Difference Between Dandruff and Lice


Lice and dandruff are two common scalp conditions, both of which are similar looking making them hard to tell apart. Little white flakes and specks appear everywhere in your hair and you’re not sure how to tell them apart. The frustration can cause you to start pulling out your hair (literally!) trying to figure out if it is one or the other that you are dealing with. While they are similar in how they appear, they are not related and are treated differently. By knowing what to look for and how to discern one from the other, you can treat each as they come up.


Lice are little parasites that feed off the dead flesh from your scalp. They appear as little white flecks on the strands of hair, usually the scalp rather than the bottom of the hair strand. The tinier white flecks that you see are the nits (meaning the egg stage). Nits are often in little cocoon shells attached to the hair strand near the scalp. Tan little flecks in the hair are young lice (known as nymphs) and can be seen in any part of the hair. Adult lice are often white or greyish and are about the size of a sesame seed. Head lice is a contagious condition of parasites and is easily transmitted from one person to another. Clothing, hair brushes, and other linens can transfer lice from one person to the next.

What Causes Lice?
Being parasites, lice can move. This means that they can walk, crawl and even jump from one person to the next. Close contact of the skin, personal hygiene items and fabrics is the easiest way that people get lice from others. Lice can be found anywhere, but is more commonly found in cities and densely populated areas due to the closeness of people as they go about everyday life.

Who Does Lice Affect?
More than 10 million children contract lice every year. Younger children (roughly preschool to elementary) are more susceptible to getting lice than older children. Lice can also affect adults as well, and even the elderly. Anyone of any nationality or ethnic background can get lice.

What Are the Symptoms of Lice?
Some people will feel a difference and some will not. The most common symptom that you will see are white flaky looking pieces in your hair and your scalp will be very itchy. Lice feed on the blood of humans, and to do so they bite. The itching that you feel is from the saliva of the full grown adults. In people with very strong senses for movement and feeling, you may even feel them moving on your scalp. The little nit shells will be hard to remove from the hair strand and gentle shaking of the hair will not remove them.

How Is Lice Treated?
The most common treatment for lice is with lice shampoo and a tightly toothed metal comb to pull the lice from the hair strands. The shampoo is medicated to help kill the live lice and the eggs that are in the hair. The killing ingredient in lice treatments is Permetherin. Most treatments for lice recommend a second treatment 7-10 days after the first treatment to be sure that all the eggs were killed. Some people also treat with a little apple cider vinegar in wet hair in between treatments.


Thin, flaky and scaly shedding of the scalp is dandruff. It is dead and dry skin that has flaked from your scalp into your hair. Most often, dandruff will appear as white or yellowish flakes or specks, sometimes very dry and brittle or sometimes oily. If you have been scratching due to itching, your skin may turn red or bleed, causing reddish or brownish flaking to occur. Dandruff is a self-contained condition, meaning that you cannot pass it on to someone else.

What Causes Dandruff?
Dandruff is caused by several factors. One of the most common reasons that people get dandruff is that it is a hereditary problem, meaning that it is a passed down trait from one family member to another. Don’t worry though, you cannot catch it from someone else. When the skin of your scalp becomes inflamed, the body’s natural reaction to fix the itching and soreness is to shed the top layer of the skin that is causing the discomfort. Dandruff can come from dry skin, overly oily skin, or a buildup of hair care products like shampoo and hair spray. Other factors include skin conditions like psoriasis or environmental conditions like too much sun or cold windy weather.

Who Does Dandruff Affect?
While dandruff is often seen in adults, even children and the elderly can get it. The highest cases of dandruff are seen in children going through puberty and early teen years, women who have recently had a child, men who are balding, and those who have a thinning of the hair.

What Are the Symptoms of Dandruff?
As with lice, the most common symptom is a high feeling of itchiness. Also as with lice, you will see white or yellowish flakes in your hair. Dandruff can be easily removed from the hair and if shaking the hair gently should be easily moved. Unlike lice, dandruff can be easily combed out of the hair.

How Is Dandruff Treated?
As with lice, the shampoo for dandruff is medicated. Some offer ingredients that help slow down the skin shedding process. When looking at ingredients, consider ones that have coal tar or ketoconazole. If your hair is too oily, look for an oil reducing shampoo. If your scalp is itchy, look for an itch free type shampoo. Consider ones that also contain eucalyptus, aloe, and vitamins to strengthen hair at the follicle and to soothe the scalp to prevent damage and irritation.

Knowing the difference between lice and dandruff can save you a lot of time and hassle. Having treatments available also helps you to reduce the chances of you contracting either one.