Literatus: Itchy flakes

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A POPULAR Visayan song may have lyrics like this when it comes to flakes: “Dili tanang hup-ak kan-on; dili tanang kan-on hup-ak” (literally translated as “not all flakes you eat; not all you eat are flakes).

Some carbohydrate-laden finger foods are flakes, like the traditional banana or cassava flakes (or chips) we know from childhood. Some so-called “junk foods” have also hit the store shelves as flakes, such as corn flakes.

There are certain flakes though that you will not dream of eating, so gross to some even to imagine touching their lips. These flakes are often the itchy ones we call “dandruff.”


Dandruff flakes or scales are actually dead skin cells that the scalp sheds off regularly and they stay cohesive with each other. Shedding is a normal daily process of skin renewal. The Ranganthan & Mukhopadhyay study in 2010 noted that around 487,000 cells per square cm die normally each day. Scalp cells normally die in around a month.

These flakes of skin are too small to be noticeable.

As a skin disorder, dandruff involves an unusually large amount of flaking (up to 800,000 cells per square cm). The shedding occurs much faster between two to seven days.

Three causes of dandruff include simple dry skin, skin oil and skin microflora. The most common cause, dry skin hastens the death of surface cells in the scalp. It results from excessive shampooing (chemicals, such as astringents, dry the scalp) as well as extended exposure to low temperatures (cold temperature prevents skin moisture).

The skin oil called “sebum” (secretions of sebaceous glands), when inadequately cleaned up, provides a good environment for the growth of certain microorganisms normally existing in the scalp surface. For instance, the scalp-specific fungus, Malassezia globosa, metabolizes triglycerides present in sebum through its lipase, resulting in the byproduct oleic acid. This acid penetrates the surface layer of the scalp, causing inflammation and the cells to cleave and flake off.

Current studies in scalp nutrition noted that certain nutrients protect the scalp from developing dandruff. These nutrients include zinc, beta-carotene, iron, folate, and Vitamin C. Zinc stabilizes the structure of proteins and cell membranes. Beta-carotene and Vitamin C are antioxidants that protect the skin surface from the destabilizing and inflammatory attacks of oleic acid. Iron and folate nourishes the scalp, keeping the scalp oils well circulated.

Cybele Fishman, a dermatologist based in New York City, wrote: “Just one week with a poor diet can yield dry, sallow skin within days.” That is exactly what poor nutrition can do to us, and is consistent with a law of Nature: What we do not eat or drink, we do not get (unless, of course, we have these injected in our body).

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 05, 2014.


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