Between struggling to make your tresses more voluminous and warding off hair loss, you’ve likely already got enough to deal with regarding your hair. Having dandruff is the icing on the cake; the tiny, pesky white flakes spread across your scalp, hair and shoulders can be incredibly annoying and difficult to get rid of.

Thankfully, there are ways to deal with the ‘druff, so if you are struggling with this condition, there is hope! But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is dandruff, exactly?

Dandruff is a common skin condition (also known as ‘seborrheic dermatitis’) which generally affects the scalp. Symptoms include shedding small white flakes of skin, and red, itchy or scaly patches on the scalp. It can also affect other areas of the body, including the ears, face and chest.

dandruff

Dandruff can affect people at any age (even during infancy), but it most commonly strikes during puberty and fades by the time you reach age 45. Around 50% of people experience dandruff at some point in their lives. Its severity depends on the individual person – some people will only have a mild case which can be resolved quickly, whilst others may require a medicated treatment and a bit of patience.

Note: While it is normal to shed skin cells, in most cases these flakes aren’t noticeable. Dandruff occurs when the skin cells are shed and replenished at a faster rate, resulting in large, visible clumps.

Risk factors

Science has discovered a number of risk factors for developing dandruff, including:

  • Stress and/or a weakened immune system
  • Cold, dry climates
  • Vitamin B and/or zinc deficiencies
  • Oily skin
  • Some medications
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease
  • Not washing your hair often – or doing it too often.

Addressing these factors may be useful for the treatment and management of dandruff. The condition may also be triggered by the fungus ‘malassezia’, which is often found on the scalp.

How can it be treated?

While in some cases, dandruff may disappear without treatment, often some form of remedy is needed. For milder cases, home remedies may work well, whereas more severe cases which do not respond well to home remedies may require medical treatment.

In either case, the goal is to minimise oiliness, remove dead skin cell build-up, and address any potential fungal issues.

You may require repeated treatments over a period of time before your symptoms resolve, and there is a chance that it may return in the future, so it’s important to maintain a good skincare routine.

Step one

If you haven’t tried any treatments yet, a good way to start is by cleansing your hair regularly and thoroughly (once every 1-2 days) with a gentle shampoo. You should also try to minimise stress in your life, where possible. Avoid taking on too many tasks, and try things like exercise, meditation and getting enough sleep.

Step two

If after 7 days you still have dandruff, you might want to try using an over-the-counter specialised dandruff shampoo. Look for products which include zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, coal tar, selenium sulphide, and/or salicylic acid. These ingredients can help reduce the rate of skin cell turnover and treat fungus.

shampooing hair

Begin by shampooing daily, massaging it in thoroughly and leaving it for 5 minutes before rinsing. Once you have your dandruff under control (this can take up to a month), you may want to drop down to using the shampoo once or twice a week. You may want to switch up the anti-dandruff shampoo you’re using to prevent building up a tolerance to the ingredients.

Step three

If you have tried the previous two steps to no avail, it may be time to visit your doctor. A doctor can help determine the underlying cause of your dandruff and treat it appropriately with prescription medication or refer you to a dermatologist. Some of the medications they might prescribe you (depending on your needs) include:

Anti-inflammatory products

Prescription-strength shampoos, creams or ointments that reduce inflammation may be beneficial for treating dandruff. They should be applied to the affected area sparingly. Common prescriptions include hydrocortisone, clobetasol and fluocinolone. Long term side effects (if used regularly for a long period of time with no rest) may include skin thinning and/or skin streaks.

Antifungal products

Antifungal, medicated options include shampoos, gels, creams and oral pills. They may include ketoconazole or ciclopirox. These tend to have fewer side effects than anti-inflammatories, though it depends on the individual, as antifungal pills may interact with other medications.

Home remedies and alternative therapies:

If you want to try a natural remedy before starting on a medicated treatment, here are some of your options:

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil

Boasting powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, tea tree oil is considered by many to be an effective treatment for dandruff. In fact, a scientific study showed it to be 41% more effective at treating dandruff than a placebo! However, be careful if you have sensitive skin, as it may cause irritation. Diluting it and adding it to coconut oil or another natural moisturiser may be beneficial.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera

This soothing plant is often used to alleviate burns and psoriasis, and its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties may also be helpful in reducing and preventing dandruff. Try aloe vera by applying the gel to your scalp and leaving it on for 30 minutes before rinsing and washing with a gentle shampoo. Repeat 2-3 times per week.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil

Not only is coconut oil delicious, but it can help reduce dandruff, too! It works by moisturising the scalp, preventing dryness and easing the symptoms of eczema, all of which can make dandruff worse. Coconut oil also contains some anti-microbial properties, which may be beneficial.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar may be used as a natural solution for treating dandruff, thanks to its acidic nature which helps to balance the skin’s pH level (thus reducing fungal growth). No scientific studies have been done yet to prove these claims, so available evidence is merely anecdotal. If you want to try it, simply add two tablespoons to your shampoo.

Fish oil (omega-3)

Fish oil

Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil also possess anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate dandruff symptoms. Omega-3s also help balance oil production and hydrate the skin, preventing dryness which may contribute to dandruff. To get more in your diet, take a fish or krill oil supplement or up your intake of fish, flaxseed and walnuts.

Probiotics

Probiotics

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria which promote overall wellness, gut health and immune function. By boosting immunity, probiotics can help ward off fungal infections which can lead to dandruff. A scientific study has found that it can greatly minimise dandruff severity. Take them in capsule form or increase your intake of fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha.

Baking soda

Baking soda for dandurff

One of the simplest and cheapest natural remedies for dandruff is baking soda. It works as an exfoliator, getting rid of dead skin cells and alleviating scaly, itchy skin. It also contains anti-fungal properties, which – as you know, can help treat dandruff. Apply baking soda to wet hair and rub it into the scalp. Leave it for two minutes and then shampoo and rinse as usual.

Aspirin

Aspirin

Did you know that aspirin, commonly used for relieving pain, contains salicylic acid? This sneaky little ingredient is responsible for giving the medicine its anti-inflammatory properties. Salicylic acid is commonly found in anti-dandruff treatments, where it loosens flakes and eases scaly skin. If you want to use this wonder-ingredient in its more natural (and cheaper) form, simply crush several aspirin tablets and place the powder in your shampoo.

Lemongrass oil

Lemongrass oil

One of the quirkiest things on the list, lemongrass oil has been touted as an effective natural remedy for pesky dandruff. This is thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. A study found that products which included 10% lemongrass oil managed to reduce dandruff by around 80% in just two weeks! However do be careful with it, as applying it undiluted straight onto the skin can result in irritation and even allergic reactions. Mix a small amount into water or your usual shampoo to test it out for yourself. You can buy this wonder-oil online or at your local health food shop.

Conclusion

While it’s completely possible to treat dandruff, make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself. The condition is unlikely to disappear overnight, and you may have to try a number of different treatments before you find the right one for you.

Once you do find a cure, it is highly possible that your dandruff may return in time. If this happens, don’t despair! Simply move on to the next treatment. And remember, dandruff is only a small part of life, so don’t let it bring you down.