Take it from the top: Millions of Americans are itching for relief from dandruff.
Dandruff afflicts not only the scalp, but can pop up on the eyebrows, sides of the nose, underarms, groin, chest and in the ears, notes Dr. Michael Jacobs, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell Medical College.
Technically known as seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff can trouble anyone from infants to the elderly, and is often mistakenly identified as psoriasis, which plagues 3 million Americans. Sometimes, elements of both conditions combine in a hybrid known as sebo-psoriasis.
Like musical skill and bad vision, a predilection to dandruff usually runs in families. Combine a genetic tendency with stress and, some dermatologists contend, a diet of spicy foods, and the condition can become a major headache.
* Shampoo daily. A zinc shampoo (Head and Shoulders, for instance) is a good place to start, says Jacobs. Stubborn cases demand a tar-based shampoo, but beware: Some tar shampoos (particularly those containing copper) discolor dyed hair. Neutrogena T-Gel is generally a safe bet, says Jacobs.
* Shampoo thoroughly with the tips of the fingers, not the nails, and don't be chintzy with the shampoo. A good procedure is to lather up first thing in the shower with a regular shampoo, then rinse well. Next, work up a foaming lather with the dandruff shampoo, massaging the stuff well into your scalp. Leave it on until leaving the shower.
* P & S (Phenol and Salycilic Acid) Liquid helps remove the unsightly scaling, but doesn't attack the underlying condition, Jacobs notes. Rub into the scalp at bedtime, and wash out in the morning.
* Go easy on the goop. "If you put anything occlusive on an existing dandruff case, it tends to make it worse," says Jacobs. Sprays, gels and mousses are fine for styling the ends of hair, but keep them off the scalp.
* Some dermatologists advocate brief spells under the sun. "A little sun exposure is good for dandruff," says Dr. Joseph Fowler Jr. in Men's Health magazine.
* Listen to your mother and stop picking. "You shouldn't scratch the scaling off. It irritates the scalp and makes it worse," scolds Jacobs.
* People sometimes mistake dandruff as dryness, and inadvertently aggravate the condition by massaging oil into the scalp, writes Deborah Chase in "The New Medically Based No-Nonsense Beauty Book (Henry Holt, $19.95). African-Americans should never try to self-treat using a sulfur shampoo, "which can literally dissolve chemically treated black hair," Chase writes. She advocates tar-based shampoos such as Denorex or Zincon as better choices for chemically treated black hair.
* If nothing else works, see a dermatologist. After medicinal shampoos, physicians usually recommend a cortisone preparation prescribed for the scalp.
* Folks afflicted by flakes on the skin should consult a dermatologist to determine the course of treatment usually cortisone topically applied. Reducing stress with exercise, meditation and other relaxing and pleasurable activity will also quiet down overactive glands.