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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Defeating Dandruff

Scientists Say They Are Close to Foiling the Fungus That Makes Us So Flaky

New Treatments on the Horizon

That may be good news for people who aren't helped by existing treatments.

Dawson says doctors score dandruff on a scale from zero to 80. Most people with dandruff have scores that fall in the range of 15 to 30. Fifteen is the point where it starts to become visible to the naked eye.

He says over-the-counter products can be helpful for people in the 15 to 30 range.

But for "people that have a particularly severe case, there is a lot of room for improvement in being able to push that closer to zero."

In Dawson's lab, they've zeroed in on another set of enzymes that help the fungus break down and digest fats produced by the skin. Stopping those enzymes essentially cuts off the fungus' food supply.

He's trying to use zinc in shampoo to inhibit those enzymes. The key, he says, is finding zinc particles that are the right size. If they're too big, they don't make it to the fungus, which likes to live inside hair follicles. If they're too small, they get rinsed down the drain with the shampoo and don't do any good.

"You have to get to the scalp, which is really hard," he says, but notes that much of the molecular work has improved how well products deliver their active ingredients.

"We've been trying to figure this out for 50-plus years," Dawson says, "Now we finally have the tools to be able to really understand this organism and manage how we treat it."

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