Is Dandruff the Same as Scalp Psoriasis?

The symptoms of dandruff and scalp psoriasis are similar.  They each involve an itchy, dry scalp and white flakes.  If you understand the differences between the two conditions, it can be easier for you to find the most effective treatment.  In fact, scalp psoriasis can even cause dandruff, so there is a close relationship between them.

Scalp psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in inflammation, flaking, and thick white, silver or red patches.  Occurring anywhere on the scalp, psoriasis can appear as a small patch or a large area that covers the entire scalp.  The condition can actually occur anywhere on the body, and even when it appears on the scalp, it can extend to bordering areas such as the neck, ears, or forehead, but it is not contagious.

While scalp psoriasis is a chronic condition, those who have it generally experience periodic flare-ups.  Many experts attribute this to an overactive immune system, which is triggered and then rapidly produces immature skin cells and inflammation.  Normal skin cells mature gradually and flake off in about a month, with new skin cells growing to replace these as they shed.  In psoriasis, the new skin cells quickly move to the surface, building up and forming thick patches known as plaques.  In addition to the scalp, other common places for them to occur are the elbows, knees, and hands.

Some people with psoriasis notice that their flare-ups coincide with infections, stress, and being in a cold, dry climate.  When symptoms appear, they can go into remission without treatment and return again later, but a variety of treatments are recommended.   Since many cases can be mild, proper skin care that involves moisturizing the skin or applying aloe vera can be effective, particularly when combined with prescription shampoos and medications.  For cases of psoriasis that are more difficult to treat, your doctor can help you to determine the right combination of interventions that work for you.  Since the condition is chronic, these treatments may continue throughout one’s life.

In contrast to scalp psoriasis, dandruff may be caused by a fungal infection or a form of eczema that can worsen with hormonal or seasonal changes.  Not brushing hair or shampooing enough may contribute to the white, oily flakes that appear in the hair and shoulders as skin cells are shed excessively.  A red, itchy scalp also occurs during this rapid cycling of cells.

People who have psoriasis or eczema often get dandruff, but it is important to note that they are two separate conditions.  While the symptoms are similar, the treatments differ.  Dandruff is commonly treated with special shampoos, either over-the-counter or prescription, while psoriasis is treated with a variety of combinations of shampoos, topical treatments, and oral medications.  Both conditions generally respond well to shampoos that contain coal tar or salicylic acid.  Office treatments such as UV light therapy and steroid injections also may be used for psoriasis.

Your dermatologist can diagnose your dandruff or scalp psoriasis and help you to determine the most effective course of treatment for your condition.

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