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What Is the Connection between Dandruff and Acne?

Helen Akers
Updated May 21, 2024
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The development of both dandruff and acne is linked to overactive oil glands in the skin. Other contributors to acne, including abnormal shedding of the skin and overgrowth of bacteria, are also thought to have a role in the development of dandruff. Some of the same over-the-counter medications used in the treatment of acne are also included in dandruff remedies, such as salicylic acid. The medication tends to promote the normal exfoliation of dead skin cells and facilitates the cleansing of clogged pores.

An excess amount of surface skin oil produced by the sebaceous glands is thought to be the main culprit behind both dandruff and acne. While oily skin alone is not an absolute predictor of either disorder, a reduction in the amount of oil produced by the skin's glands is known to help control both conditions. The excess oil on the skin and scalp tend to mix with the skin's dead cells as they are shed and the material then clogs hair follicles and pores. Once the skin and scalp's pores are plugged, bacteria can proliferate and produce the inflamed lesions associated with acne and the characteristic white flakes seen in dandruff.

One of the other common links between acne and dandruff is the abnormal shedding of dead skin cells. Some doctors and researchers think that this abnormal shedding stems from inflammation and high-gylcemic diets, while others contribute it solely to genetics. What is known is that the skin sheds its dead skin cells at a rate that is faster than normal and the skin's outer layer tends to develop a thicker than normal consistency. This thickness can make it more difficult for impurities and oil to completely pass through the pore.

Dandruff and acne also develop when excess amounts of bacteria develop on the skin and scalp. In most cases, this bacteria multiplies in abnormal amounts because the skin's impurities, oil and dead skin cells are trapped in the pores for an extended amount of time. Yeast overgrowth is often the culprit for dandruff, while in acne the bacteria that causes inflamed lesions is P. acnes. One of the ways to help combat dandruff and acne is to use chemicals that reduce the thickness of the skin's outer layer and promote normal skin shedding.

Over-the-counter acne and dandruff remedies typically include salicylic acid, which breaks down the material clogging the skin's pores. Continued use is usually needed in order to see improvement in both disorders. Prescription strength acne medications and dandruff shampoos and conditioners may be necessary in moderate to severe cases.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Helen Akers
By Helen Akers
Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a background in creative writing, she crafts compelling stories and content to inspire and challenge readers, showcasing her commitment to qualitative impact and service to others.
Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Sep 04, 2013

@MrsPramm-- I agree with you. A bad diet causes acne and scalp problems. Whenever I eat healthier and drink more water, my skin looks better.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 03, 2013

I think yeast plays a more important role in the connection between dandruff and acne than we realize.

I've always had acne prone, oily skin. But last year, my skin has got a lot worse. I had pimples everywhere. Around the same time that my skin started causing more problems, I developed a very oil and smelly scalp with dandruff. I went to dermatologist who said that I have a fungal infection on my scalp and gave me an anti-fungal shampoo. The shampoo relieved my scalp symptoms for a while but I continued to have acne.

About four month back, I moved away from the coast and both my dandruff and acne began to decrease. I don't have dandruff right now and my skin is looking better than ever.

My theory is that my weak immune system in addition to humid weather made the yeast naturally found on my skin and scalp multiply. Yeast can cause excessive oil production and that's why I was experiencing all these problems. I was very sick a couple of years ago and a weak immune system must have contributed.

By burcidi — On Sep 02, 2013

I have dandruff and acne. It never occurred to me that the two could be related. So I guess the factors that contribute to an oily skin also contribute to an oily scalp.

By MrsPramm — On Sep 02, 2013

That's really interesting that some researchers think that too much sugar might cause skin to shed at a faster rate. It makes me wonder whether there is truth to the old wives tale about people getting bad skin when they eat too much junk food. Not because it causes greasy skin, but because it causes the skin to start shedding faster, leading to more blockages.

By Fa5t3r — On Sep 01, 2013

@indigomoth - Dandruff can actually be caused by dry skin as well, though. My mother gets it and she definitely does not have an oily scalp. The only thing that really helps her is to use very moisturizing products to counteract the dryness.

I think there are several different causes for dandruff, just like there are different underlying causes for acne.

By indigomoth — On Aug 31, 2013

When I was a teenager, I was walking around town one day when a woman came up and asked if I would like a free haircut. She was a student who was practicing her craft on people who were willing to volunteer. I said yes and it turned out that she worked for a very high end salon, so it was definitely a good choice on my part.

I was really embarrassed because I had a lot of dandruff, but it turned out to be very interesting because the man who was teaching her got her to diagnose why I had the dandruff and recommend products. He pointed out that I had an oily scalp and that many people with dandruff think that they need to hydrate their scalp, while in reality they need to get rid of the oil in order to get rid of the bacteria.

She recommended some products and I took their advice and never had dandruff since then. It was a very good free haircut.

Helen Akers
Helen Akers
Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a...
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