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Have a flaky scalp? Experts recommend these easy fixes for dandruff

You shouldn't have to worry about flurries falling from your hair.
TODAY Illustration / First Aid Beauty / Ethique / Ouai
/ Source: TODAY

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There are enough problems to deal with when it comes to your hair. Is it too greasy? Too dry? Too flat? Too voluminous? Too curly? Too straight?

Then, of course, there’s always the dreaded dandruff. It’s hard to miss the small, white flakes that linger on your scalp. But while the condition is very common, it also can be hard to treat.

If you're figuring out how to get rid of dandruff, look no further. We spoke to experts to identify the best ways to treat this pesky hair problem.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a condition that most commonly affects the scalp, though it could also occur in eyebrows, chest hair, groin area or armpits. It causes the skin of the scalp to become itchy followed by flakes of dead skin. It typically starts around puberty and starts to subside around the age of 50, according to the Journal of Clinical and Investigative Dermatology.

Your skin continually replaces itself and old cells are pushed outward where they die and flake off. While these flakes are typically small and unnoticeable, the skin cells can begin to replace more rapidly than the normal cycle if you have dandruff. Therefore, the skin sheds in oily, larger clumps that can become visible.

The severity of dandruff can differ from case to case — some cases are less aggressive and are easy to treat, while others might require a medicated treatment approved by a dermatologist.

What causes dandruff?

“The most common cause of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis or sometimes called seborrhea,” said master esthetician Julie Matsushima.

Dry skin, sensitivity to specific hair products and skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis can make you more susceptible to having dandruff. It is also believed that the common fungus malassezia can trigger dandruff.

“Malassezia increases skin cell growth and these extra skin cells die and flake off,” Matsushima explained.

Dandruff can also worsen when you’re stressed or sick. Colder weather can trigger dandruff or increase its severity. Diet could also plays its role, as deficiency in vitamin B or zinc can lead to dandruff, according to Matsushima.

Believe it or not, hygiene can also influence your chances of dealing with dandruff.

"The longer you go in between shampooing, the flakier your scalp can get," said Dr. Alan Parks, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.

If you're tempted to try the "no poo" movement, keep in mind that washing your hair less frequently can unintentionally cause the oils and skin cells on your scalp to collect, which can cause visible dandruff.

On the other hand, shampooing too often can also dry out your scalp and lead to dandruff, Parks said, so it's all about finding that balance that keeps your hair and scalp moisturized and flake-free.

Though anyone can be susceptible to dandruff, it actually appears more frequently in males than females.

What are the signs of dandruff?

One of the main signs of dandruff is an itchy scalp. Red and greasy patches can also appear, as well as a tingly feeling on the skin. You may also feel dryness, tightness or irritation on your scalp.

“Overall, dandruff lessens during warmer weather," Matsushima said. “Dandruff can also make the scalp become swollen or inflamed. You should also seek medical attention should this occur.”

What are the best home remedies for dandruff?

Specialty shampoos aren’t cutting it? You can try a few DIY approaches for ridding of dandruff. Matsushima noted that if you try home remedies for two weeks or more without seeing any changes, you should seek professional medical advice.

  • Shampoo more often. This can help reduce the oils on your scalp.
  • Use green tea. Combine green tea, peppermint essential oil and white vinegar and massage it on your scalp for five minutes. Then, rinse it off with a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. Green tea and peppermint essential oil have antioxidants and anti-microbial properties, which can promote a healthy scalp and condition your hair so it's not as dry or irritated.
  • Use apple cider vinegar. Dilute the vinegar with equal parts of water. Use this mixture as a substitute for your shampoo. Apple cider vinegar can kill the fungus that may cause dandruff. It provides relief from itchiness and can help subside the dandruff.
  • Have a coconut oil massage: For an effective overnight dandruff treatment, combine five to 10 drops of tea tree oil with five tablespoons of coconut oil. Apply the mixture to your scalp at night and then rinse it off in the morning or if you’re pressed for time, just leave it on for 30 minutes and then rinse it off. Coconut oil also fights against fungi, which can help eliminate the dandruff. Tea tree oil will help bring the shine back to your hair.
  • Use lemon juice. Massage two tablespoons of lemon juice onto your scalp and let it sit for a minute. Then, mix a teaspoon of lemon juice and a cup of water. Rinse your hair with the mixture. Repeat this right before your daily shower for the best results. Fresh lemon juice contains acids that help break down the fungus that can cause dandruff. It also does not have harsh chemicals in it, which could harm your scalp.
  • Use baking soda. Wet your hair and sprinkle a tablespoon of baking soda along your scalp. Leave it on for a minute and wash it off. You can also shampoo after to thoroughly rinse it off. Baking soda fights against overactive fungi and can help exfoliate the skin on your scalp without irritating it. Baking soda also soaks up excess oil.

What are the best shampoo ingredients for dandruff treatment?

Matsushima said that products with pyrithione zinc are popular for treating dandruff because it contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. She also recommended coal-based shampoos (to slow down the growth of skin cells), selenium sulfide shampoos (to slow skin cell growth and reduce malassezia) and salicylic acid (to exfoliate the scalp).

Since no one hair solution will immediately cure your dandruff, it's smart to switch things up every once in a while to keep your flakes at bay, according to Parks. "It’s good to rotate between different ingredients and not use the same all the time, otherwise you’ll build up a tolerance to the ingredient."

Best dandruff treatments and shampoos, according to shoppers

Vanicream Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Made with pyrithione zinc, this Vanicream shampoo is designed to cleanse your hair while reducing side effects dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Nearly 3,500 verified Amazon shoppers have rated this pick five stars, with several toting how its scent- and additive-free formulation is kind to sensitive skin woes.

Briogeo Scalp Revival Dandruff Relief Charcoal Shampoo

Dry, flaky scalps will appreciate the deep, gentle cleanse that comes with this Briogeo shampoo, which uses key ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid and binchotan charcoal to eliminate product buildup, excess oil and dirt on your scalp.

Pura d'or Scalp Therapy Shampoo

Readers may be familiar with Pura d'or's popular anti-thinning shampoo, but the brand also makes an effective dry scalp treatment! It's formulated with stimulating, soothing ingredients that target buildup and promote healthy growth like vitamin E, aloe vera and a variety of natural oils.

Biolage Scalpsync Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Crafted with pyrithione zinc, this Biolage shampoo will leave your scalp balanced and your tresses minty fresh. Plus, according to several verified Ulta and Amazon shoppers who've rated this five stars, you'll start seeing results after your first wash.

Ethique Heali Kiwi Dandruff Shampoo Bar

If you're looking to use a little less plastic in your life (or at least in the shower), shampoo bars may be for you. Ethique specializes in solid shampoos and conditioners for every hair type and concern, including this gentle formula loaded with nourishing ingredients like ground oatmeal, cocoa butter, lactic acid and lime oil. 10,000+ verified Amazon shoppers have rated it a perfect five stars for its clarifying properties and ease of use.

Selsun Blue Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo

This Selsun Blue shampoo is designed to prevent seborrheic dermatitis and leave you with healthy-looking hair. Selenium sulfide is the active ingredient to help control the itching and flaking of serious dandruff.

Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

This shampoo controls flaking and itching associated with dandruff. It's Amazon's bestselling 2-in-1 shampoo & conditioner with over 50,000 verified five-star ratings.

Head and Shoulders Classic Clean 2-in-1 Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner

This classic shampoo-and-conditioner combo from Head and Shoulders fights flaky skin and keeps the scalp and roots conditioned. It has an impressive near-perfect average on Amazon and over 3,500 verified five-star ratings.

Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo

This Neutrogena shampoo contains coal tar and helps control an itchy, flaky scalp. "After just using the first time, the results were VERY noticeable and scalp itch and general flaking was reduced dramatically to the point where I did not notice it at all," one five-star reviewer wrote.

DHS Zinc Shampoo

This shampoo cleanses and conditions the scalp and maintains the skin’s pH level to keep irritation at bay. Made with pyrithione zinc, the brand boasts instant relief starting with the first use.

Bondi Boost Dandruff Shampoo

"Simply put, Bondi Boost is a miracle worker," an Ulta shopper said about this dandruff shampoo — and we bet others hold a similar sentiment, judging by its 1,100+ five-star ratings. With a formulation packed with potent oils and soothing peppermint oil, this pick packs a major punch when it comes to ridding your scalp of flakes.

Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo

This Sachajuan shampoo removes dandruff while soothing an irritated scalp to ensure a healthy moisture balance. It's made with ingredients like rosemary oil, ginger extract and salicylic acid. Reviewers agree that it helps clear their head of dandruff without leaving their hair dry and brittle.

First Aid Beauty Anti-Dandruff Shampoo with 1% Pyrithione Zinc

First Aid Beauty's renowned for their expansive skin care line, but their anti-dandruff, sulfate-free shampoo is also earning raves for how well it fights flakes. Using ingredients like vitamin E, silk peptides and active pyrithione zinc (the ingredient Matsushima recommends searching for in anti-dandruff treatments), the formulation specifically targets the root causes of your flakes while soothing lingering irritation.

Ouai Detox Shampoo

This popular cleansing shampoo from Ouai is formulated with apple cider vinegar and keratin, which work together to cleanse and strengthen the hair. It's also suitable for straight, wavy, curly and coily hair.

Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo

This purifying Christophe Robin shampoo eliminates dandruff, regulates excess sebum to avoid oily roots and soothes itchiness. One Sephora shopper gave this shampoo "holy grail status."

Philip Kingsley Flaky Scalp Shampoo

Made specifically for coarse or fine hair, this shampoo from Philip Kingsley helps relieve the scalp of flaking and buildup. One person likes that this shampoo is as gentle as it's advertised. "I have fine, long hair and this shampoo doesn't seem to strip the roots or leave my hair tangled," they shared.

Philip B Anti-Flake II Relief Shampoo

Meanwhile, this shampoo uses oleosomes to keep your hair moisturized while also eliminating itching and flaking. It’s also color- and keratin-safe!

Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

This Oribe shampoo is gentle and contains salicylic acid to prevent dandruff and soothe a dry, itchy scalp. It's also made without parabens, sulfates or sodium chloride and is color- and keratin-safe.

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