How to Deal with Facial Dandruff
Facial dandruff - or any dandruff in general, in fact, is arguably one of the most unsexy topics in the world, but this condition affects up to 30% of the population and is worthy of discussion. It is not just an aesthetic annoyance either. Facial dandruff can also cause itching, irritation, and sometimes even mild pain. We spoke to two dermatologists about the causes of facial dandruff and the best ways to treat those pesky flakes completely.
What is facial dandruff?
Generally speaking, dandruff is a non-medical term that refers to white flakes that are often paired with itching, redness, and sometimes discomfort or pain. Facial dandruff is most likely to occur on the eyebrows, goatee area in men, nose, ears, and fine lines. In some cases, dandruff is simply the result of excessive dryness or irritation caused by external factors such as cold air or certain ingredients in products.
In other cases, dandruff is actually caused by a medical condition called seborrheic dermatitis. Simply put, this is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness and flaking on the skin, especially in areas with lots of sebaceous glands or areas where hair grows. "Commonly affected areas include the scalp, face, chest, and [rarely] genitals or body wrinkles." Melanie D. Palm, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of the Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, California. "Seborrheic dermatitis is exacerbated by an abnormal growth and imbalance of yeast on the skin." This yeast (Malassezia) is already present on our skin, but when it is out of balance, it can cause dandruff to grow.
Factors that can cause imbalance include hormones, genetics, poor hygiene, stress, and aging. "When there is an excess, skin cells multiply at a much faster rate and excess oil accumulates,' explains Scott Paviol, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Paviol Dermatology in Charlotte, North Carolina. 'That excess oil causes skin cells to build up and [the skin] sheds more than normal. White, or sometimes yellowish, scales flake off, causing dandruff.
How to treat dandruff on the face
To treat facial dandruff, you need to know the cause of the flakes. As mentioned earlier, there are two main causes: dryness and irritation, and the skin condition seborrheic dermatitis.
Treatment of dandruff on the face due to dryness and irritation
The treatment is to remove (or reduce) any potential irritants that may have been applied to the facial skin. Common irritants include alcohol, fragrances, strong preservatives, dyes, and detergents. These are more likely to affect people with sensitive skin or those who are allergic to any of the above.
Additionally, overuse of exfoliating agents such as acids, enzymes, retinoids, and benzoyl peroxide can cause dryness, sensitivity, redness, and peeling. These ingredients can be great on our skin in moderation, but should be used according to directions. If in doubt, read the directions on the label and scale back if you notice they are causing dandruff or irritation on your face.
And of course, always wear a moisturizer. Moisturizers such as hyaluronic acid, when combined with skin softeners such as oils and butters, can help promote hydration and retain moisture. Skin barrier-strengthening ingredients such as ceramides, peptides, and niacinamide can further protect the skin and help remove those flakes.
How to Treat Facial Dandruff Caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis
To tackle this type of facial dandruff, you need to rebalance the yeast in your skin. The information above continues to apply (avoid irritants and be religious about moisturizing), but you can also incorporate special medicated products. There is technically no cure for seborrheic dermatitis, but it can reduce the discomfort and greatly reduce its appearance.
'I recommend using a topical antifungal cream to treat the yeast. You can also use a zinc or sulfur cleanser to target the yeast and inflammation,' says Dr. Palm. 'However, do not use topical steroids in this condition. It may initially improve seborrheic dermatitis, but the skin will adjust to the steroid use, the steroid 'feed'. Yeast infections, and are difficult to taper off without causing another flare-up.
Dr. Palm's favorite products for treating facial dandruff include Noble Formulas' 2% Pyrithione Zinc (ZnP) Original Emu Bar Soap and Glytone Acne Treatment Mask, which targets excess oil production by blending it with sulfur.
Dr. Pabiol adds that if you already use medicated shampoos and conditioners, you can also use them to treat facial dandruff. (He recommends Head & Shoulders Clinically Strength Dandruff Defense Intensive Itch Relief Shampoo and Cellular Dandruff Shampoo).
Either way, a dermatologist can provide individualized insight into why you're dealing with facial dandruff and put you on the right track for treatment and long-term management. Dr. Paviol says, "If you don't see improvement after a month, you should consult with a local dermatologist to see if you need prescription medication to treat a more resistant case."