By Dr. Teo Wan Lin, Consultant Dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre
In the third instalment of my series on dealing with hair loss in Singapore as a dermatologist, I’m going to discuss dandruff and scalp sensitivity. This is one of the commonest scalp complaints that my patients have in conjunction with hair loss symptoms and leaves many of them wondering if it is the cause of their hair loss problem.
1. What is dandruff and what causes it?
Flaking on the scalp and white scales found on one’s clothes are one of the first symptoms of dandruff. This is lay speak for any form of scalp inflammation that causes the cell turnover rate on the scalp to increase abnormally. Dead skin cells, which are rapidly shed from the cell turnover, in turn constitute the white scales observed as the primary symptom of dandruff. There are several medical conditions that can result in this, the commonest being the following: scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and scalp eczema.
2. Do I have a sensitive scalp or is it a symptom of another condition?
Do you have itch, redness or pain on your scalp? You may have an undiagnosed inflammatory scalp disease. Scalp “sensitivity” without any underlying scalp condition is a very rare condition attributed to abnormal nerve sensations known as scalp dysaesthesia. It is far more common to have an underlying cause such as seborrheic dermatitis, which is due to proliferation of a yeast known as malessezia furfur in an individual with excess production of oil. It is also commoner in tropical and humid climates such as Singapore, as it encourages this yeast to grow.
Otherwise, malessezia is an inhabitant of one’s skin and scalp. Under normal conditions, it does not cause any issues. However, under humid and sweaty environments, this yeast can proliferate to cause scalp inflammation and flaking. Dandruff is observed as a result. If you have scalp flaking which does not respond to over the counter anti-dandruff shampoos, such as those containing zinc pyrithone which is anti-fungal, promptly seek the care of an accredited dermatologist rather than self medicate or DIY.
Other causes of scalp inflammation would be scalp eczema, which is due to an excessively dry scalp/skin condition. For example, scalp psoriasis, which may be the case especially if one has a family history of psoriasis or rashes on the body. If you have been in contact with a ringworm infected cat or dog, also do have your scalp and skin checked by a dermatologist as these infections are contagious and could also cause a form of scalp inflammation presenting as a red, scaly and itchy patch with hair loss.
3. Is my sensitive scalp and dandruff causing hair loss?
Most cases of scalp inflammation due to eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, scalp folliculitis or psoriasis should not cause hair loss. However severe inflammation can push the hair growth cycle into a stage of telogen effluvium which is when hair reaches the end of its cycle and falls out, similar to hair loss that occurs after a major illness or post-pregnancy. In addition, if one picks and peels off crusted areas over the scalp this can also cause damage to the hair root and lead to hair loss.
There are other causes of hair loss such as alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disorder causing one’s immune system to attack hair follicles, leading to hair loss. This usually has no symptoms other than the appearance of round patches of hair loss over one’s scalp. Scarring causes of hair loss include folliculitis decalvans, which is the end-stage of a type of scalp folliculitis, whereby the hair follicles themselves are constantly inflammed and infected. Children may be more susceptible to tinea capitis, which is a fungal scalp infection that can lead to scarring hair loss if untreated.
© 2017 Dr. Teo Wan Lin. All rights reserved.
Meet with Dr. Teo Wan Lin, founder and Specialist Consultant Dermatologist of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, an accredited dermatologist specialising in medical and aesthetic dermatology. She integrates her artistic sensibility with her research background and specialist dermatologist training, by means of customised, evidence-based aesthetic treatments using state-of the-art machines, injectables (fillers and toxins). These work synergistically with her proprietary line of specialist dermatologist grade cosmeceuticals, Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, which include sensitive scalp and hair loss treatments.