Science finds fungus that causes dandruff

The secret of what causes dandruff has finally been solved. And the blame can be laid at the door of two strains of fungus that grow on every scalp. Their waste products irritate the skin of sufferers, causing it to flake off prematurely.

The secret of what causes dandruff has finally been solved. And the blame can be laid at the door of two strains of fungus that grow on every scalp. Their waste products irritate the skin of sufferers, causing it to flake off prematurely.

The breakthrough means the problem can now be treated. The simplest route would be to kill off the fungus using chemicals added to shampoos. "We have been working to understand dandruff for 40 years," said Dr Steve Shiel, the senior scientist at the British hair and beauty division of the household giant Proctor & Gamble.

"We're very excited about this, because it's breakthrough research. People have known about the fungus and there have been arguments about how it is linked to dandruff. But now we know, we can aim to kill the fungus."

The research was presented last week to an international conference on hair science and dermatology in Berlin. Dr Shiel said that although the presence of fungus called Malassezia has always been linked with dandruff, it was unclear whether it was the cause of the problem, or fed on excess oils on the skin, or took advantage of the flaking skin to grow. Nor was anyone sure quite which species of the Malassezia fungus was to blame.

Malassezia is a "lipophilic" fungus, meaning that it feeds on oils, such as those secreted from the hair follicles. The waste products from this feeding irritate the skin in sufferers.

All that remains now is to develop shampoos targeting those species of fungus without harming the sensitised scalp, though that could take years.

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