Sick and tired of Dandruff with Dreads? We’ve all been there and with all the different causes to your Dreadlock Dandruff we know how it feels like an endless battle. In this article we’ll cover all the causes for Itchy Dread Dandruff and give you practical solutions so that you can finally gain control of your Itchy Scalp with Dreads once and for all!
SHARE AND HELP A FRIEND
What you’ll learn in this article (nav links):
What exactly is Dreadlock Dandruff and Sebum?
Dandruff is an waxy, flaky shedding of skin and oil from the scalp that is mainly caused by an overreaction to yeast found on the skin. This overreaction leads to an overproduction of oils causing irritation and oily, waxy flakes. Many people think Dreadlock Dandruff is solely caused by a dry scalp but that’s not the case at all. In fact using too much product on your scalp (although moisturizing) can suffocate your scalp and lead to other dandruff issues!
SEBUM (pronounced see-bum)
It’s also important to understand what Sebum is for the sake of this article since Sebum and Dandruff go hand in hand. Sebum is the oily substance that is secreted by the sebaceous glands in your scalp. Sebum production is a process that helps moisturize the hair and skin naturally. The Sebum then combines with dead skin cells, sweat, and dirt. An effective shampoo will effectively bind with this mixture and remove it when you wash the shampoo out.
YEAST (aka Malassezia)
Malassezia is a naturally occurring microbe that feeds on the natural oils (sebum) of the scalp. It’s important to clarify that Sebum in general is not the enemy and not the issue you want to attack. The yeast that feeds on the sebum is the enemy and the overproduction of Sebum simply makes matters worse. However a balanced production of Sebum will give you a healthy and well balanced moisturized scalp naturally.
This is why ingredients like Sodium Lauryl Sulfates in Shampoos have been under scrutiny, powerful ingredients like SLS removes far too much sebum from the scalp resulting in your scalp overcompensating and producing even more Sebum in a short amount of time. This leads to overuse of shampoo and dread dandruff issues if you stop using it abruptly locking you into the vicious shampoo cycle.
Another thing to consider is that Dandruff can potentially lead to hair loss because the sebum is excreted through the same pore that the hair is contained in. When sebum is overproduced and not removed from the pore it can lead to inflammation and scarring, which can lead to hair loss. This can also lead to Sebum buildup in dreadlocks that we see all too often.
What causes Dandruff with Dreads?
Dandruff has a wide range of causes and also many issues which exaggerate dandruff symptoms. Once you read through these points you’ll start to understand a domino effect which may be taking place leading to your Dreadlock Dandruff issues. Following these points we will give you a handful of practical solutions to implement into your lifestyle for Dandruff-free Dreads.
It’s important to first understand and gain control of any overproduction of Sebum. This overproduction can be caused by many different factors in the diet, digestion, stress, and hormones in your body. Controlling any overproduction of sebum will help to reduce the yeast buildup which will help reduce Dandruff with Dreads.
Malassezia is the naturally occurring fungi (the yeast) that feeds on the Sebum. Generally speaking an over supply of sebum then results in yeast overgrowth. The second part of this process is to reduce this yeast growth by keeping your scalp at a healthy pH level, more on that in the points that follow.
OLEIC ACID SENSITIVITY
The yeast that feeds off the sebum then produces oleic acid as a waste byproduct. The oleic acid then causes more skin cells to flake off resulting in added flakiness of your scalp. Therefore, an overproduction or sensitivity to oleic acid will likely result in Dreadlock Dandruff. This is the final and main contributor of dandruff because approximately 50% of the population is sensitive to oleic acid.
Diets high in processed foods, sugars, yeast, and unhealthy fats can lead to changes in hormones that trigger higher sebum and oil production. Alternatively, foods high in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids improve skin health. A good multivitamin may improve your Dreadlock Dandruff experience.
POOR DIGESTION & NUTRIENT ABSORPTION
In addition to consuming a healthy diet, some people cannot absorb the nutrients properly resulting in a shift in hormones as well. If you’re dealing with any type of digestive issues such as acid reflux, leaky gut, candida, sibo, food sensitivities, or ibs, it’s likely that your digestion isn’t working at it’s full capacity and you’re lacking nutrients and minerals that contribute to a healthy oil production of your scalp.
Stress doesn’t necessarily cause Dandruff with Dreads but it can make dandruff symptoms worse. Long periods of stress weakens the natural defenses of the body resulting in a lesser ability to deal with the yeast that causes dandruff in the first place.
As stated in the diet and digestion points above, your oil production is controlled by your hormones.
HIGH PH LEVELS
When your scalp is a healthy pH range of 4.5 to 5.5 it is slightly acidic which helps to kill off yeast and bacteria. Therefore, a healthy pH range will contribute to a normalized level of Yeast on your scalp reducing the likelihood of Dandruff with Dreads. Unfortunately, many people experience higher pH levels due to a variety of factors allowing an overgrowth of yeast which are outlined below.
HARD WATER (high PH)
The pH of your water plays a much more important role than you probably realize. Water is typically considered hard at a pH of 8.5 and considered soft at a pH of 6.5 yet a healthy pH of your scalp should be 4.5-5.5.
Hard water combined with high pH in a poorly formulated shampoo can lead to dandruff, breakage, and other problems with your hair and scalp over time.
DISCONTINUED USE OF CONDITIONER WITH NEW DREADLOCKS
Conditioners are typically designed to be acidic in order to bring the pH level of your scalp back to healthy levels after using an alkaline shampoo. But since conditioners prevent knots from forming and also build up in dreadlocks they are not recommend for dread use. The discontinued use of Conditioners then allows your scalp to remain at a higher pH level from due to shampoo, hard water, and other external factors.
CASTILE SOAPS (high PH)
Castile soaps and ‘shampoos’ formulated with Saponified Oils tend to be high in pH and are also very poor at cleaning the hair in hard water and can also leave film coating on the hair. Even when Castile Soaps are diluted properly with tap water the pH will still be too high, they must be diluted properly with purified water to strive for an ideal pH level. This double-whammy of hard water and high pH Castile Soap can be avoiding by simply using a proper shampoo instead. You can learn more details with our post on why we recommend avoiding Castile Soaps for your Dreadlocks.
FREQUENT BAKING SODA USE (high PH)
Every now and then we come across someone using baking soda and Apple Cider Vinegar to replace their shampoo. Baking soda is EXTREMELY harsh on your scalp and should only be used as a Deep Cleanse no more than 4 times per year. It’s also important to understand that you should never combine baking soda and ACV together, they should be used in sequence with each other. The baking soda is harsh with an extremely high pH level and it strips dirt from the hair and scalp and the ACV must be used afterwards to restore the pH back to healthy levels. Mixing these two together cancels them out and renders them relatively ineffective.
Learn how to use this powerful combo properly with our ACV and Baking Soda Dread Cleanse Guide.
SHAMPOO WITH HIGH PH
The pH level of your shampoo is just one more piece of this crazy pH puzzle. The majority of shampoos are formulated at a higher pH level than they should be for your scalp. Determining that level is difficult since most shampoos do not list the pH level of their product. Another thing that makes determining pH of shampoo difficult is that paper pH strips are not very accurate. So a more precise tool such as a digital pH meter is required to measure accurately.
SODIUM LAUREL SULFATES (SLS) AND POWERFUL SURFACTANTS
Shampoos that have strong surfactants such as Sodium Laurel Sulfate are too powerful for normal washing of your scalp. These powerful ingredients strip so much oil from your scalp that it causes an unnatural imbalance and your scalp overproduces Sebum to compensate. So you may experience dry itchy scalp after the oils have been stripped and then oily flaking when your scalp pumps out extra Sebum to compensate.
SHAMPOO WITH EXTRA INGREDIENTS
Unnecessary ingredients can contribute to Dandruff with Dreads. Shampoos with silicone coat the hair which can unnaturally lock in the oil and Sebum. Parabens in shampoo can mimic estrogen which may throw your hormones off and lead to Dandruff issues. And other ingredients may throw your scalp out of whack. Some people are also sensitive to some ingredients and are not even aware of it causing contact dermatitis which may be confused with dandruff.
Some people are under the misconception that you cannot or should not wash dreadlocks. This is a horribly inaccurate misconception, as dreadlocks certainly should be washed. Some people wash their dreadlocks too frequently and others don’t wash often enough, or even at all.. Shampooing too frequently can lead to dryness and irritation. On the other hand, washing too infrequently will lead to Sebum buildup over time for most people and it is likely to lead to excessive yeast growth.
It’s important to find a wash frequency that works well for your scalp and with the shampoo you’re using. It’s also important to adjust your frequency gradually since the Sebum production of your scalp changes slowly. The most common wash cycle for dreadlocks tends to be once per week, which is what we recommend in most cases. If your dreadlocks are brand new however, we recommend twice per week. Washing this frequently is not an option for those who twist their dreadlocks which is part of the reason why we recommend crocheting dreadlocks over twisting dreadlocks, learn more about the Crochet Method here.
Getting new dreadlocks, especially ones that are professionally installed, will leave some people feeling very itchy and in some cases flaky. Even if you’ve never dealt with dandruff in the past then your new dreadlocks may cause some itching. This happens because of a major shift in wash frequency, changing shampoo, lack of conditioner, a general shock to the scalp, and for people using the twisting method with lots of product it can be a buildup of too much product suffocating the scalp.
For some people it’s common to experience an itchy scalp right after a fresh maintenance. This is simply part of the maintenance process and something you’ll have to deal with to some extent.
TENSION ON THE DREADLOCKS
This specific cause is based in experience only. It seems that when the dreadlocks are braided or tied tightly and there is tension on the scalp that dandruff symptoms tend to get worse in those areas. Very long heavy dreadlocks could also contribute to this type of tension and dandruff.
If your dreadlocks are always braided or tied up tightly try going without for a week or two to see if it relieves your dread dandruff issues. If you have very long dreadlocks are OK with cutting some length, it might be worth considering.
DEHYDRATION OR DRY WINTER AIR
Dehydration may lead to a dry itchy scalp with dreadlocks but isn’t necessarily dandruff per se. If you’re dealing with very dry dandruff issues this may be a simple solution but if you’re experiencing an oiliness with your itchy scalp then it’s most likely a Sebum issue and not a dry scalp issue.
YOUNG AGE AND DANDRUFF – OLD AGE AND DRY SCALP
For those who experience dandruff, younger people are likely to experience it the most since puberty and teenage years contribute to drastic hormonal changes. Old age may also contribute to higher cases of dryer scalps but lower cases of dandruff since sebum production decreases as we age.
OTHER SCALP CONDITIONS
Skin conditions such as psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and eczema may be confused with dandruff or make Dread Dandruff worse.
How to understand the difference?
Dandruff results in loose flakes of skin that are typically white in color. Mild itching is common but not severe and accompanied by oiliness.
Eczema, similar to dandruff, is typically a greasy scaling on the scalp. The key indicator of eczema is that it is often red and inflamed accompanied by yellowish flakes with more server itching and can also show up in other parts of your body. Eczema is basically a more exaggerated version of dandruff.
Psoriasis is characterized by thick, red, scaling plaques and commonly present in other areas of the body such as elbows, knees, back, hands, and legs.
Sebo-psoriasis is generally considered an overlap of seborrheic dermatitis (eczema) and psoriasis.
Contact Dermatitis is caused when the skin is inflamed and scaly due to an allergic reaction typically caused by chemicals in hair dye, shampoo, conditioner, and other products.
If you believe you have a condition other than mild dandruff we highly recommend doing more reading on the other conditions listed above and contacting your dermatologist.
High Sebum Levels
mainly due to Hormones
poor diet/digestion/stress/poor washing/age
mainly due to high pH levels
hard water/shampoo/castile soaps/lack of conditioner
Itchy Dreadlock Dandruff
How to fix Dandruff and Itchy Scalp with Dreads?
FIX YOUR DIET, DIGESTION, AND HORMONES
Eating a healthier diet is a great first step to improving dandruff issues and life as a whole. Also, taking a well formulated multivitamin can make an impact. My personal favorite is Legion -Triumph Multivitamin. This supplement contains high levels of MSM and Biotin and really makes a huge difference in how fast my dreadlocks grow.
Working with a digestive specialist can make significant improvements in your digestion and nutrient absorption. I personally work with Christina, an enzyme specialist in the Columubs, Ohio area. She also works online with patients throughout the country. I recommend her if you’re seeking a greater understanding of your digestion issues. You can learn more about her at her website here. https://thatenzymelady.com/
REDUCE STRESS TO IMPROVE HORMONE LEVELS
Reducing stress is beneficial for just about every aspect of our lives and will help tame Dreadlock Dandruff. In our modern society we live unnaturally fast paced lives which lead to chronic stress and fatigue. This hectic lifestyle reduces our body’s ability to handle issues such as dandruff.
Strive for more of the following:
- Laugh and Smile
- Reduce Caffeine Intake
- Deep Breathing
- Time with loved ones
- Relaxing music
- Lavender, Chamomile, and other diffused oils
- Healthy Diet and Supplementation
- Avoiding Procrastination
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR RINSE (or other acid) FOR PH ISSUES
An acidic rinse is often used to properly balance the pH level of your hair and scalp back to healthy levels. A healthy scalp pH will fight off the overgrowth of yeast and reduce dandruff symptoms.
With Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) at a pH of 3.1-5 it may be too acidic. It’s important to get the combination right. A 50/50 mix of water and ACV is usually the perfect ratio to restore the proper pH of your scalp.
Doing a deep cleanse will help remove sebum and product buildup from your scalp. This should give your scalp a fresh reset leaving your scalp and dreadlocks squeaky clean and pH balanced. It’s important that you only do a deep cleanse a few times per year as the baking soda is very hard on your hair. And you must always follow up with an ACV rinse. You can learn everything you need to know with our Dread Cleanse Guide.
ALOE VERA GEL FOR PH AND ITCHINESS
One solution for itchy scalp with dreadlock maintenance would include very light use of a pure aloe gel. Aloe gel has a pH of 4.5-5.5 which is perfect for your scalp. This product can be found in any local store that carries hair and body products. FYI – We do not recommend coconut oil for dandruff since it only addresses the dryness of the scalp and not the causes of dandruff.
ESSENTIAL OILS TO REDUCE FUNGUS
Tea Tree Oil has antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties that can help kill off the yeast that can accumulate on the scalp. This particular oil also helps with treating eczema and psoriasis and helps reduce itchy scalp with dreads. Always mix Tea Tree Oil with a carier oil, never apply Tea Tree Oil directly to scalp!
Rosemary Oil also has anti-fungal and anti inflammatory properties which help increase circulation to the scalp. Rosemary Oil can be applied directly to the scalp.
Patchouli Oil has anti-fungal properties to fight off yeast and can also be applied directly to the scalp.
ADJUST WASH FREQUENCY
Everyone reacts differently to the frequency of washing due to a variety of factors. It’s best to gradually adjust your frequency to learn the right wash cycle for your scalp and dreadlocks.
If you wash your dreadlocks less than once every two weeks we highly recommend washing more frequently with a healthy shampoo. Washing once per week is recommended and common, however some people with very mature dreadlocks could stretch the wash cycle out to once every two weeks.
If you wash your dreadlocks more than twice a week, try to reduce that frequency gradually to once per week. Washing too frequently, especially with a harsh shampoo, may strip your scalp of too many oils and lead to a dry, itchy scalp with dreadlocks.
Castile Soaps, Shampoos made with Saponified Oils, and most shampoos are far too high on the pH scale. Many commercial shampoos contain ingredients that you may be sensitive to without realizing it.
If you think you’re experiencing other scalp conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or contact dermatitis you should at least try a different shampoo such as Free and Clear which is designed for such conditions.
Although we have yet to test and review Everclean Antidandruff Shampoo – Unscented – it is recommended by some of our peers. Feel free to give it a try and we’d also love to hear your feedback if you do try it out! We also have a Shampoo Guide with recommendations and more insight into choosing the right shampoo for your Dreadlocks.
INSTALL WATER SOFTENER SYSTEM FOR BETTER PH LEVELS
This solution is a drastic one, but it can make a surprisingly big impact in your daily life. It will significantly improve the long term health of your hair, give you softer skin, give you cleaner silverware, improve laundry, and increases the effectiveness of all soaps. How much do they cost? Water softener systems tend to range from $1,000-3,000 or even higher. This might seem unreasonable, but once you have one you’ll never want to go back to hard water again..
Most people experience Dread Dandruff or at least an Itchy Scalp with Dreads at some point. So you shouldn’t feel like you’re fighting this battle alone! We hope you’ve learned a lot from this article and implore you to apply our recommendations to reduce your Itchy Dread Dandruff issues. If you have any questions or recommendations of your own feel free to leave a comment below.