Skin Problems and Solutions

How To Treat Dandruff
'Shoulder snow', as dandruff is euphemistically known, is the excessive shedding of the cells on the scalp. Dead skin is shed constantly from our bodies as cells renew themselves and our scalp sheds more than any other part. Normally, skin cells mature in about a month and are shed gradually, so the process is virtually unnoticeable. With dandruff, cell turnover speeds up and cells are being shed on a weekly - even daily - basis.
But, rest assured that, far from being the social outcast condition portrayed in advertisements, dandruff is one that most people suffer from at some point in their lives.
There are three main causes:
* The most common dandruff, which affects 75 per cent of people during their life, is pityriasis capitis (which means 'scaly head'). It's caused by a minute yeast-like fungus called Pityrosporum ovale (also known as malassezia). People with dandruff have higher amounts of pityrosporum than usual; they often have a history of childhood eczema. The flakes seem dry and the scalp is dry and itchy. It's rare in children but increases in the teens and twenties.
* Left untreated, common dandruff can lead to seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory disorder where the outermost layer of the skin peels off excessively, producing flakes. Both the hair and scales seem greasy, and there are patches of red, scaly, itchy skin, which may also occur on the face, chest and other parts of the body. Flare-ups can be triggered by stress or illness.
* Scalp psoriasis is often very localized, around the ears and the back of the head, although it may be dotted all over. The scales are quite thick and red; the redness may also be seen round the hairline. Many patients experience severe itching and a feeling of tightness or soreness.
Psoriasis is known as 'the waxing and waning condition', so it may go away or only flare up occasionally. GPs can prescribe a coal tar de-scaling agent such as cocois, or a scalp ointment combining coconut oil, coal tar solution, sulphur and salicylic acid.
Here is a suggested course of action:
* Those with very dry hair and skin should eat plenty of oily fish or consider a fish oil supplement. Biotin deficiency has been linked to seborrheic dermatitis, so you could try taking this either on its own or as part of a B complex supplement.
* If you work in a very dehydrating environment, such as an aircraft, take care to drink lots of water and use moisturizing products on hair and skin. If you work in an air-conditioned office, try putting bowls of water around your desk or buy a small humidifier.
* If you can see any red patches, visit your GP or consult a qualified trichologist.
* Don't scratch your scalp: it will make the condition worse, and may break the skin, leaving it vulnerable to bacterial infection.
* Double the frequency of washing your hair (unless you already do it every day): British trichologist Dr Hugh Rushton says the cause of the snowstorm may simply be an accumulation of dead skin cells, due to not washing your hair often enough. Take time to gently agitate your scalp all over and rinse thoroughly until you can't feel any shampoo left. Follow with a conditioner if you wish. Do this for a month.
* Plant extracts to look for in shampoos include chamomile, red clover, echinacea and nettle to calm the inflammation on the scalp and red cedar oil (thuja) to help control fungi (not for children or the sensitive-skinned).
* I suggest avoiding sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate in shampoos, as I have found they make flaky scalps worse.
* If your scalp is still flaking after four weeks, try any anti-dandruff shampoo to combat the fungus. Use this consistently for another month. If the condition doesn't improve, then go to your family doctor.
* Avoid using products such as hair spray, volumizing mousse, styling sprays or relaxing preparations, which can leave a residue that looks like dandruff, as well as exacerbating an already dry scalp.
* Consider giving up dairy products for a month to see if it makes a difference. It won't help everyone, but some patients with an eczematous type of dandruff improve with this simple dietary shift. 
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