger than puberty. This infection is treated with a medicated shampoo aimed at killing a bacteria called malessizia and returning moisture to the scalp. Before assuming an itchy scalp is dandruff though, parents should inspect their children for lice and make sure they are properly rinsing the shampoo from their hair during bath time.
Dandruff in children or adults is often caused by a yeast infection, or fungus, known as malessizia. This bacteria feeds off excessive oil being produced by the top layer of the scalp, called the stratum corneum. Left behind are an excess of dead skin cells, which collect in the hair and on the shoulders. Another fairly common cause is seborrheic dermatitis, a non-contagious condition that is called cradle cap when it happens to babies.
Several other factors can contribute to dry, itchy and red skin on the scalp, though not necessarily dandruff flakes: psoriasis, a lack of regular hygiene, eczema, or hair-care products with a high alcohol content. If hot water is used for shampooing, or if the shampoo is not fully rinsed, the same kinds of symptoms could occur. Sunburn can also cause symptoms similar to dandruff.
Certain ingredients have proven effective at fighting dandruff in children or adults. Common to many store-bought dandruff shampoos are compounds like salicylic acid, zinc, coal tar and resorcin. Prescription-strength varieties may also contain ingredients like selenium, steroids or ketoconazole. For dandruff in children, however, shampoos may have lower doses of the active ingredients. If several weeks pass without an abatement of itching and visible dandruff, a physician might prescribe a shampoo with a higher concentration of active ingredients.
Certain people appear to be more apt to develop dandruff during their lives. Aside from a potential genetic predisposition, the Mayo Clinic reports that adult men through middle age are most susceptible. Experts surmise that this could be the result of hormonal differences or merely a reflection of poorer hygiene and diet among the male population.
Occasionally, when a child is observed to be incessantly scratching his or her scalp, what is first mistaken for dandruff might be, on closer inspection, a more serious condition like lice. Dandruff will create the telltale flakes of skin. Pediculosis, which is a lice infestation, will instead result in tiny nits, or eggs, latching to hair follicles while the young and adult lice stay alive on a diet of blood. Though inspection of the hair with a magnifying glass can yield success with identifying nits or lice, confirmation is often obtained with an over-the-counter lice kit.