What Causes Your Hair to Flake and How to Treat Them

When flakes appear on your hair, you might suspect it’s dandruff, but they actually appear for a variety of reasons.

This article will discuss what causes flaking and when it is important to see a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

dry skin

Usually, when flakes appear on your hair, it’s because your scalp is dry and the flakes fall into your hair.

Skin conditions that can cause dryness and flaking of the scalp and hair include:

  • psoriasis
  • eczema
  • seborrheic dermatitis

If the dryness is due to a skin condition, the flakes are heavier, and in some cases, itchy patches or powdery flakes on the scalp may also appear.


Treatment includes:

  • Shampoos that help control dandruff
  • tea tree oil
  • Tar Shampoo
  • topical steroids

If there is no change in over-the-counter products, healthcare providers can prescribe shampoos and ointments to reduce flakes.


Gel is a common product used to hold hair in place. It can also cause flakes that can be mistaken for dandruff.

The gel is not known to be water-soluble, and due to the ingredients mixed with other products in the hair, it can stiffen and flake. This leaves a white substance on the hair strands.


When using hairspray, try not to overdo it with other products, as this can lead to buildup. Make sure your hair is clean and damp enough to absorb the gel. Try not to touch your hair with your fingers after applying.

seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition known to cause yellow, white powdery or crusty flakes on the scalp. It is a lifelong disorder that sometimes flares up but is relatively easy to manage.

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People with oily skin or psoriasis are also prone to seborrheic dermatitis. Symptoms of this condition also include flaky patches on the hairline, which fall out onto the hair when the scalp is scratched.


Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis includes prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Some prescription options include:

  • corticosteroids
  • calcineurin inhibitor
  • topical antifungal

Shampoos that reduce flaking can also help.

A healthcare provider can offer you treatment options based on your condition.


When a person has dandruff, it is due to excess oil on the scalp, and the skin cells on the scalp tend to slough off faster than usual. It can also be due to an overgrowth of yeast in the body.

While dandruff is normal if it is mild, if it is excessive, it may be due to an underlying skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.

Other factors that can cause dandruff include:

  • climate
  • diseases affecting the nervous system
  • weakened immune system


Many shampoos can help reduce dandruff:

  • Zinc pyrithione in shampoos acts as an antibacterial agent.
  • Tar-based shampoos are known to slow down skin cell growth on the scalp.
  • Salicylic acid helps reduce scaling on the scalp.

Other ingredients like selenium sulfide and Nizoral AD have antifungal properties that help reduce dandruff-causing fungus.

If over-the-counter shampoos don’t work, you may need a prescription shampoo from your healthcare provider.

Be sure to read the directions and use these shampoos as directed. If you have any questions, please contact your healthcare provider.

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Psoriasis is a condition that causes thick, scaly patches to appear on the skin. This is due to the rapid growth of skin cells.

When a person has psoriasis, skin cells develop in three to four days instead of the typical 28 to 30 days. This is due to the immune response in the body.

There are several types of psoriasis. The most common is plaque psoriasis; another common form is scalp psoriasis.

About 45% to 56% of people with this condition have scalp psoriasis. It looks like scales on the scalp that look like crusty patches. Dandruff occurs from the exfoliation on the scales and plaques when you scratch.


If scalp psoriasis is mild, over-the-counter shampoos containing tar or salicylic acid can control symptoms. Tar is known to reduce inflammation, scaling, and itching, while salicylic acid exfoliates the skin and softens patches.

In more extreme cases, medicated shampoos and phototherapy with UV light are another treatment option. Based on the severity, a dermatologist will determine the best treatment for the condition.

When to see a healthcare provider

The deciding factor for when to see a doctor depends on the condition and severity of the flakes.

If itching persists, patches appear on the scalp, and the problem doesn’t improve with over-the-counter medications, it’s time to make an appointment with a healthcare provider. They can help you understand your condition and/or refer you to a dermatologist so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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VigorTip words

Having flakes in the hair is manageable. The first step is to understand why you have flakes. If you have a skin condition, your healthcare provider can help you manage a specific diagnosis.

If you have flakes and find that an over-the-counter product doesn’t work, call your healthcare provider. They can help you find a treatment plan that suits your lifestyle needs, so you can move forward with confidence without worrying about flakes in your hair. There is always a solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you remove flakes from hair?

    To remove flakes from your hair, you first have to figure out why they’re there. If the flakes are dandruff caused by dryness and product buildup, a dandruff shampoo should help. If a specific skin condition is causing your hair to fall out, a healthcare provider can help you develop a treatment plan.

  • How to get rid of debris from hair without washing it?

    One way to get rid of debris from your hair without washing is to use a fine-toothed comb to get them out. Massaging jojoba or coconut oil into the scalp may also help, but their effects vary from person to person.

  • What is the best treatment for seborrheic dermatitis?

    The best treatment for seborrheic dermatitis depends on the severity of the condition. If it’s mild, over-the-counter products can help. For more severe cases, healthcare providers may prescribe medications, including corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors, and antifungals. A dermatologist can create a specialized treatment plan, which may include dandruff shampoos, topical medications, and barrier repair creams.