Is this sebum buildup or oily dandruff?

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  • 1 Post By SaraNoH
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I have had this problem for a long time now and I can't figure it out after doing searches on the internet. Hopefully someone here can identify what this is!

Whenever I scratch my scalp (it's always itchy) I get this thick, waxy stuff under my nails. It looks creamy white, but if I put it on a piece of white paper then it looks a little yellowish.

It doesn't flake off, it seems to greasy for that, so if it is dandruff it would be the oily kind. But it could also be excessive sebum buildup, and I can't figure out the difference between the two. Both leave a cruddy buildup, and both are itchy.

I prefer to CG wash my hair, but I usually can't break through that buildup so it just gets thicker. A few shampooings help clear it up, but then my scalp is even itchier than before and usually pretty irritated by the shampoo. The buildup is dry and what is left will flake a bit, but I still don't know if it is actually dandruff or leftover, dried-up sebum?

Does anyone have any insight into this gross topic? I hate for this to be my first post, how embarassing!, but the outcome will definately impact what method I'll be using to treat my hair. Thanks in advance!
I'm sorry you're having a hard time. I don't know what you have, but I hope this piece of advice can help:

Instead of co-washing, try using a gentle shampoo (free of sulfates) only on your scalp (leave conditioner on the ends to protect them) rinse, then condition every time you wash your hair.

The Lemon-aid rinse in Curly Girl may be helpful too.

Good luck!
2a/M-C/ii hair. Super long.
this sounds like seborreah, or seborreahic dermatitis, to me. I've had it all my life, and it sounds just like you describe. Sometimes if my hair and scalp get really dry I will have flakies, but a lot of the time it just builds up on my scalp. It's only in certain spots, too, not all over.

I don't know what to tell you about how to deal with it, other than to say that I've noticed my scalp has been a lot clearer the last couple of weeks since I stopped washing w/shampoo every day. I think a good scalp scrub every day or so really helps, i got one of those little scalp massagers at Walgreens and use it even when I just water or co-wash my hair.

HTH!
I have the exact same problem, Lady Eagle. It was like crusty yellow buildup on my scalp, and I just couldn't stop itching! What you have is almost definitely seborrheic dermatitis. I went to my dermatologist and she prescribed Nizoral shampoo (prescription strength--even stronger than what they sell at the store.) It really cleared up my scalp. Now that the seborrheic dermatitis is gone, I use Neutrogena T-gel Extra Strength to keep my scalp flake-free. Though I no longer have oily, crusty buildup on my scalp, sometimes I do itch, though it's nowhere as itchy as it was before.

I would say that you should see a dermatologist or doctor if possible, because she/he will be able to prescribe something for you that will get rid of it fast. Also, I think that the CG routine may not be the best thing for people like us who have SD--if you wash your scalp with conditioner or regular shampoo, it will just make your problem worse. Hope this helps!
Black, shoulder length 3B

Law Student at Wayne State University, Class of 2010
I have the same problem!!

Back when I used to 'poo and co everyday, I would straighten quite often too- I wanted it to stay straight so I'd not wash my hair for a couple of days in a row. My scalp would get SOOO ITCHY and of course, the more I scratched, the more it itched. I've been no 'poo for a while now, but it still gets itchy every so often and that nasty white oily stuff is annoying as all hell to me.

What's worked for me is: I use Head and Shoulders Intensive Treatment when the itchy gets extreme- it used to be about once a week, but now it's maybe every two weeks- the bottle I have has lasted me about a year and a half. And when I condition and put products in, I try my best not to apply them to my scalp. And of course the more I scratch, the more it itches, so I keep my nails away from my head!

I feel your SD pain ... good luck in whatever path you choose to treat it!

2c/3a; CG/Mod since 5/07

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If it doesn't go away with H & S it is probably SD, not dandruff. Get a diagnosis from your derm; they will probably prescribe Clobex ( a steroid shampoo and lotion), which will get rid of it in 3 days.

You can get it from stress too. So it can come and go.
What you have is almost definitely seborrheic dermatitis. I would say that you should see a dermatologist or doctor if possible, because she/he will be able to prescribe something for you that will get rid of it fast.
Originally Posted by IndianCurls
This is great advice! My story is nearly identical. I finally went to a dermatologist recently and got the generic version of Nizoral in the prescription strength. Seeing a derm is a good idea (or even your regular doctor, who can probably diagnose it). My dermatologist didn't tell me it was SD though.

Before seeing the dermatologist, I used TGel as well and I will probably use it in the future. I couldn't do the cg routine; however, I don't shampoo as often as some people. (It's generally better to wash every other day at the most, ideally every 2-3 days.) I also usually try to avoid the more troublesome (hardest to remove) silicones.

~ Always naturally lazy and curly! ~

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Oh My Gosh you girls!!!! You may just have saved my daughter from a lifetime of itchyness and flaking, for a long time now she has had this grosse thick waxy crust thing going on, on her head, not all over but in patches but more noticeable near the front on top of her forehead, it looks so much like cradle cap!! I thought maybe she wasnt washing the shampoo out of her hair properly so when i did it i gave it a thorough going over to no avail. i bought a head massager and tried that to loosen the flakes and crusts, it did ok but after a couple of days it was back to normal, reading these posts it seems that i need to get nizoral shampoo and try her with that, if not then i will definatly get her to the docs.
Although i must admit that i have just warmed some olive oil and put that on her scalp!!! well i thought it was cradle cap!!
Thank you ladies!!
:P Back to Ebay!! :P :P
Thick, 2C with little 3A's thrown in to make my hair look a little more wild.FIA:2c/3a-M
Last Haircut:17/1/07
Ultimate Goal: To go as long as possible
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NEW PHOTOS ADDED: 20th August'09
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Thank you all for the replies! If I do have SD, is there any way I can still use the CG method to wash my hair? Or am I doomed to using those shampoos to treat my scalp? Washing with conditioner is my favorite method, it by far makes my length the happiest, and I'm loathe to give it up.
What I usually do is coat the length (and sometimes the whole surface of my hair) with Activate Hydrating conditioner. Then I use the prescription shampoo or Tgel on my scalp only. You could also on occasion just use the conditioner on your hair from about your ears down and avoid your scalp (especially if you like to wash every day or every other day). HTH

~ Always naturally lazy and curly! ~

Photo album password: curly
Blog: lazykerri.wordpress.com
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Current Favorites:
  • Jessicurl Too Shea Conditioner
  • Jessicurl Confident Coils
  • Rockin Ringlets, and
  • Herbal Essences Set Me Up Gel
I work for a dermatologist and my ex-husband also had this. Sounds like Seborrheic Dermatitis. The H & S Intensive formula (navy bottle) is formulated for this condition. I would start there. If that won't control it, I would go to your doctor and they can prescribe a steriod to help... but you can't use a steroid every day long term without some wacky side effects. (thinning skin etc.) You may be able to alternate CG with some things geared to treat your specific condition... You may have to play around. Best of luck.
HTH
Mid-back length 3a, red.
Currently using: Joico, Redken, LA Looks Curl Look gel, BRHG.
Thank you all for the replies! If I do have SD, is there any way I can still use the CG method to wash my hair? Or am I doomed to using those shampoos to treat my scalp? Washing with conditioner is my favorite method, it by far makes my length the happiest, and I'm loathe to give it up.
Originally Posted by Lady_Eagle
No you only use the treatment shampoo for 3 days in a row. It does not wreck your hair. Then you can use what you wish.
Thank you for the new replies! I will definately give your recommendations a try, and cross my fingers. I will post my results as I try different products and methods.
Just a quick update on my daughters head.
Left the olive oil on her head and wrapped a warm towel on it, then she kept that on all night, next day washed it off with a little shampoo then loads of condish, when it dried I combed her hair thru and although all the flakes/waxy stuff have gone, I can still see patches of pink on her scalp which leads me to believe that the waxy stuff might come back, I'm going to buy a special shampoo and see if this helps her, if not then its a trip to the docs. But thanks again for helping me(in a roundabout kind of way) identify what it could be!!
Thick, 2C with little 3A's thrown in to make my hair look a little more wild.FIA:2c/3a-M
Last Haircut:17/1/07
Ultimate Goal: To go as long as possible
Products Used:coconut cowash, tescos own gel citrus spice whipped butter
Hair Length:BSL
NEW PHOTOS ADDED: 20th August'09
http://public.fotki.com/aerohead/
Hey! I had the exact same issue, and dandruff shampoos barely helped at all (and usually smelled awful to me.) I started washing my hair with baking soda, tea tree oil, and water—my scalp gets squeaky clean now! Plus my hair texture has improved tenfold as a bonus.
I have a blog post with before and after pics, if you're interested in reading: My “No ‘Poo” Experience « [Work In Progress]
You can also use lavender in place of the tea tree oil, if you dislike the smell of tea tree oil.
I've had this too! T-Gel do a gentler version of their shampoo - it's meant to be for dry hair. It's pale yellow instead of dark brown like the original. It smells better than the original, which smells a bit like tar : / I found it really calming on my scalp and it did help a bit with this 'issue' even though it's meant to be a dandruff shampoo.

Good luck, imported_Lady_Eagle! It is possible to get rid of it, or at least improve it.
Any idea what this could be if you don't get the itchies? This has been a problem for me for years, but I don't get itchy, just gunky buildup stuff... I looked up pictures for seborreahic dermatitis and they look pretty extreme....
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I suffered from a persistent, waxy build up on my scalp for some years. It got so bad a couple of years ago that I just couldn't clean it from my scalp. It was particularly bad above my ears. I would scratch my scalp and be left with a thick, greasy wax that was a white/yellow colour under my nail. It was horrible. It made my hair look terrible - lank and greasy even when it was freshly washed. I tried natural remedies which I picked up from forums such as this, including washing my hair with vinegar, bicarbonate soda powder mixed with Johnson's baby shampoo, and lemon juice. This gave me some temporary relief but I smelt like a fish and chip shop! I was at my wits end and was just about to spend a significant amount of money visiting a private dermatologist when I walked into a pharmacy and noticed a shelf of 'medicated' shampoos. By this point I had worked out from the internet that I was probably suffering from seborrheic dermatitis. I bought every medicated shampoo for oily dandruff on that shelf and alternated them every day, massaging thoroughly into the scalp and sometimes doing two lots (I have to wash my hair every day). I have been able to control the condition ever since. My hair is a lot better than it used to be - not perfect but a LOT better. The ones I buy are:

Alphosyl
Oilatum
Ceanel
Polytar

Discovering these shampoos changed my life overnight. They can dry your hair out so use a good conditioner on the tips. I wish I had found out how to treat this problem earlier as I suffered for years, totally baffled about what I was suffering from and how to treat it. This is why I am posting this information now on any forum where people are talking about 'waxy dandruff'.
Hi, I have this same problem and it is ruining my life! My scalp is irritated and hair loss in those areas. I see this is a older post, anyone get help for it or figure it out? I am thinking mine is caused by something environmental.

P.S I have been to many derms for this problem and nothing has worked.

Last edited by mycurlyhair39; 06-28-2013 at 07:36 PM. Reason: Have seen many Derms
Hi, I have this same problem and it is ruining my life! My scalp is irritated and hair loss in those areas. I see this is a older post, anyone get help for it or figure it out? I am thinking mine is caused by something environmental.
Originally Posted by mycurlyhair39
Welcome! Have you been for a diagnosis from your family doctor? Until you know the cause you cannot identify the correct treatment.

Do review your diet making it as anti inflammatory and nutrient dense as possible, and avoid shampoos containing sulphate surfactants or alkaline soaps because these damage the skin barrier and hair.
2a-2c, medium texture, porous/ colour treated. Three years CG. Past bra strap length heading for waist.

CO-wash: Inecto coconut/ Elvive Volume Collagen
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