Can Stress Lead to Dandruff? The Answer Might Surprise You

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Stress can cause your body to react in a lot of unexpected ways, and believe it or not, it can even affect the health of your scalp. You've probably heard about stress-related hair loss, but did you know there's also a relationship between stress and dandruff? If you've noticed excess flakes lately, experts say this may explain why. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a skin condition that causes the scalp to flake and itch. It's also a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis, another condition that causes scaly patches to appear on the scalp. It's easy to think that dandruff is caused by dry skin, but as dermatologist Gilberto Alvarez, MD, once told POPSUGAR, that's not the case. "This condition occurs in areas of the body that have many oil-producing glands, the scalp being the most common one. However, some people can get it in their eyebrows, chest, and upper back," he said.

According to Dr. Alvarez, the most accepted theory regarding why dandruff occurs is that the excessive oil production results in yeast overgrowth, which in turn can cause the scalp to become inflamed.

How Does Dandruff Relate to Stress?

An important thing to remember when trying to understand the relationship between stress and dandruff is that stress isn't a cause of dandruff, it only aggravates it. "In an indirect way, stress can worsen or lead to the development of dandruff," doctor NavNirat Nibber, ND, and medical advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research, told POPSUGAR. "There are a number of causes for this symptom that include hormonal changes that cause increased oil production on the scalp, oil production making you more susceptible to a yeast overgrowth, chemical irritants such as shampoos, autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis, and more."

Stress can play a role in a number of these situations. "Chronic stress can cause immune suppression and alterations to your micro home, making you more susceptible to bacterial or yeast overgrowth," Dr. Nibber said. "It can also influence your hormonal balance, leading to increased production of oils on your scalp. So while there are many causes of seborrheic dermatitis, understanding that stress could play a role in exacerbating symptoms is important."

How Do I Know If Stress Plays a Role in My Dandruff?

An easy way to tell if stress plays a role in your dandruff is to think about when it's happening. According to Dr. Nibber, some things to keep in mind are if the dandruff appears to worsen when you're more stressed out, how small or how large the flakes are, and if you touch or play with your hair when you're stressed.

This will help you better address the underlying issue from the inside out. For stress, possible solutions might include upping your physical activity or tuning out social media. To mitigate any visible flakes for the time being, you can always consider switching to a special shampoo — a few of our favorites are Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-dandruff Shampoo ($46), DHS Tar Shampoo ($16), and Jupiter Balancing Shampoo ($21) — until you can get your stress levels to a healthier place.