Is Dandruff Contagious? Know The Truth Here!

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Annie Jangam

Do you know what spreads faster than a contagious disease or a wildfire? The answer is: myths. One such myth is – dandruff is contagious.

The truth is, dandruff is a common scalp issue affecting half of the world’s population (1). It is not a serious condition. However, the noticeable yellow-white flakes on your shoulders and hair may put you in embarrassing social situations.

When you have dandruff, the scalp may become red, itchy, and scaly. Further scratching the scalp may irritate the skin and cause discomfort. This is why it is crucial to treat dandruff at the earliest. In this article, we have debunked the myths about dandruff and explored the truth about this condition. Scroll down to know more.

Is Dandruff Contagious?

No, dandruff is not contagious! You can not catch it or pass it on to others. It is a common misconception that dandruff can spread from one person to another due to proximity or sharing of pillows or combs.

Dandruff is not a serious skin condition and is also not caused by unhygienic scalp conditions. Scroll down to learn what exactly causes dandruff.

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis is caused due to the overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia (2). This fungus naturally occurs in all warm-blooded animals, including humans. It feeds on the natural oils or scalp sebum. As a result, white and oily flakes may clump together and flake off as dandruff from the scalp.

While Malassezia may cause dandruff, there are multiple factors responsible for promoting its overgrowth. This includes using harsh products, frequent combing, shampooing, stress, weakened immune system, exposure to sunlight, and hormonal changes.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that affects the scalp and causes dandruff. They have the same features and respond to the same treatment. However, the severity and the area they affect might differ. Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that affects the seborrheic areas of your body, including the scalp. It may also affect other body parts, like the face, upper chest, and the area around the ear and the neck. When on the scalp and is accompanied by mild flaking and inflammation, it is commonly called dandruff (3).

Often, due to the lack of proper information and proper scientific research, myths are circulated about dandruff and its side effects. In the next section, we have debunked some of those common myths.

Common Myths Associated With Dandruff

Myth 1: Poor Hygiene Causes Dandruff

Truth: No, poor hygiene does not cause dandruff. In fact, over-shampooing and frequent brushing can trigger dandruff. On the other hand, not shampooing regularly can also cause product buildup, oily scalp, and excess dead skin cells, triggering Malassezia overgrowth, causing dandruff and scalp acne.

Myth 2: Dry Scalp Is Prone To Dandruff

Truth: No. Dry scalp and dandruff share the same symptom – flakiness. However, both are different. Dandruff is caused by fungal growth and dead cell and oil buildup. On the other hand, a dry scalp may be caused by a lack of moisture, harsh shampoos and conditioners, and styling products.

Myth 3: Dandruff Causes Hair Loss

Truth: No, dandruff does not cause hair loss. Frequent brushing and scratching your itchy scalp can damage your hair roots, causing hair fall and breakage. Hair fall can also be triggered by underlying issues like stress, lack of proper nutrition, and any medical condition.

Myth 4: Regular Shampooing Can Get Rid Of Dandruff

Truth: No. Over-washing can further irritate the scalp and strip the natural oils and cause hair fall and breakage. Shampooing twice or thrice a week can keep the scalp clean, balance the pH levels, and prevent Malassezia overgrowth. Also, you need medicated shampoos to get rid of dandruff.

Medicated dandruff shampoos are effective as they contain ingredients that may eliminate dandruff. They are available either on prescription or as OTC products.

How Can I Treat Dandruff?

Here is a list of OTC products and ingredients that may help clear dandruff (4).

Anti-Dandruff ShampoosHow They Work
Nizoral (contains ketoconazole)

Loprox (contains ciclopirox)


Ketoconazole and ciclopirox are antifungal ingredients that can eliminate the dandruff-causing fungus, making them very effective against dandruff.



Neutrogena T-Sal (contains salicylic acid)

Selsun Blue (contains selenium sulfide)

Sulfur or salicylic acid-based shampoos can dissolve scales from the scalp and eliminate dandruff flakes. These keratinolytic agents prevent hardening of the scalp.


Selenium sulfide is an antimicrobial agent that reduces Malassezia growth. However, it might leave the hair oily or greasy.


Tip: Always use a conditioner as these products might dry out the scalp.

Head & Shoulders (contains zinc pyrithione)Zinc pyrithione has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It controls oil production and exfoliates the scalp removing flaky dandruff.
Neutrogena T-Gel and Zetar (contain coal tar)


Tar-based products prevent microbial growth and remove dandruff flakes. However, they can stain easily. Hence, they may not be suitable for blonde or light-colored hair.
Clobex (contains Clobetasol)Corticosteroids are effective in reducing inflammation.
How To Use
  1. Follow the instructions on the shampoo bottle.
  2. Some products can be washed off immediately. However, for effective results, leave them on for 5-10 minutes.
  3. You can use them weekly or monthly, depending on the severity of dandruff.

You can find a detailed list of the best drugstore anti-dandruff shampoos here. You may read this article if you are looking for home remedies.

These are the best products to treat dandruff. Are you wondering if these shampoos cure dandruff forever? Scroll down to find out.

Can You Cure Dandruff Permanently?

No. You cannot cure dandruff, but you can control it with the remedies. As long as you follow the measures and use products to prevent Malassezia overgrowth, dandruff may not recur.

Hence, it is crucial to use the products regularly as a preventive measure. You can keep dandruff at bay with a good hair care routine. Also, follow a healthy, active, and stress-free lifestyle. However, if the problem persists, consult a dermatologist.


Stop losing your sleep by thinking dandruff is contagious. Although it is not life-threatening, it can be an embarrassing and frustrating experience if not treated at the earliest. There are effective OTC anti-dandruff shampoos to get rid of dandruff. Try using them, and if the problem persists, consult a doctor to diagnose and treat the underlying condition.


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Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."