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Tanning has become so desirable over the years that there is now a multi-billion dollar industry built around it. But does it cause dandruff?

For many people, tanning involves getting enough sun to increase their skin’s melanin production (causing skin to darken), while avoiding sunburn (which kills skin cells).

This means spending small amounts of time in the sun over multiple days. The question we’re considering today is whether all this time in the sun can cause dandruff.

To answer the question, let’s have a quick look at what science has to say about the cause of dandruff.


What causes dandruff?

Your scalp – and the scalp of everyone else on the planet – is home to a microbe called Malassezia globosa. This yeast-like fungus survives by feeding off the natural oils of your scalp, and typically does so harmlessly.

Unfortunately for some of us, part of its life-cycle involves producing oleic acid.

For most of the population, oleic acid is not a problem. But some people are sensitive to it, leading to symptoms such as:

These are the classic signs of dandruff.

It’s not a difficult problem to treat, happily. A good dandruff shampoo used properly will control both the symptoms and cause of dandruff, giving you relief while getting rid of flakes.

They key point for our discussion, however, is that the cause of dandruff – Malassezia globosa - is not triggered by or increased with exposure to light.

So, tanning can’t cause dandruff, but it does still have consequences for your hair and scalp.

Tanning and your scalp

While a deep tan might look good, getting a tan can also stress out your skin – and this is as true for your scalp as it is anywhere else.

The first issue is humidity. Malassezia globosa thrives best in a warm, moist environment. Tanning – whether in a tanning bed or in the sun - is a sweaty business. Sweating on the scalp can cause an increase in Malassezia globosa, which could contribute to a flare up of dandruff symptoms.

The second issue is with sunburn. Overdoing the sun can cause acute skin damage, kicking its defenses into high gear. The skin becomes red as it is flooded with blood to help with healing, accompanied by inflammation and tenderness. A few days later, the burnt skin begins to peel, as the body gets rid of the damaged skin.

The other issue, of course, is long-term consequences to UV light exposure, which include dryness, premature ageing and wrinkling, brown spots, and even skin cancer.

Whether you choose to tan or not, paying special attention to your scalp can help to keep it healthy. It may seem odd, but it’s a good idea to massage sun screen into your scalp before UV exposure, particularly on your part line and any areas not covered by hair or where the hair is thinning. It’ll mean taking a shower afterwards to wash out the residue, but your scalp will thank you.

A good moisturizing shampoo will help replace lost moisture caused by exposure to the sun. If you’re prone to scalp flaking, choose a dandruff shampoo, which will help protect your skin from the effects of Malassezia globosa.