The death of old cells and the subsequent replacement of them with new ones is part of the daily process of the human body. This process takes place in every part of our bodies, including our scalps.
However, when the cells are shed at a fast pace that our bodies can handle, flakes of different sizes start to make themselves evident. These irregular shaped flakes can be particularly dense on the scalp, where they gradually fall off from, dispersing over our hair and then eventually all over our clothing. They are especially prominent in oily areas of our bodies. These flakes are mostly identified on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, around the nose and lips and behind, inside and on the outer parts of the ears. (1) (2)
Although people may scientifically refer to this condition as seborrheic dermatitis, this skin disease does not necessarily have to always produce dandruff. Dandruff may be a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis, however if your skin is inflamed and you identify scaling on other parts of your body apart from the scalp then it need not be seborrheic dermatitis. It can instead be anything from eczema to psoriasis. On the other hand, another view, is that seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff may be closely linked if a little inflammation is seen. (3)
Dandruff is a common skin disease, that affects about 50 percent of the population. It is seen most widely in adults and less so in children. It generally starts at puberty where it shows itself in the most intense state and lessens significantly around the age of 50. (4) (5)
These are several factors that lead to dandruff formation on the body.
The first is dry and greasy skin that can be a result of inadequate shampooing. Not using the sufficient amount of shampoo to clear away the natural grease that your scalp produces can cause certain types of bacteria (staphylococcus) and fungi (malassezia globosa) to thrive on the scalp, as these organisms feed on your natural skin oils. As the malassezia feeds on your oils, it secretes oleic acid, which causes a reaction on your skin. To counter this reaction your immune system causes rapid skin cell shedding, which makes itself evident in the form of dandruff. So, to eliminate dandruff the individual must control the natural oils on the scalp, as the bacteria and fungi will stop growing when they find themselves unable to find their source of living. (6) (7)
The second factor is the excessive use of artificial hair products such as conditioners, shampoos or moisturizers and dyes, that may contain harmful chemicals. These chemicals can cause allergies on your scalp, which may in turn react in the form of dry flakes on the scalp. Another issue with hair products is that they may contain a considerable amount of oil. If you add more oil onto your already oily scalp, this will provide an ideal place for malasezzia to thrive. (8)
The third factor is a prolonged exposure to the cold. The cold can hinder your skin from producing its natural oil and can therefore cause the skin to dry up, producing dandruff. This does not, of course, mean that dandruff is not identified in individuals living in hotter climates, but it is less of a risk factor in these areas. On the other hand, it is useful to be aware that cold climates may cause intense dehydration which can cause cracks and flakiness in the scalp and body. So, make use of the organic ingredient of olive oil, that can be massaged into your skin or scalp as a natural moisturizer. Also, in colder weather we tend to wrap our heads up with thick woolly hats. It is essential that you do not do this, as this will aid in oil accumulation on the scalp, worsening the dandruff. (9) (10) (11)
The fourth factor is the prevalence of a weak immune system; this could be due to a seasonal illness such stress, or the use of steroids. Or, long term and permanent illnesses such as HIV/AIDs or Parkinson’s Disease that weakens the immune system entirely. During a bout of a debilitated immunity, the bacteria staphylococcus and the fungi malassezia, tend to multiply at a rapid rate, resulting in dandruff. Not eating foods that are high in nutritional value such as fruit and vegetables (particularly B-complex vitamin and omega 3-fatty acids deficiency) can also weaken the immune system, making your body open to the bacteria and fungi that causes dandruff. (12) (13). An air purifier can help reduce allergens in the environment.
The fifth factor is sex. Studies have shown that male individuals tend to suffer from dandruff more than females do. This reflects that male and female hormones have an effect on skin conditions. (14)
Some symptoms to look out for when self-diagnosing dandruff is open wounds around the body, excessively oily areas, and an overabundance in thick, large or small skin flakes that may be yellow, or white in colour. These flakes also have the tendency to stick. Other symptoms are uncontrollable itching that can lead to open wounds and subsequent infections, a painful tinge of redness and the loss of hair. Loss of hair is not permanent and once the dandruff is cleared away, the hair will continue to sprout and grow. (15) (16)
Dandruff may cause embarrassment in some people, and while some may opt for lighter coloured clothing to camouflage the falling flakes from their scalp, others may stop socialising all together. However, the good news is that there are several home remedies that can be implemented to reduce dandruff and in some cases, get rid of it all together.
One of the most effective ways of getting rid of dandruff is the application of fenugreek paste directly to the scalp.
You will need three level tablespoons of fenugreek seed which you can purchase from major supermarkets or stores that specialize in herbal products for a very inexpensive price. You will also be needing a whole cup of water. Drop the fenugreek seeds into the cup and mix well. Leave the seeds in the cup of water overnight. This will soften them and make them easier to grind the next morning. Once grinded, spread the paste over the scalp, massaging it well into your scalp with your fingers. Leave it on your scalp for about 30 minutes, so that the paste can work at fighting off the bacteria and fungi. Then thoroughly wash it off. Try this process two times a week. (17)
Bottom Line: Applying fenugreek seed paste onto your scalp is not just a perfect way to get rid of dandruff, but it will also give your hair a soft shiny feel and look.
2. Neem Leaves
Another excellent herb that can help combat dandruff is the neem leaf. Like the fenugreek, it is very easy to prepare. Just grind the leaves with some water to form into a paste. Start with very little water, mix and then add some more water if you feel that your leaves are not combining into a spreadable paste. Massage the paste all over your scalp, ensuring that you’ve spread it to all parts. Then leave it to absorb for about 15 minutes.
If you feel that this method does not work for you, you can also try boiling neem leaves in a little bit of water. Leave it to cool down completely, or at least to the right temperature that will not cause a risk of burning yourself. Then spread this all over your scalp, let it set for 15 minutes and then wash it off. (18) (19)
Bottom Line: If you find that grinding your neem leaves into a paste is too much hassle, you may prefer to purchase neem oil, which is the liquified form of neem leaves. This oil may be found in some anti-dandruff shampoos. However, you can find the pure form on online distributors or in stores that specialize in organic and herbal products. Once purchased just add it to your regular shampoo.
3. Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are perfect when it comes to fighting dandruff, as it is a wealthy source of everything that is good: it is a natural antioxidant and contains several vitamins and minerals. All you need to do is turn the leaves into a paste, by grinding them with some water. Spread the paste all over the scalp, let it settle for about 30 minutes and then wash it off.
You can also try boiling them with a tiny bit of coconut oil. Wait for it to cool down completely, or at least to the right temperature that will not cause a risk of burning. Then spread to every part of the scalp. Wrap your head up in a shower cap, so that you don’t get the paste all over your pillow and bed sheets and keep it wrapped up till the next morning. Wash it off with either cold or warm water. Repeat this process for 2 or 3 days of the week, until every spot of flakiness on the scalp disappears. (20)
Bottom Line: Curry leaves paste is not only an effective way at eliminating dandruff, but it will also give your hair a shine. It is also a natural hair product that will nourish and thicken your hair, even helping it sprout and grow.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is another remarkable remedy for curing dandruff. As stated above you can boil it with curry leaves, or you may prefer to heat it up and then apply it directly to your scalp. To prepare the coconut oil, measure about 1 tablespoon and heat it in a saucepan. Heat it until it is slightly warm, however if you do happen to overheat it, just let it cool for a few minutes. When the oil is at the right temperature spread it over your scalp and all over the roots of your hair. Place a shower cap over your head, as the oil will have to stay on your scalp for the entirety of the night, so that it can seep in and kill all the present bacteria and fungi. Wash it out with cold water the next morning. (21)
Bottom Line: Not all coconut oil is pure and organic. In order to make full use of the health benefits ensure that the bottle states that it is 100% pure coconut oil.
5. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree Oil is another effective way to get rid of dandruff. Just apply it directly to your scalp in its pure form. Or, you may instead prefer to add a tiny bit of olive oil or coconut oil to it, to make use of the added benefits of the latter two. Alternatively, you can also add it into unscented shampoo, before giving it a good shake and applying it to your hair.
Bottom Line: If you find that the adding of tea tree oil to your shampoo is too much of a hassle, there are shampoos on the market that have tea tree oil infused into them already.
6. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera gel is a unique substance that not only aids in eliminating dandruff, but it also cures the painful and discomforting symptoms of dandruff, such as inflammation and itching, by soothing them. (24)
Bottom Line: Aloe Vera is not only a dandruff-fighter, but it also is a natural moisturizer. So, if you’re looking for something organic to use to add moisture to your hair, go for Aloe Vera.
7. Baking Soda
If you are an avid baker, you most definitely have this ingredient within your home. It considerably decreases the amount of the natural oils that is produced by your body, thus eliminating the risk of dandruff.
It is really easy to apply. Just slightly wet your scalp and massage it over your scalp. Leave it on for about 10 minutes and then wash it out. (25)
Bottom Line: Like Aloe Vera, baking soda also soothes the inflammation that accompanies the dandruff.
Although the juice of a lemon is not recommended if you have wounds on your scalp due to the intensive itching, as a result of the dandruff itself, it is a superb Ph regulator. Through this characteristic, it is able to regulate the natural oils and growth of bacteria and fungi on the scalp, reducing the risk of the emergence of dandruff. Spread it all over your scalp for at least 3 days of the week. This should be done about 10 minutes prior to having a bath, then have your bath as you would normally. (26)
Bottom Line: Using the juice of a lemon to get rid of dandruff is probably the most painful remedy, as the citrus has a tendency to sting if you have any open wounds.
9. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar, like the juice of Lemon, is a Ph regulator and when this is teamed with is anti-bacterial quality, it prevents dandruff from forming. It is extremely easy to prepare. All you need to do is mix the same amount of apple cider vinegar with the same amount of water, then spread it all over your scalp, pressing it gently in with your fingers. Leave it off for about 15 minutes and then wash it off. This treatment may not be equally effective in every individual, which means you may prefer to persist with it, using it regularly for a while, or apply it simultaneously with other methods. (27)
Bottom Line: Apple cider vinegar has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial qualities and can kill any type of fungi or bacteria growth on your body.
10. Mango seed
Mango seed is another great natural remedy that will aid in curing your dandruff. The easiest method to prepare a spreadable paste is to purchase mango seed butter which you can find at stores that specialize in herbal or organic products or cosmetic shops. However, make sure that it is 100% organic and does not include any harmful chemicals. Apply this directly onto your hair.
Alternatively, you can also mix the butter with mustard oil and leave this mixture in the sun for a couple of days, before spreading it all over your scalp. (28)
Bottom Line: The combination of mango seed butter with mustard oil will not only cure your dandruff but it will also add shine to your hair, slow the process of hair loss or eliminate it all together, and hinder the greying of hair at an early age.
11. Adopt a balanced diet
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the formation of dandruff is closely linked to an excessive build-up of yeast inside your body. Fungi thrives on yeast and so it is important that you stay away from foods that hasten yeast growth. This is any of the following: sugar, mushrooms, refined carbohydrates, dried fruit, alcohol, stock cubes, peanuts, soy sauce, vinegar. Take these foods out of your diet for a couple of months, and instead replace them with meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains. If you want to quickly flush the yeast out of your body you can use supplements that contain probiotics, which is effective in adding necessary and healthy bacteria of the gut into your body to clean the bad yeast out. Use this for about 2 or 3 months. (29) (30)
Avoid dairy products, such as milk and cheese, as well as fatty and sugary foods, such as cakes and pastries, that have shown to intensify dandruff.
Also, eliminate foods with high quantities of salt from your diet and stop alcohol consumption, as these have shown to encourage the formation of dandruff.
Bottom Line: Consumption of foods with omega 3-fatty acids such as flax seed oil is highly essential in reducing dandruff. You can take a single tablespoon of flaxseed oil every day, to ensure you are getting enough omega 3-fatty acid into your body. (31)
12. Avoid hair products that are not made of organic and natural materials
Hair products, such as moisturizers, creams, oils, sprays, gels or dyes with several man-made chemicals may destroy the Ph of your skin, making your scalp an ideal place for fungi and bacteria to thrive. This may eventually lead to the formation of dandruff. So, you may choose to stop the usage of hair products all together, or use organic and natural ones, which can be bought at stores that specialize in organic cosmetics. However, they can be drastically pricey. (32)
Coconut oil, in its purest form, is an excellent moisturizer and de-tangler. It will also encourage the growth of hair and fight against dandruff, due to the healthy fatty acids and minerals and vitamins it contains. So, with four benefits in one gem of an ingredient coconut oil may be the one and only natural hair product you may need. As it has become quite popular lately, you will most probably be able to find it at your local supermarket and most definitely at a store that specializes in organic and herbal products.
To use it as a conditioner and moisturizer and to cure your dandruff, just spoon a little bit into a bowl. Get a larger bowl and place the small bowl with the coconut oil in the bottom of this bowl. Fill the larger bowl with some hot water, ensuring that the water does not seep into the small bowl at all. This will heat and melt the coconut oil up. When the oil is at a warm temperature, pick it up with your hands and spread it all over your scalp, rubbing it in. Then, comb your hair through, to ensure that it has spread to every part from root to tip. Cover your head with a shower cap and keep it on for at least thirty minutes to allow your scalp and hair to absorb all the essential nutrients. (33)
Bottom Line: Coconut oil, olive oil and aloe vera (all in their pure states) are perfect natural moisturizers.
13. Keep a calm and relax mindset
Taking stress out of your system is key in maintaining a strong immune system that can fight against bad bacteria and fungi that can lead to dandruff. This may sound easier than done, especially with a busy work schedule, alongside the raising of the children and looking after a home, however try to take up yoga and Pilates or simply just running or walking, which can do wonders to the way you view life. (34)
Bottom Line: If you are not a naturally active person and strongly dislike exercise, you can choose to take up other relaxing hobbies such as; reading, writing, painting, or even coloring.
14. Opt for shampoos with miconazole and ketoconazole
Miconazole and Ketoconazole are naturally anti-fungal ingredients and can stop malasezzia. Ketoconazole can be found in some shampoos, particularly anti-dandruff ones and is the most effective out of the dandruff shampoos. However, Miconazole can only be found in skin creams (which is perfect for those areas of your body, apart from your scalp, that you identify flaky skin on). Pets also have the tendency to suffer from dandruff, so the good news is that Miconazole can be found in most pet shampoos. (35) (36) (37)
If you’re applying these shampoos yourself you will need to separate your hair into sections and spread on the scalp of each area, to ensure that you have evenly distributed the shampoo. Then gently rub into the scalp.
If you’re using creams that contain miconazole and ketoconazole for your face and chest, ensure that you only apply these about twice a day, as the skin around these areas are much more sensitive than your scalp. (38)
Bottom Line: Some branded shampoos that contain ketoconazole is Nizoral and Dahdrozol. These can generally be found in supermarkets and pharmacies. They should be used two times a week for about four weeks, until the dandruff has totally disappeared. Once, the dandruff is considerably reduced, you can then use it once every one or two weeks to hinder it from returning. (39)
15. Use a shampoo containing coal tar
The tar in the shampoo will slow the process of skin renewal on your scalp, reducing the risk of dandruff. However, if you have naturally fair hair or have dyed your hair to a lighter colour, it is essential to know that the tar may cause discolouration in your hair. (40)
A branded example of a shampoo containing coal tar is Neutrogena T/Gel. (41)
Bottom Line: A fun and interesting fact is that the tar found in the shampoos is actually a concomitant of the coal manufacturing procedure.
16. Use a shampoo with zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid and selenium sulphide
You will be able to find zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid and selenium sulphide shampoos effortlessly at your local supermarket or at any pharmacy and can purchase them without a prescription. However, it is vital that you read the instructions on the bottle of the shampoo (alternatively, the instructions may come along with your shampoo on a separate slip of papers). The instructions will inform you about how often to use the shampoo and how long you should keep it on for. If you have any doubt, you can always ask your pharmacist who can inform you about how to apply the shampoo.
Selenium sulphide and zinc pyrithione found in shampoos brought over the counter are especially effective against mild dandruff. A branded example for a zinc pyrithione shampoo is Head and Shoulders and Jason Dandruff relief 2 in 1. If your dandruff is over the spectrum of mild then your doctor will prescribe you shampoos or lotions with a higher level of selenium sulphide and zinc pyrithione. (42) (43)
It is essential to keep in mind that shampoos containing selenium sulphide may have the tendency to distort the colour of your fair hair (regardless of whether it is dyed or not), so ensure that you read the instructions carefully and do not exceed the time stated on the bottle. Make sure that you rinse it out thoroughly. (44)
Neutrogena T/Sal is an excellent example of a shampoo that contains salicylic acid. A side effect of salicylic acid shampoos is that although they help reduce scaling, they have the tendency to absorb the moisture in your scalp, producing flaking that is not connected to fungi or bacteria but is a result of dryness. So, if you do opt for this shampoo, then ensure that you have a conditioner at the ready and that you use this straight after shampooing to add moisture to your scalp. (45)
Most shampoos will need to be left for about 5 minutes, so that it can fight against the fungi and bacteria responsible for your dandruff. While every shampoo might not have the same effect on every individual, it is important to try several different ones to see which one is the most effective for you.
Bottom Line: Once, the signs of dandruff have faded away you can reduce the frequency that you use these shampoos, However, if you’ve had dandruff once then you’ll probably have it again, so you may have to go back to using these shampoos on and off throughout your lifetime. (46)
17. Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus Oil is naturally antifungal. It has shown to considerably reduce the formation of dandruff, especially when it is combined with coconut oil. It can also be mixed into your shampoo and hair products.
You can purchase eucalyptus oil from online distributors or stores that specialize in organic and herbal products. (47)
Bottom Line: Eucalyptus Oil is naturally anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.
18. Wash and brush your hair daily
People who have dandruff generally think that it is the result of dryness that can be caused by over-washing. However, this is a myth. Dandruff is especially identified in individuals who neglect their scalp and skin. Brushing your hair every day, encourages the flow of blood to the scalp, while washing your hair every day will clear away the flakes.
Bottom Line: Make sure that you are able to correctly diagnose whether your scalp is oily or dry, as the type of shampoo that you choose should change accordingly. A scalp that is dry should be washed with a shampoo that contains a moisturizer (one with organic and natural ingredients is preferable), whereas an oily scalp should be washed with a clearing ingredient. (48)
19. Exposing yourself to some sunlight
You will probably notice that dandruff gets worsens in the winter months and gets better in the summer. Any sunlight, even the artificial kind that you can find it tanning salons is perfect to reduce the symptoms of dandruff. However, ensure that you do not expose yourself for a long period of time, as can cause skin cancer and always use sunscreen before going out. (49)
However, it is also essential to keep in mind that hot or warm countries have the tendency to be humid and cause intense sweating. This can cause a rapid oil formation on the body, particularly the scalp, that cannot dry fully and quickly enough due to the thick cluster of hair. So, ensure that you wash your hair regularly during warm or hot days. (50)
Bottom Line: If you have noticed signs of dandruff, then avoid bandannas and hats, as these will hinder the scalp from breathing, in turn causing oil accumulation. (51)
20. Corticosteroid creams and lotions
Corticosteroid creams and lotions are superb in soothing the inflammation that comes along with dandruff. You do not need a prescription for these and they can be bought at pharmacies in either 0.5% or 1% concentrations. They are ideal for flakiness of the skin on the face and will give you quick results, as once used twice a day, you’ll notice a difference in a few days.
While the creams are for skin flakes on the skin, the lotion is for the scalp. It needs to be applied daily, on damp hair, straight after rinsing the shampoo out.
Bottom Line: You can use corticosteroid creams together with any strong medicated shampoos that a healthcare professional may prescribe you. (52)
21. Antifungal creams
Antifungal creams are the perfect remedy to turn to as they considerably lessen the amount of fungi on the skin. They can be bought from pharmacies without a prescription. They should be applied to the flaky area one or two times a day. It may take a while until you notice significant healing, however persistence is vital and the creams need to be applied until the symptoms have completely cleared. If you notice that the symptoms come back again in a few weeks or months, then continue the application process. (53)
Bottom Line: If these over-the-counter creams are not working for you, you will need to visit a healthcare professional who will prescribe you other antifungal creams that are much stronger. (54)
Dandruff in Babies
Babies are also prone to their own kind of dandruff. Their dandruff is referred to as cradle cap and shows itself in a yellowy greasy layer in certain patches of the head. It occurs in the first 2 months after birth and can persist for a few weeks, sometimes even months. As the scalp and skull of newborn babies are very sensitive, having not yet developed properly, it is important that you handle their dandruff with care and gentleness. Wash your baby’s head with baby shampoo and then rub in some baby oil to hinder the collection of flakiness.
However, if the cradle cap becomes uncontrollable and you identify cracks and infection, bleeding, inflammation and uncontrollable itching, then seek the advice of a health care professional immediately. (55)
Bottom Line: if your baby has cradle cap, make sure that you wash their hair with baby shampoo on a regular basis. Alternatively, to baby oil, you may also use warmed olive oil. Use a soft brush and dip it into the oil before slowly rubbing away the scales. Use this method every day or every 2 days. (56)
A final note: Dandruff of the eyelashes
Dandruff of the eyelashes is probably the most annoying and irritating kind of skin flaking, as the flakes have the tendency to fall into your eyes, which may cause restrictions in your sight. It is also the most difficult to take under control. As the eyes are one of the most sensitive areas of your body, you need to use mild natural remedies for this type of dandruff. The best method is to dip a cotton swab into baby shampoo and spread this over your lashes. Try not to get this into your eyes.
Bottom Line: A healthcare professional may advise that you use a corticosteroid-based lotion, however you must ensure that you are with a healthcare professional when doing do, as wrong usage may cause severe eye problems. (57)
If these remedies do not work or are taking long in showing effect…
Using the same method over a long course of time may, in fact, make the fungi and bacteria grow resistance against these remedies. So, it’s important that you adopt new methods every once in a while, especially when you notice that your dandruff has come back or is not getting any better. (58)
Alternatively, you may choose to use two different types of remedies simultaneously. So, while you may choose to use neem leaves paste one day, you may prefer to use an anti-dandruff shampoo the next. This will prolong the resistance of the fungi and bacteria. (59)
There is not a 100% guarantee that these remedies will work on everybody; this is especially true when the dandruff is quite severe. In such cases, you may have to visit a health care professional who will prescribe you a much more effective, stronger shampoo or cream that will contain a higher dosage of selenium sulphide, ketoconazole or corticosteroid.
Or, alternatively you may be given a cream that contains a substance which can control your immune system, overworking your immunity in order to regulate the inflammation that can be caused during the skin flaking process. If you identify any yellowy fluid oozing out of the seborrheic dermatitis wounds, or if the wounds are excessively red and discomforting, then you must pay a visit to a health care professional. If your dandruff is showing no signs of healing, even after a few months of using the remedies mentioned above or if you have HIV or AIDS and you spot some dandruff then you must seek advice from a health care professional. (60) (61)
Also, dandruff is not a skin illness that will just disappear overnight. It may take a long time till you notice any differences, and even when the dandruff has totally cleared away, it will probably come back again. Persistence is key. So, when taking into consideration the number of times that you’ll have to use these lotions, shampoos, herbs and oils, it is important that you find one that works for you in terms of ease and effort. For instance, if you find the mixing of tea tree oil with coconut oil too troublesome, opt for a shampoo that already has tea tree oil within it, or simply just mix the tea tree oil in your own regular shampoo. (62)
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.