Is your dandruff related to your diet? Some experts say it might be, though studies haven't proven that.
"I think research is lagging a bit," says Alicia Zalka, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. "While there's no compelling data from medical studies that I have found suggesting diet changes can cure dandruff, in my 18 years of clinical practice, more of a connection seems to be emerging."
"A well-managed 'dandruff diet' might help," says Jessica Krant, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York.
The same diet principles that are good for the rest of you may also make a difference to (if not cure) your dandruff.
When you're making big changes in your diet, it might help to consult a nutrition-savvy doctor or registered dietitian. They can break down exactly what you need.
Most Americans eat too much sugar. Cutting back may lower inflammation, minimizing the appearance of flakes.
"Sugars and simple carbs might promote more inflammation in our bodies, so it makes sense that eating a low-sugar, antioxidant-rich diet could help control dandruff flares," Krant says.
There may also be a hormonal link.
"Diets high in sugar, processed food, and 'bad' fats lead to insulin spikes, which in turn lead to stimulation of hormone surges that can trigger the output of oil," Zalka says. "Overall restriction of fatty foods, fried foods, refined sugar, processed food, and gluten may lead to a reduction in flaking."
Those changes haven't been studied to see if they stop dandruff, but there's no question that they're good for you.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
"The standard American diet is low in fiber and high in foods with a lot of sugar, salt, and fat," says Jill Nussinow, RD, author of The Veggie Queen. "That promotes poor digestion, which can lead to many problems, including skin issues like dandruff. [To help,] eat lots of vegetables and some fruit, raw and cooked."
Some people tout a raw-food diet, but it's not a sure fix.
"In fact, cooking vegetables can help release some of the essential and non-essential nutrients so that your body can better absorb them," says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
One theory links yeast in your diet to dandruff.
Is it true? "Yeast overgrowth is a topic of hot debate and has been implicated in many conditions, including dandruff," says Alan J. Bauman, MD, a hair-restoration doctor in Boca Raton, Fla. "Sweets and yeast-containing foods like beer, bread, and wine encourage fungal growth."
Some experts recommend cutting back on (but not eliminating) bread and alcohol.
Include Healthy Fats
Essential fatty acids, including foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, have not been studied for dandruff, but they help support healthy hair and skin in general.
"They play a critical role in normal skin function and appearance [and] have anti-inflammatory properties," says nutrition counselor Rebecca Bitzer, RD. "Salmon, tuna fish, peanut butter, flaxseeds, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocado, walnuts, and fortified eggs are great options."
Some people think adding coconut oil to your diet can improve dandruff, since it's often applied to the scalp as a dandruff home remedy. But check with your doctor before taking coconut oil regularly, since it's rich in saturated fat.
Choose Biotin and Zinc
Zinc, an essential mineral, and biotin, a B vitamin, may also improve dandruff.
"Soaps and shampoos made for dandruff contain zinc pyrithione, and there have been reports of oral zinc supplementation helping to decrease flares," Krant says. "One thing that has been shown in research is that babies low in biotin tend to have more baby seborrheic dermatitis [dandruff or cradle cap]."