Nits or Flakes? The Difference between Head Lice and Dandruff

The thing about nits and dandruff is that though the two are very different but people often confuse one for the other. There are reasons for this apart from appearing similar; the two might also produce similar symptoms. Over the course of this blog, we’re going to get into the two and go over what they are about and how to differentiate between the two!

What are Nits?

Nits are eggs laid by lice that feed on humans. Lice attach their nits to hair follicles usually closer to the base. The presence of nits will also likely in most cases indicate to the presence or onset of lice. Due to their tiny size, both lice and nits are hard to detect in the early stages as well as hard to get rid of.

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is actually a skin condition, medically known as seborrheic dermatitis as is actually very common. This being said, unlike lice or nits, dandruff is not contagious; rather it is a condition that is genetically inherited and sometimes related to the climate.

Why Do the Two Get Mistaken for Each Other?

The reason these two are so often and easily confused is because as we said earlier, of their appearance as well as associated symptoms. Seborrheic dermatitis results in minuscule pieces of skin flaking off, often around the scalp area. These pieces of dry dead skin appear as little while flakes around the base of the scalp. The picture above is a magnified image of a louse egg or nit on a hair follicle. Nits also appear to the naked eye as little white flakes attached to hair follicles. In other words, from a visual standpoint, nits and dandruff flakes are easy to mistake for one another. Furthermore, lice when they feed on the human head cause scalp itching. Dandruff similarly, when the skin is flaking off also results in an itching scalp. You can see why between the sensory symptoms and visual appearance it is easy to mix these two up!

So How to Tell The Difference?  

Luckily, there are some clear cut ways to differentiate between the two. The first way is to check for movement within the hair. Lice and hatching nits move. Dandruff does not. If the white specs (or any other specs) seem to be moving around the hair, you can be sure it’s lice/nits and not dandruff. Another way to tell is by shaking off your hair a little on a black piece of paper. Dandruff flakes usually fall of on the paper if you do this. Lice and nits need a lot more than a gentle shake when it comes to getting them off. In short; movement equals lice and nits, flaking off equals dandruff!


Dandruff is not life threatening or contagious and can be treated easily for the most part. The same could be said for nit and lice treatment. If you live in California all you need to do if you suspect you have them is visit a lice specialist or clinic, go in for a lice screening and if need be removal! Just remember, white flakes in your hair could be any one of these two things!