Our skin is covered in millions of bacteria and skin secretions (such as sweat) usually form a protective layer that stops bacteria from multiplying on the scalp. Sometimes, however, illness, stress, diet and hormonal changes can disrupt this barrier, allowing bacteria to multiply and this can lead to dandruff.
This flaking skin, sometimes with an itchy or irritated scalp, is extremely common in the early teens. If you have dandruff, the first sign is often tiny white flakes of skin on your shoulders. Don’t be embarrassed – you are not alone; many people experience dandruff at some point. You may find it flares up before your period, if your diet is poor (and you’re eating too many sugary and fatty foods), if you are particularly stressed or if the weather is particularly dry and cold. Mild to moderate dandruff is easily treated with over-the-counter shampoos, but a severe build-up of flakes may need to be treated with stronger products that you can get on prescription from your doctor. If you are concerned, or if an over-the-counter treatment isn’t working, make an appointment to see your GP.
Dandruff should not cause redness, unless you are scratching your scalp repeatedly. If your scalp is red, you may have a different scalp condition and should see your GP.
It is fairly common for teenage girls to suffer from some form of hair loss or hair thinning and there are several possible causes:
- alopecia areata – is an auto-immune condition where the body mistakenly attacks hair follicles
- trichotillomania – is where hair can fall out due to excessive ‘twiddling’
- poor diet/lack of important nutrients – protein is especially important for healthy hair, as is iron, vitamins A, C and E and the B-vitamin biotin, omega-3, zinc and selenium.
- a fungal infection – ringworm (which is nothing to do with worms) can cause bald patches on the scalp and is known as tinea capitis
- sudden hormonal changes – puberty can sometimes (but rarely) cause hair loss.
Regardless of the cause, losing a patch of hair or having thinning hair is bound to cause embarrassment, worry and stress. If you do experience hair thinning or hair loss, see your GP. He or she will diagnose what is going on and/or refer you to a dermatologist. In the meantime, it is a good idea to do some form of stress-busting exercise, such as yoga or dancing, to help you feel calmer and take your mind off it.