This is article is written with Ilyse Lefkowicz, M.D. - Head & Shoulders dermatologist. Being a sufferer of scalp issues, she understands the importance of a scalp care system that delivers in technology and beauty benefits. Dr. Lefkowicz is a Board-Certified dermatologist specializing in general and cosmetic dermatology.
In extreme cases, dandruff can cause temporary hair loss. Make sure you’re not confusing alopecia areata with dandruff by using our symptoms guide.
Dandruff doesn’t typically involve hair loss. But occasionally high levels of inflammation and constant scratching can have the side effect of damaging your scalp enough that hair falls out and does not regrow quickly.
Is it possible to confuse dandruff with alopecia areata, the main feature of which is hair loss?
Dandruff and alopecia areata
Dandruff is caused by the malassezia fungus. This yeast-like fungus lives on all our scalps, and is usually harmless.
In some cases, however, one’s personal sensitivity to oleic acid – a by-product of malassezia’s life-cycle – can lead to dandruff symptoms:
- White flakes in the hair
- Red, irritated scalp
If you do suffer from dandruff, dealing with the problem is relatively simple. Using a dandruff shampoo regularly – ideally every day- will take care of the problem and keep it from coming back. If dandruff is the problem, you should see flaking improvement within 2-3 weeks.
Alopecia areata, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease. The immune systems of alopecia areata sufferers attacks their hair follicles, which house the roots of hair.
This leads to hair loss in patches on the scalp and elsewhere. In severe cases, the hair on the entire body can fall out.
All is not lost, however. Although the immune system attacks your hair follicles, it doesn’t necessarily kill them. This means that the hair can grow back.
Nails are often a tell-tale sign of alopecia areata, with sufferers experiencing pitting, dullness and thinning of their nails, among other symptoms.
Treating dandruff and alopecia areata
It’s fairly obvious, then, to tell the difference between dandruff and alopecia areata. If you’re still worried, you can use a dandruff shampoo for the recommended two weeks. Should you find that hair is still falling out, it’s time to speak to a doctor about the possibility of alopecia areata.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for alopecia areata. On the bright side, because the follicles are still alive, it is possible to use medication to encourage re-growth of hair.
The key point here is that should you find yourself dealing with excessive hair loss, it is always recommended to speak to a doctor.