For most teens and adults, dandruff symptoms are easy to spot: white, oily looking flakes of dead skin that dot your hair and shoulders, and an itchy, scaling scalp.

Dandruff is a chronic scalp problem that can be an embarrassing nuisance for many people. Although it isn't contagious, its symptoms of white, oily flaking skin and irritating itching can sometimes be difficult to treat effectively.

For most teens and adults, dandruff symptoms are easy to spot: white, oily looking flakes of dead skin that dot your hair and shoulders, and an itchy, scaling scalp. The condition may worsen during the fall and winter, when indoor heating can contribute to dry skin, and improve during the summer.

There are a number of causes of dandruff, including dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, malessezia, an oversensitivity to shampoo and other hair care products, and simply not shampooing often enough. A dry skin condition, particularly one that occurs during the winter when humidity is low indoors, is the most common cause of dandruff.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that can affect not only your scalp, but other areas on your body that have higher concentrations of oil-producing glands like the sides of your nose, eyebrows, groin areas, and armpits. This condition is marked by having oily, irritated skin. Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes dead skin cells to accumulate to form silvery scales, although more often occurring on elbows, knees, and body trunks.

Malessezia is a yeast-like fungus that lives on the scalps of most healthy adults and usually doesn't cause problems. But on the occasion when it does grow out of control, it feeds on the oils secreted from hair follicles. This can result in scalp irritation and the production of extra skin cells that die, fall off, and appear as white flakes in your hair or on your clothing.

There are a number of internal factors that can encourage dandruff beyond simply having an oily scalp. Male hormonal changes, neurological disorders, illness, an immune system that's suppressed, and even stress are all suspected as being contributors to dandruff development. You may also be predisposed to dandruff if you're missing B vitamins, zinc, and certain essential fats from your diet.

Treating dandruff effectively can take a little perseverance on one's part, and the treatments can vary quite a bit. Mild cases of dandruff may be treatable just by washing your hair more frequently with a gentle shampoo that reduces oil and cell buildup. Over-the-counter dandruff shampoos offer a variety of topical medications that may work on the more advanced cases. Some of these include coal tar, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, and selenium sulfide. However, potential side effects of their use have been known to include stinging, burning, redness, and allergic reactions like rashes and difficulty breathing. Daily shampooing with tea tree oil has been shown to reduce dandruff in some people, although allergic reactions have been reported.

Many people find that the best long-term approach to solving one's dandruff problem is to include both internal and external remedies. Treating only the external symptoms of dandruff - the itching, flaking skin - may provide someone with temporary relief and not much more. If any systemic causes like diet deficiencies and stress are also at work and continue to go unaddressed, permanent dandruff relief may be that much more difficult to achieve.