Nits or dandruff: how do I tell the difference?

Dandruff is a very common phenomenon in the hair, affecting on average one in two people.
Dandruff is easily identified, it appears as small white flakes, or clusters of dead cells, on the surface of the scalp and on clothing. But in some cases it can be confused with what are called nits. Nits are in fact lice eggs.



How to tell the difference?

So nits or dandruff? How do I tell the difference?
This is a question that arises in particular when you see dandruff in children's hair, as they are at the highest risk of being infested with lice.

It can be difficult to differentiate between them when the lice are in the larval stage because nits look very much like dandruff. They are usually greyish or whitish in colour, like scales.
Certain criteria, although not always sufficiently distinctive, can help you to tell the difference:

  • Nits grip more strongly to the hair and remain attached to the scalp even when the hair is moved.
  • Dandruff, on the other hand, glides more easily along the hair and can even be found on clothes.

If it is impossible to tell the difference based on symptoms, do not hesitate to consult your dermatologist or pharmacist who will help you to identify them.
If there is a strong resemblance, your dermatologist may even use a dermatoscope – a kind of large magnifying glass (used to study moles) that magnifies by at least 10 times – to distinguish between hair dandruff and nits. They can then offer advice and prescribe the most suitable treatment.

In infants

Finally, if you observe what looks like dandruff in a baby, bear in mind that it is rarer to see nits or normal dandruff in infants and most of the time it is cradle cap. This is a temporary and totally harmless desquamation phenomenon that appears in many infants after birth. The scales are easily recognised by their appearance on the scalp's surface – they are thick and white to yellow in colour.

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