Do you think I am unaware of the white flakes in my black hair? Do you think I desperately needed you to point them out to me?

Maybe if you took a closer look, since you're already staring, you'd notice that it's not dandruff but instead chunks of scalp, and maybe you'd even notice the red sores covered in what I can only describe as scales underneath my hair. You'd probably also notice that my hair is quite clean, as is the rest of me, implying that I do, in fact, wash my hair. But no, you just see what you assume to be dandruff and it makes you uncomfortable.

If you're going to comment, you might as well ask what the deal is. Then I can tell you that I have an autoimmune disease called psoriasis. It's not contagious, don't worry. My immune system thinks my own skin is a threat and is attacking it and has been since I've been 9 or so. That washing my hair too much actually makes it substantially worse. That the only thing that sort of helps is shampoo made of coal tar, which in turn causes me to smell like a construction site.

Maybe I'd even tell you that it's painful and uncomfortable. My scalp is so dry and raw that I'm in perpetual pain due to this shit and nothing I can do will relieve it. That I've been embarrassed about it my whole life because the flakes are white and my hair is dark, and they're impossible to comb out or remove because any impact to my scalp causes more plaque to grow.

Perhaps you want to hear about the nights that I've had full panic attacks because of it, because it's so itchy and painful and obvious, that I've starting picking off pieces of my own scalp with hair attached to try and remove it. Which in turn results in not only bald spots but my scalp bleeding, therefore causing the plaque to get worse as my body wants to "fix" the wounds. That I'd try to hide it in high school by wearing a hat, but I'd have to take my hat off in school and then worry all day if people could notice.

That it's the reason I have an unhealthy attachment to my hair, as my hair is the only thing hiding it. That it's the reason I don't let people touch my hair or head, and I recoil whenever my significant other tries to run his hands through my hair because my scalp is bumpy and raw.

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Do you want to hear about how it affects me in other ways? That it causes me to reject some vaccines, so I cannot get the flu shot. And since my immune system is in overdrive, I get sick incredibly easy as my body perceives anything foreign as a threat. That any cut I get heals too quickly, so I'm covered in scars from things like paper cuts and my dry skin peeling in the winter or summer. How about how it's most likely connected to my chronic dry eyes and dry mouth? Do you care about that? What about the fact that a good chunk of people with psoriasis will develop arthritis and have strokes because their immune system just starts attacking everything. There's no way to know whether or not that will happen to me, and there's nothing I can do to avoid it.

There's no cure, in case you were wondering. The only semblance of a cure is medication that basically destroys your immune system entirely. That doesn't sound too pleasant, does it? Yeah, I didn't think so.

But no, you didn't ask any of those things. You didn't think for a second that maybe the stranger you're criticizing has been dealing with this her whole life, and goes to great lengths trying to hide her disease because of people like you. Because she knows she looks dirty and weird when white flakes are covering her hair and clothing, and she wishes it was as simple as using some Head & Shoulders shampoo. I wish I didn't have to hear every time I get a haircut that my scalp is fucked up. I wish people would stop telling me to put olive oil on my head or just stick some lotion on my scalp. I wish they'd stop because I've tried all of these things and the most that happens is my hair is greasy and smells like an Italian family's kitchen. Nothing has helped, and nothing will help. The best I can do is tolerate the pain and hope that no one else notices.

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So please, do not tell me to wash my hair.

This didn't happen today. But I have had people, both strangers and friends alike, comment on the "dandruff" and give me tips to get rid of it. From the aforementioned olive oil to finding a new dermatologist (I've seen about 6 over the course of my life), so many people seem to have an answer. And yes, people have told me that I simply need to wash my hair more, because dandruff = dirty, apparently.

My psoriasis gets worse in the winter, as the cold air dries my skin out. At its worst, it spreads to behind my ears and the nape of my neck. Every time I have to leave the house between November and March, I get nervous because I'm afraid someone will notice and say something, as others have before. I've been late to work and class because I was trying to comb out the flakes and scratch off the plaque. Usually I resort to a hat.

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Don't comment on people's appearances, especially when it's something physical. You don't know why someone has dandruff or is overweight or has scars or anything, really. Tell someone they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe or a stain on the back of their shirt, but don't tell them something they already know. It's rude and it just makes us feel worse.