What Are the Common Causes of Flaky Hair?

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  • Written By: April S. Kenyon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2019
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When flakes are present, scalp hair can appear dirty or insanitary. Flaky hair results when dislodged flakes of skin from the scalp become visible throughout the hair. There may be underlying medical issues that cause the scalp to flake or shed, and the condition is frequently not related to poor hygiene. The appearance of flaky hair can stem from a variety of physical disorders.

Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as seborrheic eczema, is likely influenced by inflammation that occurs due to an overgrowth of yeast, but the definitive cause remains unknown. Flaky hair is the first sign of this ailment, but the symptoms may arise at any site on the face, adjacent to the ears, or in the folds of skin. The affected areas commonly redden and are then followed by the appearance of white, yellow, or gray flakes. In babies three months old or younger, seborrheic dermatitis is commonly called “cradle cap” and usually resolves without medical intervention. A physician should be consulted if the symptoms fail to resolve themselves, as hair follicle damage can result in permanent hair loss.


Dandruff, or pityriasis, is regularly initiated by exposure to extremely high or low temperatures and refers to the shedding, or release, of dead skin cells from the scalp. The condition, which is due to unusually high cell-turnover, is frequently accompanied by uncomfortable itching and may worsen during the winter season. Minor degrees of flaking are not uncommon and are considered completely normal. In some instances, people may experience a larger-than-normal degree of flaky hair that is also accompanied by redness and inflammation. Dandruff is usually treated effectively with medicated shampoos containing salicylic acid or sulfur.

Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis and often presents as scaly white and silvery patches on the top layer of skin. These “plaques” often occur on the skin of the joints, but may affect any region of the body, including the scalp. The patches periodically slough off causing flaky hair. This chronic disorder seems to have a genetic link and tends to cycle repeatedly through remission and reappearance. There are a wide range of treatments available, such as coal tar, moisturizers and corticosteroids.

Dry scalp can also contribute to flaky hair and may be misdiagnosed as dandruff. This condition actually occurs less frequently than dandruff, but still results in itchiness and flaking. When the skin of the scalp becomes excessively dry from overuse of hair products, chemical processing or poor diet, itchiness and flaking can result. Unlike the larger flakes associated with dandruff, the flaky hair displays very small flakes when caused by dry scalp. The symptoms are normally treated through the application of moisturizers and deep conditioners.


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