How To Treat Dandruff In Kids: Causes And Treatment

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
by Ramona Sinha

Dandruff affects people of all ages, including kids. The lifestyle of most children involves hours of outdoor playing, making them susceptible to dust-related skin issues and dandruff.

Dandruff is another form of seborrheic dermatitis. In infants, it is often called cradle cap and is manageable with the right treatment. However, flaking and itching can persist for long, causing dandruff. Many possible factors may cause dry scalp and dandruff in children. This article discusses all those factors, long with dandruff management tips. Keep reading.

Identifying The Causes Of Dandruff In Children

Multiple factors may cause dry scalp and dandruff in children. These are:

1. Unbalanced Diet

The deficiency of nutrients like zinc, niacin, riboflavin, and pyridoxine may trigger conditions similar to seborrheic dermatitis. However, the mechanism is yet unknown (1). Many kids are picky eaters and prefer unhealthy junk food over a balanced diet. Such unbalanced diets may cause nutritional deficiencies and dandruff.

2. Sensitivity To Shampoos And Conditioners

Several ingredients in shampoos and conditioners may sensitize the scalp, causing dryness, itching, flaking, and dandruff-like symptoms. To avoid this, use pediatrician-recommended hair care products for your child.

3. Malassezia

Malassezia, a yeast-like fungus, can trigger dandruff. The two strains, M. globosa and M. restricta, cause dandruff. However, Malassezia is commonly found in oily skin (2). It can cause dandruff in growing children who have reached puberty and are experiencing hormonal changes.

4. Improper Shampooing

Improper washing and post-shampoo rinsing techniques may cause product buildup. Dust and dirt accumulation can aggravate the condition and cause scalp dryness, itching, and flaking.

5. Eczema

Seborrheic eczema is a condition that causes itchy, red, and scaly patches and dandruff. This condition affects the scalp and any area that produces oils and may trigger dandruff in children. Dandruff is common during puberty. Read on to know more.

6. Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is a type of seborrheic dermatitis in kids. This condition causes flakiness, crusty, and oily patches on the kid’s scalp and causes itchiness and discomfort.

Puberty And Dandruff

Dandruff is a common occurrence during puberty that begins at any age between 8 and 14 years. During this period, hormonal changes may trigger excess sebum production. Malassezia feeds on the skin lipids (3). This leads to dandruff.

Read on to know about the signs and symptoms of dandruff in children.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dandruff In Children

The most identifiable signs and symptoms of dandruff in children are:

  • Visible white flakes on the scalp and clothing
  • Constant itching
  • Red and inflamed patches on the scalp

If you see any or all of the symptoms on your kid’s scalp, consult a pediatrician and start treatment immediately, as untreated dandruff may affect the scalp health.

Harmful Effects Of Dandruff On Child’s Scalp

Untreated dandruff may lead to constant itching and scratching and can:

  • Injure the scalp skin
  • Cause redness
  • Injure the hair follicles and cause hair loss
  • Other bacterial infection (due to itching and scratching)

Early treatment can minimize the chances of major scalp issues in children. The following sections discuss medication and natural remedies to treat dandruff in children.

Treatment For Dandruff In Children

Use Medicated Shampoos

Medicated anti-dandruff shampoos contain antifungal ingredients (like ketoconazole) to relieve dry and itchy scalp and Malassezia growth. However, consult a pediatrician for product recommendations as per the kid’s age and severity of dandruff.

You may also go for natural home remedies to manage dandruff and keep the scalp healthy.

Home Remedies To Treat Dandruff In Kids

1. Fenugreek Extracts

Fenugreek leaf extracts can prevent Malassezia growth and minimize dandruff and other fungal infections (4). Grind fenugreek leaves into a paste and massage it onto your child’s scalp. Leave it on for 15-30 minutes and then wash off.

2. Yogurt

Oral intake of probiotics can improve the skin barrier function and reduce dandruff (5).

Confused about when to reach out to a doctor for treatment? Keep reading for clarity!

Reaching Out To A Doctor

It is better to visit a doctor if:

  • The kid has rashes on other body parts in addition to dandruff.
  • Anti-dandruff shampoos do not yield any results for several weeks.
  • The scalp has turned red due to continuous scratching.
  • The child has a weak immune system.

Final Thoughts

Dandruff is a common occurrence in kids and is not a major issue when treated appropriately. Kids often do not understand the implications and may scratch the scalp and further aggravate the condition. That is why early detection is crucial. Maintain proper scalp hygiene and use pediatrician-recommended products to keep your child’s scalp healthy and dandruff-free.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Are medicated shampoos harmful for kids?

No. Medicated shampoos are not harmful for kids. However, the concentration of medicinal ingredients differs according to the age group. Always consult a pediatrician before using medicated shampoos for kids.

What is the difference between cradle cap and dandruff?

Both are forms of seborrheic dermatitis. However, cradle cap is seen in infants (3 months to a year), while dandruff occurs in growing children, especially during puberty (anywhere between 8 and 14 years).

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Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.