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The Right Way to Deal with Dandruff

The Right Way to Deal with Dandruff

It's flaky scalp season!

Between the dry air and the cold weather, the winter months can leave your skin and scalp feeling dry, itchy, and flaky. That said, anyone can get dandruff any time of year -- not only in the winter. For some people it's temporary. For others, it's a regular, persistent issue.

Luckily, there is a right way to treat dandruff. All you need is a little haircare wisdom, a few good products, and a couple of lifestyle tweaks. 

Here's everything you need to know about dandruff, from what causes it to the best treatments. 



Dandruff is essentially a dry, flaky scalp. 

"Dandruff is more of a lay term for the medical diagnosis of mild seborrheic dermatitis. It can be used interchangeably," says Amy McMichael, M.D., professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

You'll know it's dandruff if you see white flakes on your scalp alongside feelings of itchiness and dryness. 



According to dermatologists, dandruff is caused by a fungus called malassezia, which lives naturally on the skin for many people. However, when an overgrowth of this yeast occurs, the imbalance can lead to dandruff. 

The body is continually shedding dead skin cells. With the increase of malassezia, the body is instructed to produce and shed skin cells faster and at a detrimental rate. Malassezia overgrowth can be caused by multiple factors including age, diet, hormones, skincare products, or stress.

If you are experiencing mild itching and flaking, there's a chance it may not be dandruff but allergic contact dermatitis which can leave you with a scaly, itchy scalp. Get it checked by your derm.

Even certain ingredients in your hair products can cause dandruff. If you're using harsh ingredients that strip the scalp of natural oils, it could contribute to an irritated, dry scalp. 



From home remedies to over-the-counter treatments and lifestyle tweaks, here's how to treat dandruff.

#1: Wash Your Hair More Often

Are you someone who lives by their dry shampoo? It could be the reason you're dealing with dandruff -- or at least, partially contributing to your whiteout dilemma. 

According to Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, a trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic, going days without washing your hair can often add to the problem.

"Oils and dead skin cells further accumulate as a result of infrequent hair washing. Patients prone to dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis should regularly wash hair a few times a week at minimum to reduce build up," explains Cunnane-Phillips.

#2: Use an Anti-Dandruff Shampoo 

If you're looking for an effective dandruff shampoo, try the ones with active ingredients such as zinc pyrithione (the same stuff in Head & Shoulders), ketoconazole, salicylic acid, coal tar, and selenium sulfide. These antibacterials and antifungals can offer relief to those dealing with dandruff.

When you've got dry skin on your scalp, you shouldn't be using your regular shampoo to treat it. Invest in a quality dandruff shampoo to ease your skin condition -- and be sure to use it every time you wash your hair.

#3: Add Tea Tree Oil to Your Shampoo

If you get the occasional dandruff attack, a great home remedy for reducing your symptoms is tea tree oil. Thanks to its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree can be an excellent DIY dandruff treatment. Simply add a few drops to your shampoo for relief.

However, make sure you don't overuse tea tree oil, as it can be irritating for some skin types, especially sensitive skin. Introduce it gradually and only apply a small amount.

#4: Lay off the Sugar

According to the derms, poor nutrition can lead to dandruff. 

So, if you're filling up on high-carb foods and sugars, you'll end up with a buildup of glycogen in the skin, which yeast feeds on, and this in turn may exacerbate dandruff. Plus, sugary foods and dairy stimulate the sebaceous glands, which produces excess oil on the skin, causing an oily scalp and worsened dandruff.

For the time being, try laying off the carbs and candy so your scalp can regain its full health and you can give your dandruff chance to disappear.

#5: Apply a Hot Oil Scalp Mask

"Oil-based treatments can help to balance some of the scalp’s excessive oil production," says Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group. "Applying oils to the scalp will help draw oils from it and remove them. It’s the classic law of attraction, where like substances attract each other."

Choose a nourishing oil like coconut oil or argan oil, heat it up in the microwave and apply it to your scalp. In addition to treating dryness, hot oil treatments can prevent the formation of dandruff. Plus, it feels wonderful on your head!

#6: Try the Apple Cider Vinegar Topical Remedy

While it's a popular scalp care treatment, apple cider vinegar won't actually get rid of dandruff. However, it can soothe irritation and itching thanks to its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that lower levels of yeast on the scalp and calm inflammation.

To make, combine half a cup of apple cider vinegar with one cup of water. Pour the mixture onto your head in the shower after shampooing and rinse thoroughly. If you've got a scalp condition or skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, speak to your dermatologist before trying home remedies, as they may worsen your case of dandruff.

Avoid remedies such as applying baking soda or lemon juice, which can be harsh and irritating to the scalp. 


Dandruff is a common condition that affects many people -- especially in the winter when the air outside is dry and cold. Always remember that there's nothing to be embarrassed about. 

If home treatments aren't working for you, contact your dermatologist for medical advice and explore different treatment options. You may be prescribed topical anti-dandruff treatments such as Nizoral to help ease your symptoms. Alternatively, you may have an underlying skin condition that needs attention. 




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