If that little black dress in your closet hasn’t been getting out much lately because you’re worried about dandruff leaving its mark, it’s time to do something about it. I chatted with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Monica Scheel and leveraged some of the advice Dermstore has gotten from doctors over the years to help you get rid of those pesky white flakes.
Dandruff is most commonly caused by a type of eczema called seborrheic dermatitis. This condition causes oily, red patches of skin on the scalp, breastbone, eyebrows, sides of the nose or behind the ears. Skin affected by this condition may also be covered in a layer of white (or yellow) flaky, excess skin called dandruff.
Other potential causes include:
Dandruff may come and go—prompted by known triggers or random chance. In my case, I tend to experience dandruff flakes and an itchy scalp more often in cold weather. The cold air outside and dry heat inside combined with hot showers and my propensity to drink copious amounts of hot chocolate often leaves my scalp dry, flaky and itchy. Even though I know better, I scratch my itchy head and make a bad situation worse. Dr. Scheel confirmed this for me, saying, “When you scratch your skin, you damage it and make secondary infection with yeast or bacteria more likely.”
Unfortunately for me (and many of you), scalp dandruff has a tendency to disappear and reappear spontaneously. However, it’s typically easy to manage your symptoms using professional or over-the-counter treatments and by avoiding your triggers.
Medicated dandruff shampoo is one of the easiest and best ways to control your dandruff. “Treating dandruff early or preventing it with medicated shampoos will control it faster and keep it from being so itchy,” says Dr. Scheel. “Ingredients in shampoos that are helpful include tea tree oil, zinc, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid and tar. These ingredients quiet inflammation, slough off excess skin cells and fight bacteria/yeast that can cause infection.”
At the first sign of dandruff, look for an over-the-counter shampoo that includes ketoconazole, coal tar, zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide. These antifungals may help reduce the spread of bacteria on your scalp and reduce dandruff. It’s also important to include anti-inflammatory ingredients like salicylic acid or sulfur to relieve any itchiness associated with scalp dandruff. Alternating between two medicated shampoos may help eliminate hair dandruff more effectively. Dr. Scheel advises, “There are stronger prescription shampoos and solutions available, so it’s important to consult your dermatologist for treatment if these over-the-counter recommendations don’t work well enough for you.”
Paula Begoun, “The Cosmetics Cop” and founder of Paula’s Choice, recommends using a broad-spectrum antifungal agent and/or a salicylic acid treatment. Antifungal creams can help make your scalp healthier and less prone to dandruff, while salicylic acid works as an exfoliant as well as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial treatment.
As a natural astringent, vinegar may help prevent dry, flaky skin and dandruff by toning and clarifying the skin. For a natural home remedy, mix a 1:1 ratio of apple cider vinegar and warm water and rinse your hair thoroughly. Leave this mixture on overnight, then wash and rinse as normal in the morning.
Keep your diet filled with foods rich in zinc and B vitamins to help ward off dandruff. Zinc and B6 are natural powerhouses against dandruff, so fill your plate with oysters, poultry, legumes, nuts and whole grains. Likewise, it’s important to avoid eating too much sugar. Sugar may trigger an overgrowth of the candida yeast on your skin and impact the levels of vitamins C and E in the body. These vitamins play an important role in fighting dandruff and keeping your immune system strong.
If you have dry, itchy, inflamed skin that does not go away after two weeks, it’s important to see a dermatologist. You may be experiencing an allergic reaction to certain hair care products, suffering from skin inflammation or psoriasis. Your dermatologist may help identify the cause of your seborrheic dermatitis and provide appropriate treatment.