Dandruff is a form of seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common type of chronic dermatosis that usually affects areas of the body that contain plenty of sebaceous glands like the scalp, face, chest and body folds.
Sebaceous glands secrete sebum, a waxy substance which lubricates hair and skin. Mild seborrheic dermatitis that affects the scalp is called dandruff (pityriasis sicca) and results in a characteristic flaking. Of note, in infants, mild seborrheic dermatitis results in a condition called “cradle cap.”
Dandruff can begin in childhood and has a gradual onset. The course of dandruff waxes and wanes with flare-ups and remissions common. Infantile and adolescent dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis can remit with age or continue through adulthood.
Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis affects about 2 percent to 5 percent of the general population and is more likely to affect men. Some people complain that their dandruff worsens during the fall and winter or in dry environments. Moreover, sunlight has a variable effect on dandruff; some people think that sunlight improves their dandruff, and others think sunlight makes their dandruff worse.
Scaling typical of dandruff usually affects the entire scalp and can also affect eyebrows and eyelashes. This scaling is usually gray-white or orange-red in color and sloughs off of either flattened lesions (macules or patches) or raised lesions (papules). (The term :”lesion” is medical jargon for irregular growths of skin.) In addition to scaling, dandruff can also be dry and itchy, and inflammation is evident on histologic or microscopic examination.
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