How to ward off dandruff as winter takes its toll on your scalp

Alexandra Thompson
·4-min read
Concerned young woman combing hair in bathroom
Dandruff occurs when white or grey flakes of skin appear on the scalp and in the hair, with many feeling self-conscious of the condition. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

The cold winter months can wreak havoc with on skin, with the scalp being no exception.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, officials in England have reintroduced a nationwide lockdown until at least 2 December.

With many of us spending most of our time at home, the central heating could dry out our skin.

While cosy get-togethers may be off the cards, the government is allowing two adults from separate households to meet up outdoors.

Read more: How to keep skin supple during winter

Many are therefore bracing themselves for winter walks, battling the equally-drying wind and cold.

As we contend with our “new normal”, experts have put together their top tips to keep the scalp comfortable and dandruff at bay.

Young Woman Using Mobile Phone While Standing On Street While Snowing
Cold weather is a known dandruff trigger. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Dandruff occurs when white or grey flakes of skin appear on the scalp and in the hair.

Although harmless, the scalp may feel dry and itchy, with many also being self-conscious of the condition.

Dandruff may be triggered by eczema, psoriasis or ringworm, to name a few disorders. Cold weather and stress are known to make symptoms worse.

Amid England’s renewed restrictions, people are permitted to exercise or meet in a public, outdoor space with people they live with, their support bubble or one other person.

Experts have warned, however, too much time outdoors could make dandruff worse.

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“Transferring between the wet, cold outdoors and the dry, warm indoors can exacerbate any scalp condition, especially if the central heating is cranked up on high,” Benedetto Cusumano from the Institute of Trichologists told Yahoo UK.

“These atmospheric changes are perfect for the microorganisms that live on your scalp to become unbalanced.

“This can cause an inflammatory skin response in some cases.

“The scalp is highly vascular, which means there are a lot of blood vessels and nerves present.

“The scalp’s physical make-up makes it more prone to itchiness and inflammation.”

When the weather is cold but dry, the scalp may produce more oil to lubricate and protect the skin.

“This [oil] interacts with malassezia [a fungi naturally found on the skin], causing dandruff,” Stephanie Sey, trichologist and spokesperson for anti-dandruff shampoo Nizoral, told Yahoo UK.

“If hats are being worn persistently; in warm, damp environments malassezia thrives.”

Early in the coronavirus outbreak, experts warned the pandemic could have a “profound” and “pervasive” impact on people’s mental health for some time.

Recent research suggests jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding, tell-tale signs of stress, are on the rise.

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“It’s hard to say whether trichologists will see more scalp conditions this year compared to previous years,” said Cusumano.

“I do feel, however, the extra stress caused by the pandemic will have a role to play this time round.

“The stress, anxiety and financial worries are not good for the scalp as they raise stress hormone levels, in particular cortisol, which can increase the scalp’s sebum production.

“This combination can further cause inflammation, irritation and itchiness.”

Watch: Tips for healthy winter skin

How to treat dandruff

The NHS recommends buying anti-dandruff shampoo from a pharmacy or supermarket.

It should contain one of the following ingredients: zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, selenium sulphide (or selenium sulfide), ketoconazole or coal tar.

Try the shampoo for a month to see if it has any effect. You may need to experiment with several brands before finding a product that works for you.

Dandruff is not caused by bad hygiene, however, frequently washing your hair could help to remove the flakes of skin.

If the problem persists – or the scalp is itchy, red or swollen – see a GP.

Leading a healthy lifestyle may also help to prevent dandruff.

“Excessive alcohol does put the body under stress and that will not help in trying to keep the dandruff under control,” said Sey.

Vitamin D is also important for our overall health.

People living in England cannot get sufficient levels of the so-called sunshine supplement naturally between October and early March.

Officials therefore recommend most people take a 10 microgram (400 IU) vitamin D supplement a day during autumn and winter.

“A lack of natural light is always a problem in winter, as most of us are at work during light hours and travelling home in the dark,” said Sey.

“A lack of sunlight can contribute to a vitamin D deficiency, and vitamin D is required for immunity and also thick strong hair.”

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