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What can I do About Dandruff?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are a number of treatments which can be used to control or greatly reduce dandruff, and many of these treatments are available directly over the counter, so they do not require a trip to the doctor. It is important to remember that an itchy, flaking, irritated scalp can also be associated with some medical conditions which do require more aggressive treatment, so if you try to control your dandruff at home and it does not appear to be reduced after two weeks or so, you should make an appointment to see a doctor. A doctor can get to the root cause and offer treatment options which should address the problem.

While dandruff looks unsightly, it's not harmful. It is caused by an excessive buildup of dead skin cells on the scalp, which in turn fall away, often becoming clotted with oil due to excessive oil production by the scalp. In many people, it appears to simply be natural, but in others, doctors have learned that a fungus may be responsible. The fact that a fungus is often behind it means that a number of techniques can be used to treat it, as elimination of the fungus may reduce dandruff significantly.

The best way to treat dandruff is to use a specialized shampoo. Look for shampoos with ingredients such as zinc pyrithone, salicyclic acid, coal tar, selenium silfide, or ketoconazole. All of these ingredients have been shown to reduce flaking; to use the shampoo, apply it to your scalp and hair, rub vigorously, and allow it to sit for five minutes so that the ingredients can work before rinsing it out. The shampoo should be used every few days, and you may need to try several shampoos before you find one which works. You will also need to use it routinely to prevent recurrence, and you may find that a shampoo becomes ineffective at a certain point, in which case you will need to try a new product.

In addition to medicated shampoos, dandruff can also be treated with tea tree oil, a plant compound which has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. Tea tree oil will help soothe the itching and irritation associated with this condition, while also eliminating any organisms which might be triggering flake production. Tea tree oil shampoos are readily available in many markets. Some people also have success with periodic applications of baking soda to their scalp.

Some people can eliminate dandruff entirely with diligent shampoo applications, while others may always have naturally flaky scalps. However, using medicated shampoo should radically improve the condition; if the dandruff persists or grows worse, it may be a sign of psoriasis, seborrhoeic dermatitis, or even lice. These conditions require medical treatment to improve.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon118750 — On Oct 15, 2010

No, I don't think so. Well, it is very impractical.

By lamaestra — On Feb 25, 2009

I have heard that you need to change your towel every day when you start trying to fight the dandruff. Does anyone know if this is true?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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