Dandruff and Its Discontents

There is something intriguing about dandruff. It’s the stuff of battles when it comes to treating or managing dandruff issues. One doctor tells me I should use hair oil since dandruff is, simply speaking, dryness and oil helps in taking care of that dryness. Another doctor tells me that the more I oil my hair, the happier and better-fed the dandruff-producing fungi on my scalp will be! How can such a trivial thing be so controversial and so consequential? I trust both the doctors and so I am frustrated as a patient but dandruff becomes an interesting site to think about science in its relation to our daily lives.

The issue of contention is the skin oil or sebum. Since the skin is oily, one school of thought holds, adding oil to the scalp does not help. In fact, it only worsens the problem. The other school of thought says that the oil that is already present on the skin is not nutritive or nourishing anyway. And so the scalp needs an external source of oil to keep it hydrated or healthily moist. Is it just me or the situation really sounds as mundane as glass half-full/half-empty and as bizarre as multiple readings of Rorschach Ink-blot Test?

It is perfectly understandable that there could be more than one way of treating/managing something and each way could contradict the others. It is also perfectly understandable that every doctor has a different of approaching a problem. However, what is disorienting is that it can be so obvious at the level of patients — a stage in which pretty much all sorts of discussion should ideally have converted into more or less consistent approach towards healing process. The situation is also hilarious because it gives a tiny peek into how objectivity as a virtue of science or medicine is really, excuse me, a hoax. A peek into the impossibility of finding a common ground in order to observe, test, experiment, study the concerned problem, that of dandruff. Or, if it works both ways, then the impossibility of isolating the patient-specific factors that lead to effective management of the problem.

By itself, dandruff is not the problem. It is a symptom of how science works. At its worst, it is about how the patients are not engaged in the conversation about the problems that different schools of thought face. It would be fun to be a part of exchanges on what constitutes dandruff — how it comes into being and how all the knowledge around it comes to different conclusions about its several aspects.

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