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When it comes to dandruff, getting to the root of the problem is the most effective solution. Harvard Health defines dandruff as a condition wherein the scalp sheds dead skin cells in large quantities. When the dead skin cells accumulate on the scalp and mix with sebum or sweat, they clump together and become flakes. This flaking can be caused by different things. Finding out what causes dandruff for you — the specific habits and triggers that make your scalp break out in flakes — is your best defense. Here are some dandruff causes that might surprise you.

Your Scalp is Super Oily

How does oil cause flakes? It seems counterintuitive, but a greasy scalp caused by an overproduction of sebum can trigger dandruff. The Malassezia yeast, a fungus that is naturally part of the skin’s microbiome, is commonly found in oily areas of the body, such as the scalp. It is drawn to excess oil and feeds on it. When the fungus takes over the scalp, it becomes irritated, and dead skin cells shed faster than usual. The cells attach to the oils and fall off as flakes.

Get rid of dandruff while soothing your flaky, itchy scalp with Dove Dermacare Scalp Soothing Moisture Shampoo and Dove Dermacare Scalp Soothing Moisture Conditioner, which removes dandruff while caring for hair and relieves irritation with a pH-balanced formula that’s gentle enough for daily use.

For a refreshing take on fighting flakes, use CLEAR Ice Cool Menthol Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, which has vitamin B3, Triple Anti-Dandruff technology. It eliminates flakes while refreshing the scalp with its Lime and Menthol Blast formula.

You Live in a Smoggy Big City

Based on a 2019 study titled “Air Pollution and Non-Communicable Diseases” published in the National Institutes of Health, biological parameters affecting skin quality — such as sebum production — are influenced by air pollution. The study found that air pollution is associated with a high frequency of skin diseases, including seborrhea of the scalp, also known as . Pollution can cause the scalp to become sensitive, itchy, and oily, leading to flakes and even .

Fight environmental damage with CLEAR Complete Soft Care Anti-Dandruff, which is formulated with amino acids that get rid of dandruff while deeply nourishing the scalp to increase its defense against pollution.

You Have a Lot on Your Plate

Does your scalp become even itchier when you’re feeling stressed? That’s because stress compromises your immune system and makes your scalp produce more sebum, causing the Malassezia yeast to thrive. If you’re already prone to skin conditions such as eczema, being in a stressful situation can trigger scalp flaking and itching. 

You Love to Style Your Hair

While heat styling itself doesn’t cause dandruff, frequent use of heating tools such as blow dryers, curling irons, and flat irons can damage the scalp and make it dry, resulting in flakes. Make sure your hair dryer is six to eight inches from your hair to avoid damage. On the other hand, if you find your scalp extremely flaky after days of using styling products such as hair oils, waxes, and creams, you could be experiencing scalp buildup. In this case, the flakes aren’t caused by inflammation but by a buildup of skin cells, products, sweat, and oil. 

If you’re suffering from flakes due to dry scalp, use a shampoo that addresses the and nourishes hair. CLEAR Botanique Scalp Care Shampoo for Dry Scalp is formulated with Triple Anti-dandruff technology and five essential oils — lavender, tea tree, grapefruit, rosemary, and bergamot — that help boost the scalp’s strength and stop recurring dandruff. 

To find out what causes dandruff, examine your habits and environment. With some lifestyle adjustments and the right products, you’ll have those pesky flakes under control.