Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Font Size

Defeating Dandruff

Scientists Say They Are Close to Foiling the Fungus That Makes Us So Flaky
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 27, 2012 -- Doctors have been scratching their heads over how to treat bad cases of dandruff for more than century.

Over-the-counter shampoos and scalp treatments can help when dandruff is mild, says Thomas L. Dawson, PhD, a scientist at Procter & Gamble who works on Head & Shoulders shampoo. But they may not always benefit people with badly flaking and irritated scalps.

Now, a raft of new research, including a new study published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, suggests that scientists may be close to heading off the fungus that causes the problem in the first place.

Getting to the Root of Dandruff

Malassezia globosa is a fungus present on the skin of many newborns. Often, it lives harmlessly in the top layer of skin without causing any problems.

But for an estimated 50% of the population, it burrows into a hair follicle and sets up shop. And for reasons doctors don't fully understand, the body reacts. Skin cells can become irritated and shed roughly four times faster than normal, dropping off in days instead of once a month. The scalp can become irritated and itchy.

Scientists have long known that malassezia was the culprit behind dandruff, but because it is difficult to grow in a laboratory, it was tough to study.

In 2007, Dawson and a team of researchers at Procter & Gamble sequenced the Malassezia genome. That discovery gave scientists a new way to study the organism, and it sparked a resurgence of interest in finding ways to stop the problematic fungus.

"That was really the key in the lock that opened the door to all this work," Dawson says.

In the latest study, researchers in Italy and the U.K. were able to use the genome to look for proteins that might be critical to malassezia's growth.

They found an enzyme that helps the fungus break down carbon dioxide.

"When you inhibit this enzyme, the organism cannot grow well, so the organism dies," says Claudiu T. Supuran, a chemistry professor at the University of Florence.

What's more, the enzyme can be stopped by antibacterial drugs called sulfonamides or sulfas, which have been around since the 1930s.

Supuran and his colleagues tested that idea by giving six mice bad cases of dandruff and then treating them with a sulfa drug. Four out of the six mice showed improvement, suggesting that sulfa drugs may be a new weapon against dandruff.

Today on WebMD

Pictures and symptoms of the red, scaly rash.
woman with dyed dark hair
What it says about your health.
woman with cleaning products
Top causes of the itch that rashes.
atopic dermatitus
Identify and treat common skin problems.
itchy skin
shingles rash on skin
woman with skin tag
Woman washing face
woman washing her hair in sink
close up of womans bare neck
woman with face cream