How to Eliminate Dandruff for Good

If your itchy scalp leaves snow on your shoulders, you'll be happy to know that most dandruff problems are simple to tackle.

Read on to find out the causes and treatment options that will help you get dandruff under control.

Dandruff's Different Causes

  • Dry scalp skin is the most frequent culprit. Dandruff that gets worse during winter and creates small, non-oily flakes usually indicates a dry skin problem.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, or oily, irritated skin is another likely cause. Sufferers usually have red, greasy skin covered by flaky scales and may experience the problem in their eyebrows, armpits, groin, ears, nose, and chest along with their scalp.
  • Psoriasis, a skin disorder characterized by excess skin cells that develop into silvery scales, can also cause dandruff on knees, elbows, and scalp.
  • Eczema, a skin irritation that people with allergies are particularly susceptible to, can lead to dandruff if it spreads to your scalp.
  • Contact dermatitis, or the sensitivity to products or dyes, can lead to dandruff. Frequent shampooing or dyeing can irritate the scalp and cause dandruff.
  • Malassezia is a yeasty fungus that lives on most of our heads. When it grows too much, it can cause an excess of skin cells which clump together in and flake off hair or clothes.

Treating Dandruff

Since dandruff treatment rarely requires doctor involvement, you may need to try a few different treatment shampoos to find the one that targets your problem. These are some of the most common options available—some are also available in prescription strength from your doctor.

  • Salicylic acid (e.g. Ionil T) is a scrub that can help eliminate scales.
  • Selenium sulfide (e.g. Selsun Blue) slows skin cell death and fights fungus. Can discolor light or chemically-colored hair.
  • Tar-Based shampoo (Neutrogena T/Gel) uses coal tar to help slow down skin cell death and flaking.
  • Zinc pyrithione (e.g. Head & Shoulders) is an Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agens that can treat a variety of dandruff causes.
  • Ketoconazole (e.g. Nizoral) is an anti-fungal shampoo that should be tried after other options fail.

Treatment Frequency

The Mayo Clinic recommends beginning your regimen with daily shampoos, then cutting back as your condition improves. Be sure to leave the shampoo on your hair for five minutes in order to let it sink into your scalp. You may need to switch back and forth between two different kinds of shampoo in order to keep the treatment working.

Lifestyle Changes That Help Prevent Dandruff

  • Shampoo more often. While most experts recommend shampooing no more than every other day, if your scalp is oily and causing dandruff, shampooing daily with regular shampoo may solve your problem, without switching to a specialized product.
  • Skip or switch styling products. Overusing mousses, gels, and other styling products or the ingredients in a particular brand may irritate or build up on your scalp and cause reactions.
  • Reduce your stress-level. Stress is known to trigger or worsen many conditions, including dandruff.
  • Eat healthy. Diets rich in zinc and B vitamins can help prevent dandruff.
  • Shine some sun. Sunlight has been shown to reduce dandruff. But given the risks of the sun on your skin, be careful to protect your face and body with sunscreen and don't spend hours sunbathing.
  • Try tea tree oil. Alternative therapies recommend this oil because of its antibiotic, antifungal, and antiseptic properties. 

Should You See a Doctor?

Usually you don't need a doctor's help to treat dandruff. But if you can't solve the problem with over-the-counter shampoos, you should check with a doctor or dermatologist. They can ensure that your dandruff is not caused by a more serious condition and can prescribe more aggressive treatment, such as a steroid lotion.