Observing Dandruff Under the Microscope Guide

Observing Dandruff Under the Microscope

Almost all people experience having falling dandruff flakes on their shoulders at some point in their lives. But why do we have those pesky flakes, and what are they made of? If you look at dandruff under the microscope, what would they look like?

Let’s learn more about these irritating flakes in a fun experiment. We will be observing them under the microscope and learning more about them.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff, medically known as pityriasis capitis, is the shedding of dead skin cells accumulated on our scalp. It can be fine or coarse in texture and appear white or gray. Usually, dandruff is only noticeable on the scalp but may also appear on facial hair or other body parts.

Dandruff can affect people of any age and ethnicity, but it mainly appears to be more common among teenagers and young adults. It can vary in severity from mild cases that are barely noticeable to severe cases where flakes are falling out profusely.

What are the causes of dandruff?

Causes of dandruff are not known, but it is thought to be due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Use of certain hair care products containing harsh chemicals. Alternatives with natural ingredients should be used to prevent dandruff.
  • High-stress levels or other emotional trauma.
  • Poor diet, lack of certain nutrients in the body.
  • A compromised immune system can cause dandruff, too, by not being able to fight off disease and infections that give rise to it.

What are the symptoms of dandruff?

Dandruff flakes in the blond hair

Typically a doctor will diagnose a patient with dandruff based on their symptoms and appearance. Patients may experience itching or irritation on their scalp, redness or swelling in the facial area, and flaky patches of skin that appear white or gray. Common symptoms of dandruff problem include:

  • Flakes of dead skin cells look like white or gray powder on the scalp and hair.
  • Itching and redness in most cases, along with flakes on the scalp.
  • Usually begins around the hairline but may move to other areas such as behind the ears and nape.
  • It May starts as a mild case but can become severe and cause embarrassment in social settings such as school or work.

Observing Dandruff Flakes Under the Microscope


Collect samples by first shampooing the hair and scalp thoroughly with a mild, oil-free shampoo. Rinse and towel dry the hair and scalp as much as possible without irritating.

Use lice comb to remove scales from the hair and scalp. If necessary, use a magnifying glass to examine the area closely for dandruff flakes.

Tools Needed

  • Stereo microscope
  • Compound microscope
  • Petri dish containing water or saline solution with
  • Paper towels or Kimwipes
  • Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle, optional

A Stereo Microscope is used for viewing both large objects or surfaces in close detail but still being able to see clearly due to its magnifying power. Objects or specimens need to be placed on a slide and placed under the microscope for magnification for best viewing.

A Compound Microscope is used to view small and large objects and surfaces in greater detail than a stereo microscope but uses more advanced technology and can magnify up to 1,000x the original size.

Steps in Observing Dandruff Under the Microscope

a nurse checking a dandruff using a portable microscope

Stereo Microscope

  • Place a dandruff flake on a clean slide, then place the slide under the binocular eyepiece of the stereo microscope.
  • In low light conditions, turn on both illuminators, one near the condenser/halogen lamp/mercury arc lamp and another on the base of the microscope.
  • Center the flake between both illuminators, then focus the image using the focusing knobs on either side of each eyepiece.
  • Adjust the magnification to about 10x or 20x for good clarity of detail.

Compound Microscope

  • Place a dandruff flake on a clean slide, then place the slide under the binocular eyepiece of the compound microscope.
  • To focus, turn both fine focus knobs in unison so that they are in line with each other when the image is clear. Adjust until you can see small details on your dandruff flake.
  • Turn both coarse focus knobs to bring the image into sharp focus. If needed, use a fine focus knob for final adjustments.
  • To increase magnification, turn the objective barrel located under the stage so that either 4x or 10x objective is in place.
  • Turn slightly counterclockwise until the image is blurred initially, then clockwise until it comes into focus.
  • Once you have the dandruff flake in focus, use the fine focus knob to bring it into a high resolution for the best viewing.


Whatever the size, dandruff flakes are clumped corneocyte cells that have maintained a high degree of cohesion with one another and parted from the stratum corneum. When observed through a microscope, they are generally white or grey, similar to tree bark separated from the trunk.

  • Observe dandruff under both microscopes and normal light with assistance from a parent or an instructor.
  • Record what you see under both microscopes, then compare your results.
  • Ask a parent or instructor to assist you in taking photographs of dandruff flakes under a microscope.

For cheaper microscope options, you may also consider the following:


Observing dandruff under a microscope is an interesting experiment that students can do to hone their skills in operating microscopes. It is easy to collect samples and they can use cheaper microscope options for simple observations. Studying microscopic items such as dandruff also helps students learn more about their bodies and makes them more responsible in dealing with normal issues such as dandruff.


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