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Dandruff vs. Lice—How to Tell Them Apart?

Healthy hair requires a lot of effort; you need to choose products that suit your hair type, figure out a hair care routine, and protect it from damage caused by certain hair care habits, stress, and other environmental stresses. While you can brave all these situations, an itchy scalp can have you pondering whether it is the dreaded hair dandruff or even worse, lice! While your scalp feels itchy in both these situations, you need to figure out which one’s tempting you to scratch your scalp. Let’s find out.

Causes of dandruff

One of the major reasons for dandruff is the presence of the fungus Malassezia Globosa on your scalp. This fungus is present on everyone’s scalp and is potentially harmless. It breaks down the sebum your scalp produces and releases a by-product called oleic acid. About 50 per cent of the population is allergic to oleic acid, and as a reaction to the presence of this substance, the body signals the scalp to get rid of the irritant and increases the rate at which your scalp sheds the dead skin cells. These flakes are what you call dandruff. 

Causes of lice

 Lice are tiny parasitic insects that crawl on your scalp and are easily transferred from one person to another. These insects can crawl into a towel, bedding, clothing, and personal items like hair, comb, and hair accessories. You can get lice if you come in close contact with someone who has them. 

Dandruff vs. lice—what’s the difference?

  • Dandruff might be worrisome, but it’s not contagious. You cannot get dandruff from someone and vice versa. Whereas, lice can spread easily from one person to another. These insects fly from a person’s head to another when they come in close contact with someone who already has lice. 
  • Lice lay eggs that are called nits, and these nits stick to the hair and resemble dandruff flakes. People often mistake lice eggs for dandruff, but dandruff is visible on the scalp and lice lay eggs on hair, not on the scalp. 
  • People tend to experience itching because of dandruff and lice. However, the itching caused by dandruff occurs mostly because the scalp feels dry, whereas, those who have lice tend to experience a crawling sensation on their scalp. 
  • One way to tell lice and dandruff apart is by observing the colour. Lice are tiny and appear black or brown spots on the scalp or in the hair. Whereas, dandruff flakes are yellowish and oily and appear on the scalp and sometimes are stuck to the hair strands. 
  • Dandruff causes itching and flaking, while a lice infestation can cause bacterial infections. People who scratch their scalp too hard and cause bleeding, it can cause the lymph nodes on the neck or behind the ears to feel swollen. 

Treatment for dandruff and lice

You can try different dandruff treatments at home, but the best way to treat dandruff is to use an anti-dandruff shampoo that is formulated specially to remove dandruff from your scalp and hair. You can try Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo which contains zinc pyrithione, which is an active ingredient and helps get rid of flakes, soothe the scalp, control oil production, and improves overall scalp health. You can follow it up with Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff conditioner, which boosts the dandruff-fighting power of the anti-dandruff shampoo. For lice, you can use over-the-counter lice remedies which includes insecticidal shampoos and you need to comb nits out of the hair. 

Now that you know the difference between dandruff and lice, identify what’s causing the itchiness on the scalp and choose the right treatment method.