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Senior Correspondent

Q. Do older people get dandruff more often?

No. Dandruff affects people of all ages across all ethnic groups. Dandruff often occurs after puberty and is most common in people in their early 20s. It continues into middle age. However, it does also affect many seniors.

Dandruff is a common, non-contagious skin condition that causes flakes of dead skin to appear in the hair. It is estimated that half of all people will be affected by dandruff at some point in their lives.

The body continually sheds dead skin cells as new cells are formed. In most cases this is a gradual process that goes unnoticed. In cases of dandruff, this process speeds up and excessive amounts of dead skin cells are released by the scalp. 

Dandruff is more common in men than women. Men's scalps have larger oil-producing glands; these can contribute to dandruff.   

What you eat can influence whether you get dandruff. If your diet is lacking B vitamins, zinc, and some kinds of fats, you might be inclined to get dandruff. 

People with some neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's, are more likely to get dandruff. Stress and weakened immune systems are other risk factors for dandruff.

Additional causes of dandruff are: dry skin, not shampooing enough, sensitivity to hair-care products, skin disorders such as psoriasis, and a fungus (Malassezia) that grows out of control,

The main treatment for dandruff is anti-dandruff shampoo. There are a number of different types available over the counter. These shampoos work in different ways. So, if one type isn't effective, you may want to try another one.

If you still have dandruff after several weeks of experimenting with over-the-counter (OTC) dandruff shampoos, or if your scalp becomes red or swollen, see a doctor. You may have seborrheic dermatitis or another condition that resembles dandruff.  

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common, inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, white to yellowish scales to form on oily areas such as the scalp, face or inside the ear. It can occur with or without reddened skin. Cradle cap is the term used when seborrheic dermatitis affects the scalp of infants.

Switching gears a bit, here are some tips from the American Academy of Dermatology for maintaining healthy hair:

  1. Wash oily hair more frequently. If your scalp is oily, you may need to wash it as often as once a day. If you have chemically treated hair, your hair may be drier, so you may want to wash it less frequently.  As you get older, your scalp makes less oil, so you may not need to shampoo as often. But if you see flakes in your hair, you may not be shampooing enough. This can lead to dandruff and other scalp diseases. 
  2. Concentrate shampoo on the scalp. When washing your hair, concentrate on cleaning primarily the scalp, rather than washing the entire length of hair. Washing only your hair can create flyaway hair that is dull and coarse.
  3. Use conditioner after every shampoo unless you use a “2-in-1” shampoo, which cleans and conditions hair. Using a conditioner can significantly improve the look of damaged or weathered hair. 
  4. Concentrate conditioner on the tips of the hair. Because conditioners can make fine hair look limp, they only should be used on the tips of the hair and not on the scalp or length of the hair.
  5. Choose a shampoo and conditioner formulated specifically for your hair type.

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