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How to Get Rid of Dandruff

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
15th April 2021

In 30 seconds…

How to get rid of dandruff? From apple cider vinegar to baking soda, everyone has their home remedy for those dry flakes of skin on your scalp. Should you trust them? If we’re honest, while many people swear by them, the science isn’t so convincing. 

So, what does work to treat dandruff? Special anti-dandruff shampoos are your best option. Containing things like zinc pyrithione and selenium sulphide, these are designed to treat the dryness or oiliness that is at the root of the condition.

Meanwhile, trying to keep control of your scratching (although easier said than done!) and washing regularly are good supporting measures too.

Tackling Dandruff

There’s nothing fun about dandruff. Those specks of dry, flaky skin on your scalp can be unsightly, itchy, and frustrating. And the more you itch, the worse they get.

While dandruff can be demoralising, there is good news. As skin conditions go, it is relatively easy to solve. You may just have to try some different options before you find the one that works for you.

So, how to get rid of dandruff? We’ve got some of the answers that you’re looking for.

What is Dandruff (and What Causes It)?

But first, let’s tackle the big questions. What is dandruff? And what causes it?

Dandruff is a really common skin condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake off. Luckily, it isn’t contagious, serious, or often painful. But it can be a bit embarrassing. For some reason, it has been associated with bad hygiene (although this actually has nothing to do with it) and it can be a little unsightly too.

The truth is that there are lots of possible causes of dandruff. That’s why treating it is really a game of trial and error. 

  • Oily skin. Oily skin and greasy hair are often associated with dandruff. While hair grease doesn’t cause dandruff (it just makes it more noticeable), oily skin can cause seborrheic dermatitis and can encourage Malassezia – a common fungus – to grow. Both of these cause dandruff.
  • Dry skin. Both oily skin and dry skin can cause dandruff. This one happens often because you shampoo too much.
  • Sensitivity to hair products. Contact dermatitis is a red itchy rash that occurs in contact with a substance to which you react badly. Soaps, cosmetics, and hair products are all possible causes.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. When your skin is too oily, it can cause red, greasy, and inflamed skin. This is known as seborrheic dermatitis, and it’s one of the most common causes of dandruff.
  • Psoriasis. Dandruff usually comes and goes. However, if it is chronic, it might be down to psoriasis, a long-term condition that causes red, scaly skin.
  • Other skin conditions such as eczema can cause dandruff too.

How to Get Rid of Dandruff

How to get rid of dandruff will depend on the cause. And we can’t tell you that for sure. What we can do, though, is suggest some commonly effective dandruff treatments that may work for you.

Give them a go. And, if your dandruff doesn’t disappear, visit a dermatologist. They’ll be able to give you a specific diagnosis.

Shampoo More

One of the possible ways to tackle dandruff is to wash your hair more often. However, this will only work as a solution if your dandruff is the result of an oily scalp. Shampooing removes any build-up of oiliness – and, incidentally, can make your dandruff less obvious.

The trouble is that if your dandruff is down to dry skin or contact dermatitis, more shampooing might exacerbate the problem.

Get a Special Shampoo (But Try to Only Wash Your Scalp)

So shampooing can go either way. But what about those specific anti-dandruff shampoos and conditioners? Here, you could be onto a winner.

While, again, they won’t work for every possible cause of dandruff, there is a good chance that they will help. However, try only to shampoo your scalp. Ironically perhaps, not all anti-dandruff shampoos are friendly to your hair. 

Find a hair product which includes one of the following.

  • Zinc pyrithione: While it sounds intense, zinc pyrithione has long been known for its anti-dandruff properties. It is particularly good against Malassezia but can treat seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis as well.
  • Salicylic acid: Known for its ability to break down dead skin, salicylic acid can fight dandruff associated with dermatitis and dry skin.
  • Selenium sulphide (or selenium sulfide): This one is a licenced drug for relieving an itchy and flaky scalp. That means it’s very useful in anti-dandruff hair care.
  • Ketoconazole: Shampoo containing ketoconazole has antifungal properties, which can help to tackle Malassezia.
  • Coal tar: Coal tar forces your scalp to shed flaking skin. It brings dandruff away from your hair during washing.

Most of these are available in supermarkets and pharmacies. Always read the label.

Note: You can also try the Manual Power Shampoo. As well as stimulating and reviving your hair follicles, it is packed full of natural ingredients which will moisturise your dry scalp.

Avoid Scratching

Easier said than done, we know. However, it is true that scratching only makes things itchier in the long run. And when we’re talking about dandruff, that means more dry skin too.

When your scalp is itchy, try to find ways to resist the urge. Taking deep breaths can help – while trying to pat or stroke the itchy spot instead reduces the impact of those nails. 

Meanwhile, avoiding tight-fitting hats and staying cool can prevent itchiness in the first place.

Home Remedies

What about all of those home remedies? You may have seen hundreds of different ways to combat dandruff online. While many will swear by them, it’s not a given that any of these will actually work. 

  • Lemon juice? The idea is that the citric acid in lemon juice can help your scalp flush away dry skin. While there is no scientific evidence that it works, people apply it before shampooing. It won’t hurt.
  • Baking soda? Known technically as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda has been used for the treatment of skin conditions for years. It seems to work against psoriasis, so why not dandruff too?
  • Coconut oil? There is some evidence that coconut oil can help skin hydration, which may help dandruff sufferers who have a dry scalp.
  • Apple cider vinegar? A common home remedy for dandruff, apple cider vinegar is thought to balance your skin’s acidity and fight fungus. However, there is no evidence to support this.
  • Green tea? A natural wonder if ever there was one, green tea has been thought to fight dandruff too. Does it? There isn’t actually any evidence.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you’re experiencing dandruff, you are encouraged to try all of the different options available for treatment. As we said, there is no single solution. Where some people swear by a treatment, others may have less luck.

However, if your dandruff is serious, you should get it checked out. Serious means you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Dandruff accompanied by pain, severe redness, or irritation.
  • Swelling, cuts, or bleeding.
  • Chronic dandruff after many attempts of treatment.

A doctor will be able to talk with you about some possible causes and help you identify the right treatment for you.

Key Takeaways

While there are many dandruff treatments out there, not all of them will be effective on all types of dandruff. That means you may have to experiment a little to find one that works for you.

However, if your dandruff is chronic, or is painful, then it may be time to visit a doctor. They will be able to help you find the right solution.

References

  1. R MarksA D PearseA P Walker (1985). The effects of a shampoo containing zinc pyrithione on the control of dandruff – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3158327/

     

  2. R VerdoliniL BugattiG FilosaB MannelloF LawlorR R Cerio (2005). Old fashioned sodium bicarbonate baths for the treatment of psoriasis in the era of futuristic biologics: an old ally to be rescued – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15897164/

  3. Anna Liza C AgeroVermén M Verallo-Rowell (2004). A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15724344/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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