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Does Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Sian Ferguson

Published 09/17/2017

Updated 03/27/2024

Dandruff, a common form of skin flaking,  can affect your scalp, causing itching and discomfort. While dandruff itself doesn’t cause hair loss, constantly scratching your scalp can affect your hair growth and potentially cause shedding.

Below, we’ve explained what dandruff is, what causes it and how dandruff may affect your hair’s health and appearance.

Read on to learn more about what  you can do to treat and prevent dandruff with over-the-counter hair care products and good habits.

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Dandruff is pretty annoying to deal with — but does dandruff stop hair growth? In short, not directly.

Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to discuss how and why male hair loss occurs.

Most hair loss in men is the result of androgenetic alopecia, also known as androgenic alopecia or male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss leads to the classic M-shaped receding hairline or bald patch at the crown that many men develop as they age.

Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of factors, including your genetic makeup and the effects of an androgen hormone (male sex hormone) called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

You can learn more about this process and its root causes in our detailed guide to DHT and hair loss in men.

Dandruff doesn’t cause male pattern baldness, nor does it appear to have any effect on your production of DHT.

Also, dandruff has no effect on other forms of hair loss, such as:

  • Telogen effluvium, which is hair loss that can occur after a physiological shock or severe stress

  • Anagen effluvium, a condition usually caused by drugs used for cancer treatment or exposure to certain toxic chemicals.

  • Traction alopecia, which is where hair sheds because the follicles are under too much strain (say, from chemical treatments or tight hairstyles)

  • Alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks your hair follicles

Does dandruff prevent hair growth? Not directly, no — but there are a few reasons why you might be experiencing dandruff and hair loss at the same time.

If you scratch at your scalp aggressively, you may weaken your skin’s protective barrier and increase your risk of developing a bacterial or fungal infection. Some scalp conditions, such as tinea capitis, can affect your hair follicles and contribute to temporary or permanent hair loss.

Scratching aggressively may also pull on your hair, causing temporary hair shedding that gives your hair a thin appearance.

Dandruff and hair loss are often tied together because people treating hair loss might experience a dry or itchy scalp during treatment.

Treatments like finasteride, minoxidil solution, minoxidil foam and topical finasteride & minoxidil spray are all used to promote hair health.  Some people who use these types of hair loss medications — minoxidil, in particular — report developing a dry, itchy scalp during the first few weeks of treatment.

Some of this is to be expected, and there’s research to back up these claims. One study from 2015 showed that use of minoxidil results in higher rates of scalp itching than a placebo.

Some versions of minoxidil contain ingredients such as propylene glycol and alcohol, which can dry the skin and cause itchiness.

So, if you have a sensitive scalp or already have dandruff, there’s a risk that using minoxidil to treat your hair loss could worsen your dandruff.

If you’ve noticed an increase in dandruff since you started to use minoxidil, this could be the culprit. It’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional if you think you’re experiencing side effects from minoxidil.

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While dandruff doesn’t cause hair loss, it’s still a major annoyance that can ruin your confidence and negatively affect your life.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to deal with dandruff, almost all of which are effective over the long term. We’ve outlined several options below.

Use an Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

The most effective way to clear up dandruff is by washing with anti-dandruff shampoo. You can buy shampoos formulated to treat and prevent dandruff online or from your local supermarket or drugstore.

When you're comparing shampoos that treat dandruff, look for science-based active ingredients such as pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, coal tar and salicylic acid.

Our dandruff detox shampoo contains 1% pyrithione zinc and salicylic acid. This medicated shampoo works to reduce build-up on the scalp, soothing itchiness and reducing flaking.

Make sure to follow the instructions provided with your shampoo. Be careful when using coal tar shampoo, as this ingredient can discolor blonde, white or gray hair and make your skin become more sensitive to sunlight.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Although there’s no direct link between diet and dandruff, some research in women has found that eating a diet that’s rich in fruit and low in high-fat, high-sugar processed foods may help to reduce the severity of seborrheic dermatitis.

Our guide to foods to eat for hair growth lists specific ingredients to prioritize for a healthy scalp and hair.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

If your dandruff doesn’t improve with regular use of an anti-dandruff shampoo, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider, particularly a dermatologist.

Although most cases of dandruff are associated with seborrheic dermatitis, other medical conditions — like scalp psoriasis or ringworm — can also cause skin flaking.

A healthcare provider can help develop a treatment plan that directly addresses the causes of your dandruff. For example, you may need an antifungal cream or a medicated shampoo.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Although dandruff can be uncomfortable and annoying, there’s no scientific evidence that it directly causes hair loss. But aggressively scratching your scalp — which is common among people with dandruff — can cause hair loss.

  • Scratching your scalp can make you susceptible to infections. Certain bacterial and fungal infections can cause your hair to shed.

  • Dandruff might get worse after using certain hair loss treatments. Minoxidil, in particular, might dry out your scalp, causing your itchiness and flaking.

  • If you have dandruff, relief is possible. Quality dandruff treatments can help keep your scalp and follicles nice and healthy.

If you’ve noticed significant hair fall or thinning hair, you might benefit from using science-based medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.

Need expert help to deal with dandruff or hair loss? We can help you connect with a medical professional who can advise you on your treatment options and get you closer to happy, healthy hair growth.

9 Sources

  1. Dandruff, Cradle Cap, and Other Scalp Conditions. (2020, November 12). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/dandruffcradlecapandotherscalpconditions.html
  2. Johnson, B.A. Nunley, J.R. (2000, May 1). Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis. American Family Physician. 61 (9), 2703-2710. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0501/p2703.html
  3. Hereditary-Patterned Baldness. (2019, April). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/hereditary-patterned-baldness-a-to-z
  4. What Makes Us Itch? (2020, September 28). Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/what-makes-us-itch
  5. Panahi, Y., Taghizadeh, M., Marzony, E.T. Sahebkar, A. (2015, January-February). Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2 percent for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial. Skinmed. 13 (1), 15-21. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25842469/
  6. 10 Reasons Your Scalp Itches and How to Get Relief. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-scalp-itch
  7. How to Treat Dandruff. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/scalp/treat-dandruff
  8. Dandruff. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Dandruff
  9. Sanders, M.G., Pardo, L.M., Ginger, R.S., Kiefte-de Jong, J.C. Nijsten, T. (2019, January). Association between Diet and Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 139 (1), 108-114. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X18324801
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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