Wise up to the causes of this embarrassing scalp condition and learn ways to treat it!


Yikes, you’ve spotted tiny white flakes on your kid’s shoulders and also their scalp and hair. This is often the first sign of dandruff.

Needless to say, these unsightly flakes of dead skin can cause them to feel self-conscious and turn them into an easy victim for the school bully.

Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital’s Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic, says for that reason, she often spends a fair bit of time counselling and encouraging her young patients, even as she treats them.

Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis (SD) of the scalp, is a common condition that produces a scaling rash that is sometimes itchy. The condition may appear at any age either gradually or suddenly. Apart from the scalp, Dr Tan notes that SD can also occur on the eyebrows, eyelids, ears, areas around the nose, chest and upper back and skinfolds at the armpits or near the groin.

Incidentally, SD is also responsible for causing cradle cap in newborns — a yellowish, greasy and crusty rash on your infant’s scalp.

If your young ’un has dandruff, Dr Tan notes that it could be caused by the following:

* Poor personal hygiene Junior’s oily and greasy scalp increases their risk of getting SD, especially if they do not practise good hygiene habits, says Dr Tan. “It’s good to give your child a routine they can stick to, such as bathing and shampooing after returning from school or sports and to avoid sleeping with wet hair.”

* Stress Malassezia furfur is a naturally occurring yeast that can be found on the scalp. But in patients who have dandruff, the yeast multiplies because their immunity is poor because of stress. However, Dr Tan assures that dandruff is not contagious or related to one’s diet.

“It’s good to give your child a routine they can stick to, such as bathing and shampooing after returning from school or sports and to avoid sleeping with wet hair.”

* Puberty Junior will experience a lot of bodily changes as they go through puberty such as the increased secretion of oil and sebum on their skin. This change in skin condition will definitely increase the risk of a Malasezzia overgrowth causing scalp inflammation and SD.

* Hair products If your child has sensitive scalp, exposure to hair dyes, bleaching and hair care products — including those containing essential oils — may give them an itchy, red and scaly scalp, further aggravating their dandruff. Dr Lim advises that you bring junior to a dermatologist, who can do a patch test to determine what they’re allergic to.

How to treat dandruff?

Wash your hair daily with medicated shampoo and alternate with regular daily-use shampoo when your child’s condition improves.

Dr Tan points out, “Medicated shampoos should contain ingredients such as selenium sulphide, tar or salicylic acid, many of which are available as over-the-counter products.”

If your kiddo’s condition does not improve, Dr Tan says that you should bring them to see a dermatologist. The doctor will prescribe an even stronger range of medicated shampoos containing ingredients such as ketoconazole or ciclopirox and other non-greasy corticosteroid solutions.

After shampooing and bathing, junior should also avoid brushing their hair too vigorously and frequently as it will worsen their dandruff.

Do remind your child to refrain from scratching his scalp as this can cause a secondary infection, which will require them to take a course of oral antibiotics. In cases of severe dandruff, the dermatologist will need to screen for any immunity issues such as HIV or other infectious diseases.

Photo: iStock

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