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Scalp Psoriasis VS Dandruff: Identifying the Difference

Scalp Psoriasis VS Dandruff: Identifying The Difference

Experiencing the problem of dandruff is a frustrating problem many people face. By many estimates up to half of the population starting in adolescence are affected by this condition. 

So, most of the time flaking of the scalp will be dandruff or and not a more pressing skin issue. But how to know whether your discomfort is dandruff or another skin issue? Could your problems be stemming from scalp psoriasis? 

Knowledge of the distinction between scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff is crucial for understanding the proper difference and looking after your scalp accordingly. In this blog, you will discover the differences between scalp psoriasis and dandruff and get detailed instructions about handling them and reaching a healthier and happier scalp.

Is it Dandruff or Scalp Psoriasis?

Both skin situations may appear similar, as both may cause flakes in or under the hair. However, there are some apparent variations between these two skin issues. While dandruff is extremely common, scalp psoriasis is a more rare skin condition.


Psoriasis is a persistent inflammatory condition that impacts numerous systems in the human body, consisting of the skin, immune system, and musculoskeletal system. Scalp psoriasis can occur on any part of the scalp, usually causing thick, inflamed, reddish, or silvery-white scaling patches.

In psoriasis, the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy skin cells. This causes an accumulation of dead skin cells that appears as white scales or flakes. Scalp psoriasis is ffrequently confused with dandruff due to the silver-white flakes it produces.

Psoriasis affects over 8 million people in the United States. It frequently occurs in people between 15 and 25 but can arise at any age.

What are the significant signs of psoriasis?

Some of the significant signs and symptoms of scalp psoriasis are:

  • Redness and irritation.
  • Flakes.
  • Silver-white scales.
  • Hair loss.
  • Itching.
  • Dryness.
  • Burning sensation.

What could be the significant causes of psoriasis?

Scalp psoriasis is a situation believed to result from an immune system disorder. In psoriasis the body launches white blood cells, known as T-cells, and they mistakenly attack the skin.

This causes the production of new skin cells to speed up, resulting in an extraordinary buildup of dry, flaky patches on your scalp and different body parts. The accelerated manufacturing of skin cells results in thick, scaly patches on the scalp. 

The patches are often observed as redness, itching, and irritation. Numerous environmental elements can affect scalp psoriasis, including infections, stress, several drugs, hormonal changes, cold climate, and injury to the scalp.


Dandruff is a common scalp situation characterized by small, dry skin flakes that fall from the scalp. White or yellowish flakes appear on the hair, shoulders, or clothes. Dandruff is very mild scalp inflammation and causes the scalp to be itchy. However, it isn’t contagious. The white flakes which prominently show up on the hair and scalp and are simply sloughed skin cells. 

Some other skin issues that are usually confused with dandruff may include seborrheic dermatitis, cradle cap in toddlers, eczema, or fungal infection. These may have comparable symptoms. 

It is noteworthy that nearly 50 million people in the United States of America suffers from dandruff.  

What could be the symptoms of dandruff?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Oily scalp
  • Itchy scalp
  • White or yellowish flakes
  • Flaky, dry pores and skin.
  • Irritation
  • Mild redness

What could be the main reasons for dandruff?

It is believed to occur because of the presence of a yeast referred to as Malassezia that inhabits the skin. That is the same yeast that causes seborrheic dermatitis or cradle cap

The overgrowth of Malassezia yeast interacts with sebum (an oil produced by the skin), and produces byproducts that leads to increased cellular turnover and dried out skin. The visual appearance of this is a dry scalp and the arrival of flakes.

Shampoo, conditioner, or styling products can include harsh ingredients that may cause scalp inflammation and dandruff-like flakes.

Flaking of the scalp, may be a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis, another less common skin condition that causes red, inflamed skin behind the ears, in the folds of the nose, and in other characteristic areas. Seborrheic dermatitis in infants is called cradle cap. 

How is scalp psoriasis different from dandruff?

Scalp psoriasis and dandruff may appear similar, but these skin conditions have specific differences. A number of distinctions allow you to distinguish them:


Psoriasis is believed to be brought on due to immune system disorder, whereas dandruff is due to the overgrowth of the yeast referred to as Malassezia.


Dandruff flakes are typically smaller and white or yellow in coloration. Scalp psoriasis causes thicker silvery-white scales.

Itching and infection

Each situation can cause itching. However, scalp psoriasis is more extreme and may be observed through redness and inflammation.

Areas affected

Dandruff typically impacts the scalp only, but psoriasis may also enlarge past the scalp to the forehead, ears, and neck. It may additionally seem on other body parts, such as knees, elbows, and nails.

Other comparable conditions

A flaky scalp may be a symptom of various health situations, together with Seborrheic dermatitis.

  • Tinea capitis (ringworm).
  • Eczema.
  • Contact dermatitis.
  • Cradle cap.

Treating Dandruff VS Psoriasis

For dandruff, over-the-counter (OTC) products typically resolve the flaking and itching. However, dealing with scalp psoriasis requires the right treatment plan with the assistance of a psoriasis specialist–typically a board certified dermatologist.  

Dandruff remedy

The simplest and quickest way to get rid of dandruff is by using a specifically formulated anti dandruff shampoo containing active ingredients like zinc pyrithione. Pyrithione zinc is an ingredient that allows the elimination of flaking and scaling associated with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. It works through various mechanisms but the major function is thought to be by decreasing the concentration of Malassezia fungus on the scalp. 

Managing Scalp Psoriasis

Step one in managing scalp psoriasis is commonly using medicated shampoo with an OTC active ingredient like salicylic acid or coal tar. We do not advise using either of these active ingredients on children unless consulting your pediatrician or healthcare provider.

Classically, psoriasis has been managed with  topical medications. Many of these medicines include steroids, which help to reduce the irritating symptoms of the condition. There are many new biologic drugs that have come on the market in recent years that have drastically improved the quality of life for patients suffering with psoriasis.  

It is important to remember that there is no cure for psoriasis, however, following your health care provider’s guidance (including a possible referral to a dermatologist) can do wonders for your health and well-being. 


To wrap up, it’s essential to distinguish scalp psoriasis vs. dandruff to select the proper treatment. Even though over-the-counter products can usually control dandruff, scalp psoriasis needs appropriate treatment with medical supervision. 

Awareness of each condition’s signs, symptoms, and treatment options empowers you to address these situations efficiently. Trying to find an answer to your dandruff? Try Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo & Body Wash, A Pediatrician’s Solution, prevents the recurrence of flaking, itching, redness, scaling, and irritation associated with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. 


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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Can scalp psoriasis or dandruff be cured?

Unfortunately, there's no treatment for scalp psoriasis or dandruff, but each situation may be effectively controlled. Treatment aims to control signs and symptoms and reduce flare-ups. With the proper care and treatment plans, you can still enjoy the improvement of your scalp health.

What is the scientific recommendation for my scalp situation?

It is important to consult your health care provider if you are unsure what is causing the discomfort on your scalp or if over-the-counter products are not working. If they are unsure they will likely refer you to a dermatologist who can adequately diagnose the issue and suggest suitable treatment options based on your skin condition.

Can scalp psoriasis or dandruff be contagious?

Neither scalp psoriasis nor dandruff is contagious. They are each non-infectious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

Are there any herbal treatments or home remedies for scalp psoriasis or dandruff?

Generally, people can try various home remedies and herbal treatments. But we can't suggest them as we feel the risks can outweigh the benefits.

Can scalp psoriasis or dandruff cause hair loss?

Scalp psoriasis and excessive dandruff may result in temporary hair loss due to the inflammation they cause on the scalp. However, hair generally regrows with proper symptom management of the underlying condition.

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