Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Truth About Dandruff

I'd like to start this off by saying that while half of me is completely embarrassed to be discussing this on the internet, the other half of me feels I need to get this information out there.  The biggest message I'd like people to get from this post is that you needn't be embarrassed about your dandruff!

Most commercials for dandruff shampoos seem to feature a guy with frosted snow caps building up on his shoulders, and there might be a chick involved but she's just waving her silky, dandruff-free locks around.  It's become inconceivable that a woman should have dandruff, and that anything besides Head & Shoulders is needed to treat it.  Having flakes may signal to others that you are a part of The Great Unwashed, when in fact it's just something you can't control no matter how often (or not) you bathe.

There's a harsh truth:  Anyone can have dandruff, and there are an insane number of causes for it.

Unfortunately, I am one of those people where nothing short of getting prescriptions from a doctor has alleviated my problem.  As the years went by and I tried method after method to end the flakes, it became less about my physical appearance and more about the itching, discomfort and even pain from having this unrelenting problem.  I'd like to share with my fellow dandruff sufferers what I've learned.

1.  There are so many possible reasons for why you have dandruff.
It could be your diet, the weather, stress, an autoimmune disease, products you're using, an allergy... and while that's a short list, it's all the variety of factors within each of them that is tough to sort out.  Do I need to eliminate gluten or dairy from my diet?  Do I need to go sulfate free?  Is tree pollen flaring my skin up?  Does the fact that my significant other keeps me up with their snoring so much that is stresses me out make my head flake (not that I know from personal experience, I swear!)?  It can be really hard to pinpoint it, which is why it's easier to start with fixing it.  Which brings up the next problem...

2.  There are so many ways to treat dandruff.
I'm so serious.  It's different for everyone.  Something as simple as using Head & Shoulders can fix it for some people, and other people will need to eliminate dairy or gluten from their diet and do regular hot oil treatments.  Maybe something as simple as taking allergy pills can help.  But, in reality, the only way you can figure it out is...

3.  You need to start trying everything.
The good thing is that most dandruff treatments aren't going to wreck havoc on your body.  I have tried shampooing with baking soda and conditioning with an apple cider vinegar solution.  I have tried just not washing my hair at all, which, to be quite honest, isn't as bad as some people might think.  I have used sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.  I have made hair masques, applied oils and lotions to my scalp.  I have tried all sorts of shampoos targeting dandruff with ingredients like Selenium Sulfide, Salicylic Acid, Zinc and Coal Tar.

I have even gone Gluten Free, for other reasons, but I can tell you it made no change in my scalp condition. I have taken vitamins and other supplements, and drank enough water a day so that I was nearly pissing myself every five minutes.  I have toyed with my shower water filters.

Is this long enough for you?  It took me several years to experience it all.  Some things worked for a day or two, but my scalp always decided that it was having none of that bullshit.

3. There is no shame in seeing a doctor about it.
If the doctor you see tries to shrug it off as being not a big deal, or to try more of the methods I listed above, tell them very clearly that you have tried and you need to take it to the next step.  If they refuse, find a new doctor and get another opinion.  I believe this is true for a lot of medical problems.  If it's something that you cannot remedy, makes you uncomfortable, makes your day hard to get through and perhaps even makes your life hard to live to it's fullest, there is every reason to get help.  Who wants to go out to lunch when their head is itching, in pain, and perhaps even scabby and bloody?

I've been very lucky with my doctor, who after asking a few questions and listening to how long and how many thing I've tried immediately suggested that maybe the dandruff fighting ingredients I've tried just haven't been in a high enough concentration for me.

You read it:  You might just need a higher concentration than what's available on the store shelves.

3. Be sure to eliminate all other possibilities, thoroughly, before opting for a prescription.
It could probably go without saying that getting prescriptions for stuff is no fun and can possibly cause more problems than you had to begin with.  I don't want anyone going to their doctor and telling them some chick on a blog told them to come get a prescription because they're not willing to do any research and legwork.  I would also recommend going through any medical history and family medical history to make sure your dandruff isn't an underlying condition to something more serious.

For myself, I have already been diagnosed and treated for eczema.  It was a huge gap before I even thought about linking the two, and apparently my doctor agreed with me.  Most shampoos with selenium Sulfide have a concentration of 1%.  She prescribed me a lotion with a 2.5% concentration of Selenium Sulfide to apply to my scalp 20min before I shower.  Since I have eczema and it may be affecting the skin on my scalp, she also prescribed me a steroidal shampoo to use once a week.

You know what?  It's working.  This has to have been the best decision of my entire dandruff-stricken life.  While I still get flakes, as I imagine everyone gets at some point because skin cells must be shed, I no longer live in agony.  It's a relief.

The internet is filled with surefire how-tos for dandruff, and it can be disappointing when they don't work.  I browsed so many youtubes, blogs, e-hows, yahoos, webmds... it's overwhelming.  If it's not a guide on how to definitely get rid of it, it's an article saying eh, it's dandruff.  Maybe it's a problem, maybe it's not.  Try some shampoo, maybe see your doctor; we're not going to tell you what your doctor could possibly do about it, though.  It's disheartening.

I'm really hoping this rather personal experience can help some of my readers out there.  It's tough to talk about, but somebody has to, right?!

If you have any questions, know that you can leave a comment here or e-mail me if it's too personal for you to share on the internet.  Best of luck on your journey to a dandruff-free life!

Also, here's a picture of my sporting my Selenium Sulfide 'do.