Dandruff is a problem that plagues a huge number of people around the world. Dry flaky scalps are nothing new, nor are they uncommon. Lice, on the other hand, is far less common and far more of a concern. When you see white particles in your hair and on your scalp, you need to be able to differentiate between dandruff and lice. It’s easy to do, and can be done a number of different ways.

Things You'll Need

Look at your scalp in a mirror. It’s a good idea to have plenty of light when you do this as it can be difficult to differentiate between lice and dandruff in poor light. If you have a vanity mirror, even better.

Find white flecks and spots on your scalp and in your hair. White flecks higher on your hair shaft are typically just dandruff, while those closer to your scalp could be either. They will require closer inspection.

Comb your hair. If the white flecks move freely along the comb and the shaft of your hair then it is likely just dandruff. If it remains firmly stuck at your scalp then it is most likely lice.

Shampoo your hair thoroughly, repeating the process at least once for the best results. Typically a single wash is enough to remove dandruff. Once you’ve shampooed and dried your hair you’ll want to reexamine it. If there are still white flecks, especially at the base of the hair shafts, then you most likely have lice.

Note any severe itchiness in your scalp. While dandruff can occasionally be itchy, it will only be minor. Lice will be severely itchy on your scalp, and no matter how much you scratch the sensation of itchiness will not go away. This is one of the best ways to differentiate between lice and dandruff.


  • Treat lice as soon as it becomes apparent, and keep your children home from school while you treat it. In many jurisdictions children are forbidden from coming to school if they have head lice.

  • Check for lice regularly, especially in children. It’s a good idea to check for head lice between doctor visits, and every month or two.