How Do I Treat Dandruff in Children?

Dan Harkins

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 shampoos are one way to treat childhood dandruff.
Dandruff shampoos are one way to treat childhood dandruff.

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.

Dandruff is treated with a medicated shampoo aimed at killing a bacteria called malessizia and returning moisture to the scalp.
Dandruff is treated with a medicated shampoo aimed at killing a bacteria called malessizia and returning moisture to the scalp.

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.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

umbra21

@Mor - It might have made your hair frizzier because shampoo is supposed to ruffle the hair shaft while conditioner lays it back down again and I'm not sure how combining the two would work properly.

Dandruff is more of a problem with oil for most people. Too much oil in the scalp can lead to bacteria build-up which causes dandruff. And that doesn't necessarily mean washing more will prevent it, because stripping the scalp of oil can make it over-produce.

If your kids are really having trouble with this and a few simple changes aren't working, I'd take them to a dermatologist, or even a really good hairdresser. They will often know a product that should work.

Mor

@browncoat - The type of shampoo and conditioner is also really important. I've had much less dandruff since I switched to just using conditioner (I have very curly hair) but I know some of my friends with extremely fine hair prefer to use only a little bit of conditioner on their roots.

And when I was a kid, my mother was delighted to discover two in one shampoo and conditioner, thinking it would make it that much easier to wash our hair, but we all ended up with much frizzier hair, because apparently it's much harsher than using them separately.

I guess this is one of the few times that I'd actually recommend that people buy the more expensive brand, because it really does seem to make a difference.

browncoat

I also want to point out that too much hygiene might be the problem rather than not enough, particularly if you're using a harsh shampoo. You might be drying out the scalp and causing dandruff by washing your child's hair too often (or, if they are older, they might be doing this themselves).

It might seem counter intuitive, but cutting back on washing might sometimes be the answer rather than washing more often.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: