Ask Your Pharmacist

February 27, 2019

I have white flakes in my hair and on my shoulders. Why do I get dandruff in the winter? How do I make it go away?


Thanks for the question. Dandruff is a common condition affecting the scalp, especially during the winter. Dandruff is caused by a dry, itchy, flaky scalp that can leave whitish flakes of skin that are seen in your hair and on your clothing. In New Brunswick, treatment options are available without a prescription to help alleviate the itching and embarrassment that is associated with dandruff.

Dandruff in the winter is usually caused by, or worsened by, the dryness of the air in our homes caused by indoor heating. Car heaters and dry winter air also contribute to the problem. Dandruff usually affects the entire scalp that is covered in hair (not bald areas). Using a humidifier in your room during the seasons that dandruff is bothersome can help keep the scalp from drying out. Several shampoos are available over-the-counter without a prescription; they contain a variety of ingredients such as selenium sulfide and zinc pyrithione. Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue are examples of available shampoos with these ingredients. When used as directed, these products may take up to two to four weeks before the benefits are noticed.

Although dandruff can be itchy, redness of the scalp is not a common symptom. An inflamed, red scalp may indicate a condition called seborrhea. Seborrhea also causes flaky skin but is accompanied by red, inflamed skin on the scalp with greasy yellowish flakes. Treatment of both dandruff and seborrhea can be similar, but if there is flaking on the face or anywhere else on the body a trip to the doctor may be warranted.

When using anti-dandruff shampoos, it’s important to follow the instructions as different products can be used at different frequencies. It’s equally important to have proper technique massaging the product into the entire scalp and leaving it in place for a minimum of five minutes. After five minutes, rinse your scalp well to remove all the shampoo. Some shampoos may also require a repeat application.

Prescription strength options exist for the treatment of dandruff, and in New Brunswick, pharmacists are able to assess and treat for minor health ailments, including dandruff. Pharmacists have the authority to prescribe medication when necessary, although not all assessments will result in a prescription. Your pharmacist may recommend other treatment options, over-the-counter medications, or refer you to another health care provider. Before picking out a product, I recommend speaking with your pharmacist for an assessment to ensure you receive the right product for you.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to