Dandruff—it's uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it shouldn't be. Around 50 million people in the US suffer from it, so you definitely aren't alone in your struggle with these annoying little flakes, or on your quest to overcome them. The first step in managing dandruff understanding what causes it—and, shockingly, it isn't always because your scalp is dry.
"Dandruff can be caused by two separate things," says cosmetologist Christi Lanz. "It can be caused by a dry scalp, or it can be caused by irritation, which can be brought on by bacteria, fungus, or sensitivity to hair products."0
Symptoms differ depending on if you're struggling with dry scalp or the actual dandruff condition, but if your have dandruff, it's typically going to be with you year-round and is harder to ward off. Our experts weighed in and offered up some of their favorite methods for fighting off dandruff.
1. Wash and condition your hair with the right products.
Dr. Francesca Fusco says the biggest issue she encounters with patients who have dandruff has to do with their choice of shampoo and conditioning products. "They shampoo with anti-dandruff shampoo and then use a beauty conditioner afterwards," she says. "They do this because they are concerned that their hair will look dull from the use of a medicinal shampoo, but they don't realize that when they're using a beauty conditioner they are rinsing out the effectiveness of the active ingredient in their dandruff shampoo." The solution here is simple: Look for products that are formulated to improve scalp health or that both contain active, dandruff fighting ingredients, like zinc pyrithione. Remember, shampoos and conditioners that treat dandruff don't have to be bad for your hair—Fusco recommends Dove's Dermacare scalp series for beauty and dandruff relief, and there are plenty of other products on the market that do the same.
2. Use a raw honey mask.
Rebecca Lee, nurse and founder of Remedies For Me, champions raw honey as a natural treatment for persistent flaking. "It contains tons of vitamins and minerals that are nourishing and moisturizing to the scalp," she says. One study showed relief of itchiness, scaling, skin lesions and dandruff after two weeks of application. Want to try it out? Apply a mixture of honey and water (90 percent honey and 10 percent water) every other day to dry, itchy, or flaky patches. Rub it in for three minutes and leave it on for around three hours or so, and then rinse with warm waters. It sounds a bit time-consuming, but once the condition clears, most people can do this once weekly and keep any flakes and itchiness from returning.
3. Eat some omega 3s.
Foods rich in omega 3s offer some "much needed hydration for skin from within" according to Dr. Alex Roher. He says certain deficiencies in vitamins, minerals and nutrients that can be found in omega 3s may lead to an increased risk of getting dandruff, so it's best to get your fill in any way you can. A fish oil supplement is an easy and pain free way for picky eaters to up their omega 3 intake, but actual foods that are loaded with omega 3s include salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, oysters, sardines and mackerel. In addition to fighting dandruff, omega 3s can contribute to healthy (and beautiful) hair and skin, which is more than enough motivation for us.
4. Use a sugar scrub.
Fusco recommends adding a tablespoon of sugar to your shampoo and massaging the mixture gently into the scalp. This will help dislodge flakes and, since sugar is natural and dissolvable, will leave no residue.
5. Spritz with apple cider vinegar.
Will all the properties Lee describes, it sounds like apple cider vinegar was practically made for fighting dandruff. She says it balances the pH of your scalp, while making it hard for yeast, bacteria, and other fungi (which is a huge cause of dandruff) to grow. The acidity, enzymes, and probiotics naturally found in the vinegar can also greatly improve your scalp health in general. Lee recommends using a raw, organic apple cider vinegar. Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar with water and spray onto your hair after shampooing. Let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing. Do this twice a week for best results
6. Apply essential oils.
We absolutely LOVE essential oils, so we're pretty excited to hear that we can get some dual use out of our favorites. Fusco recommends lemongrass, celery, eucalyptus and peppermint oils because they are anti-fungal. Try applying these topically with the help of a carrier oil (our favorite is coconut oil) before you shower.
7. Try plain coconut oil.
Well, the holy grail of oils is at it again. Lanz says it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, so she recommends using it to treat dandruff or dry scalp. "You can put it in a double boiler or just a bowl inside a pot of slow boiling water to melt it down and then massage into your scalp," she says. Rinse it right away or leave it on overnight—there should be some relief from redness, irritation and flakes either way.
There's no shame in suffering from dandruff, but if you can free yourself from the itchiness and irritation, why not do it? Beyond shampoos and conditioners, there are plenty of natural remedies backed by professionals that put a flake-free life totally within reach. Kiss your hats goodbye, and go buy all the black blouses.