African Hair and Dandruff Problems

Hair with dandruff
Photo: Goncharov Artem/Shutterstock
Q: I have short, African-American hair and really bad dandruff problems. I had a perm/chemical straightener in my hair. I need help. What do you suggest?
A: You don't specify whether you had the problem with dandruff before the chemical straightener or after, so let's approach it both ways.
Real dandruff is generally characterized by largish, greasy flakes and is associated with a fungus called Malassezia (formerly called pityrosporum). Fine, powdery flakes with an itchy, tight-feeling scalp are generally symptomatic of a dry scalp.
Chemical hair treatments (like straighteners and perms) can dry the scalp causing itchiness and flakes. If you had dandruff before the straightening, it is likely that the chemical process has only aggravated the condition.
Either way, the treatments available for dandruff can be useful in combating dry scalp as well. Look for hair care products containing zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, or tar. These are common but effective ingredients for treating dandruff, as they cleanse the scalp and will kill any associated fungi. Some of these ingredients also help to open the pores and promote a balancing of the production of oils of the scalp.
Select a product and use it, being sure to leave it on the scalp for 5 minutes to allow the ingredients to have their full effect, then rinse thoroughly. Lathering twice is recommended to most efficiency. Afterward, condition the hair as you normally would but be sure to use a moisture-rich conditioning agent as these products can dry the hair. Use of a leave-in conditioner is also advised, particularly a spray-on conditioner as it can be targeted to the hair itself.
Use the shampoo daily for a week, and if the flakes are still present, try a different product/formula. If the shampoo you selected does seem to be effective for you, you can reduce the frequency of shampooing to two-to-three times a week for a few weeks, and taper off to a weekly shampooing if the reduced usage seems to remain effective.
However, if after trying several products with no results, or if the flaking and itching worsen, or you develop inflammation or redness of the scalp, consult your physician. There are illnesses that can cause flaking and dryness of the scalp and they can become serious if left untreated.
See also:
What shampoo is the best to get rid of dandruff?
What is the difference between oily dandruff and dry dandruff?
Home remedies for dandruff