Almost everyone, at some point or another in their lives, has experienced having flakes of scalp reveal themselves in their hair. Whether these flakes are snow white or have a yellow tinge, dandruff is not a big deal; it’s easily solved with the right shampoo (something with tea tree oil, witch hazel, or active charcoal usually works wonders) and some lifestyle changes. After all, it’s easy to forget that taking care of your hair is actually about taking care of your scalp— your hair is just a mess of dead protein! But if you’re wondering what causes those little tell tale flakes, the answer is probably different than you might think.

Little White Flakes

The smaller, white flakes that typify this kind of dandruff are usually bits of dry, dead scalp, although on occasion residue from shampoo, conditioner, or other sorts of hair products that weren’t thoroughly washed away can create a flakey buildup that looks similar to dandruff when shed. Dandruff is not contagious, and while the cause is usually an overly dry scalp, too much sebum production can cause it as well. Dandruff is not inherently harmful to your hair or skin, and it’s usually not a symptom of a larger problem, especially when the flakes are white. The best way to treat dandruff is with an over the counter dandruff shampoo, and the avoidance of dark clothes until the flakes are gone helps mask the issue.

Larger Yellow Flakes

Sometimes accompanied by an oily feeling, these larger yellow flakes are occasionally symptomatic of a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis. While the name might be scary, the condition isn’t: it’s an inflammation of the scalp or any other area of the skin that happens to contain a lot of oil glands in a small area. Seborrheic dermatitis can be caused by a wide variety of things, included but not limited to fungal infections, hormonal imbalances, and some neurological problems and issues. Regardless of the causes, though, it’s treated in the exact same way as normal dandruff most of the time. In extremely severe, rare cases, a doctor may prescribe a shampoo, steroid, or antifungal medicine in order to help combat the seed like flakes of yellow skin discharge. Before a prescription is necessary, though, reducing the amount of hair product you use and trying a strong dandruff shampoo with active ingredients may take care of the problem.