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What is the Difference Between Lice & Dandruff?

Lice and dandruff both are uncomfortable, itchy scalp conditions that are easily confused with one another. However, unlike lice, which is a transient infestation, dandruff is a chronic skin condition. Head lice, also known as pediculus humanus capitis, are parasitic insects that live on your scalp and lay their eggs there. They feed on human blood, and their bites are incredibly itchy.

Lice are contagious; however, dandruff is not contagious. The good thing is that Both conditions can be treated safely and effectively at home.

Dandruff Vs. Head lice 

What is the Difference Between Lice & Dandruff?

Dandruff, also called seborrheic dermatitis, is a skin condition in which the outermost layer of skin sheds quickly. This shedding results in a dry, flaky, and itchy scalp.  You may also notice skin flakes on your clothing. Yeast is responsible for certain types of dandruff that are particularly itchy.

While head lice do not transmit disease, they are extremely contagious. Close contact with a lice-infested person’s head or hair — such as sharing hairbrushes or giving hugs — can help spread the infestation. Head lice are more prevalent in children than in adults. This is because young children mostly hug or touch each other.

What do lice look like vs. dandruff?

Lice are six-legged parasitic insects that are typically tan, brown, or black. Their eggs are teardrop-shaped and range in color from white to yellow. They are found close to the scalp, attached to the hair shaft.

Dandruff resembles dry skin flakes that are white or yellow. It is typically larger than lice and their eggs and may have a greasy appearance.


Dandruff Lice
flaking or scaly skin on the face, chest, neck, or earsswollen lymph nodes
an itchy scalptiny black spots on the scalp
symptoms that worsen in the winter or dry weatherconstantly scratching the head
red patches on the scalpteardrop-shaped lice eggs on the hair
white or yellowish flakes on clothesred spots on the scalp from scratching
 temporary hair lossan allergic reaction


The majority of cases of lice and dandruff can be treated successfully at home.


Dandruff can be treated at home using an over-the-counter shampoo. Begin by shampooing twice a week with a dandruff-fighting shampoo. It is most effective to keep dandruff shampoos in contact with your hair for five to ten minutes. Generally, washing your hair more frequently helps with dandruff. Use caution when using dandruff shampoos that contain tar, as they can increase your scalp’s sensitivity to the sun. After treatment, the tar may also discolor blonde or white hair.

Consult your dermatologist if using an anti-dandruff shampoo does not provide relief. Occasionally, dandruff is caused by a yeast infection that requires treatment with an antifungal. In addition, certain autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis or eczema, can present as dandruff but require more specialized treatment. Your dermatologist can assist you in determining the cause of your flakes and the most effective treatment method.


Lice can usually be treated at home by following the package directions for an over-the-counter medicated shampoo. It is also necessary to carefully comb the nits from the hair. Typically, nits are found within a quarter-inch of the scalp. Further down the hair shaft, nits are usually dormant and will not develop into lice.

Because lice require a human host to survive, wash any items used to transfer them. This includes clothing, bedding, stuffed animals, and hats, as well as any other thing that came into contact with the individual’s head.


Try to avoid close contact with people susceptible to lice, particularly very young children, to prevent lice. In addition, avoid sharing combs, brushes, pillows, and any other item that could harbor lice.

Dandruff is a common problem that is difficult to avoid. Regular hair washing helps some people prevent dandruff, but lack of hygiene does not cause dandruff.


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Zuri Dime

full-time health blogger

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