Remedies for Dandruff

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on December 20, 2022
4 min read

Dandruff is a disorder where the skin on the scalp sheds excess amounts of its top layer. The condition may also appear around your eyebrows and the side of your nose. The shedding of old, dead skin cells is normal. However, people with dandruff have larger patches of skin that flake off at a faster rate. 

Some of the more common symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Flakes appearing on your scalp, eyebrows, hair, mustache, beard, or shoulders
  • Itching in the scalp
  • The appearance of a scaly crusty scalp in babies, known as cradle cap

The white flakes from dandruff may end up on your forehead, show up in your hair, or appear on your clothing. While it can be a source of some embarrassment, there are typically no significant health impacts tied directly to dandruff. However, some of the symptoms of dandruff are also present in other scalp conditions like:

  • Scalp Psoriasis — Scalp psoriasis is a chronic (long-lasting) skin condition that causes people to experience flaking, inflammation, and redness of the scalp. It’s a result of a malfunction in the immune system that causes the skin to produce too many cells, leading to a faster turnover. 
  • Eczema — People with eczema of the scalp typically experience a red, itchy scaly rash that produces flakes similar to dandruff. The leading cause is a variation in a person’s genes that inhibits the skin’s ability to protect against bacteria, allergens, and other irritants affecting the skin. 

Causes of Dandruff

There are a variety of reasons that you might end up with dandruff. Some of the most common causes of dandruff include:

  • Irritated and oily skin
  • Not shampooing often enough
  • The presence of a yeast-like fungus called malassezia that likes to feed on scalp oils in most adults
  • Dryness of the scalp
  • Contact dermatitis (itchy skin or rash) caused by touching or being around certain hair products

Poor hygiene is not a cause of damage, though not washing your hair as often can make the condition more visible. You may be more susceptible to dandruff because of one or more of the following factors:

  • Your age — Dandruff typically strikes people who range from young adults to middle-aged, though it is possible for individuals from any age group to have dandruff. 
  • Your sex — Males may be more prone to developing dandruff because of their male hormones. 
  • The presence of certain chronic illnesses — You could be more likely to have dandruff if you are managing a disease that affects the central nervous system, like Parkinson’s disease. People with HIV or another disorder that weakens the immune system can also be more prone to dandruff. 

Dandruff shampoo is the most common recommendation for treating dandruff. There are a variety of different dandruff shampoos available for treating dandruff.

  • Pyrithione zinc shampoos — These dandruff shampoos contain an ingredient called zinc pyrithione, which is both antifungal and antibacterial.
  • Salicylic acid shampoos — These dandruff shampoos encourage healing of scales on your scalp.
  • Ketoconazole shampoos — These dandruff shampoos focus on killing any fungi living on your scalp.
  • Tar-based shampoos — These dandruff shampoos help slow the turnover rate for the dying skin cells on your scalp. 
  • Selenium sulfide shampoos — These dandruff shampoos contain an antifungal ingredient to help rid the scalp of any fungi.

Your doctor or dermatologist may also suggest the following tips to improve your results. 

  • Follow the shampoo instructions 
  • Shampoo with a dandruff shampoo at least twice per week (if you are Asian or Caucasian)
  • Shampoo once per week with a dandruff shampoo if you are African American

It might be necessary for you to try more than one kind of shampoo. You may also wish to alternate between different forms of dandruff shampoo if one seems to lose its effectiveness. 

Most cases of dandruff do not require care from a doctor. However, a doctor or dermatologist typically diagnoses dandruff by examining your hair and scalp. 

You may wish to visit a dermatologist if your condition doesn’t clear up with the use of regular over-the-counter (OTC) products. Other reasons you might want to seek the care of a doctor familiar with skin conditions include:

  • Increased irritation in your scalp as the result of your dandruff
  • If the dandruff does not respond to other recommended treatments
  • If you experience severe swelling, redness, or scaling on your scalp or any other part of your body

Your doctor or dermatologist may decide that you need a prescription dandruff shampoo if OTC brands fail to produce results. Another option they might try is prescribing you with a steroid lotion.