A dry, itchy, flaky, irritated scalp makes dandruff one of the most annoying hair care concerns, but knowing why it is happening and how to treat it, can put a halt to the little white flakes for good. We have the treatments, DIY masks, and haircare maintenance tips to clear it up and keep it from coming back.
Dandruff or dry skin? What’s the difference?
Identifying the type of dandruff you have, determines the treatment:
Malassezia: It is normal to have a fungus on the scalp called malassezia but too much of it causes the skin to flake and shed.
Seborrheic dermatitis: skin cells on the scalp build up with oil and begin to shed off.
Contact dermatitis: irritation on the scalp that causes dry skin and flakes.
What causes dandruff flakes and shedding?
Product sensitivity, not shampooing hair enough, product buildup on hair and scalp, skin conditions psoriasis and eczema, stress, hormone fluctuations, diet, and illness can all cause dandruff and flaking. Knowing what triggers dandruff can help you modify your routine and self-care, to help rid your hair of the dreaded flakes, which means a healthier scalp and better over-all hair condition.
Products - what to avoid when dealing with dandruff:
Bleach - hair lighteners and color - can cause redness, irritation and contact dermatitis.
Alcohol - “short chain” alcohols are found in styling products such as holding products and hair sprays because they evaporate quickly and reduce drying time, but that means they also dry out your hair and scalp which can lead to dandruff. Avoid products containing these forms of alcohol and look for alternatives: SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, isopropyl, and propanol.
Oily leave-in conditioning products - these can build up on scalp clogging pores, and mingling with your own hair’s natural oils and sweat, creating a layer of plaque that will flake off and shed.
Fragrance, preservatives, detergents and formaldehyde are found in many shampoos, conditioners and styling products and can lead to contact dermatitis on the scalp.
Dandruff shampoos - what ingredients to look for:
Anti-dandruff shampoos containing pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, and coal tar are available over the counter and will usually get rid of most dandruff. See a doctor or dermatologist if it persists after using an anti-dandruff shampoo for a month to rule out other skin conditions that could be exacerbating the situation. Pro Tip: avoid using those products containing selenium sulfide or coal tar if you have color-treated hair, or blonde, or grey hair as it can change hair color.
Proper hair washing reduces dandruff:
- Wash and condition hair at least three times a week to reduce buildup and to keep the scalp clean.
- Use dry shampoo a maximum of once per week as it too can build up on scalp adding to dead skins cells and oils which need to be properly removed by washing with water and shampoo.
- Use a dandruff shampoo each time you wash your hair and avoid leave in conditioners.
- Focus on massaging dandruff shampoo into the scalp rather than the hair shafts as it can be very drying to follicles.
- Avoid using really hot water which can dry out the scalp.
- Rinse thoroughly with cold water to close the pores on the scalp. Bonus: rinsing with cold water leaves hair super shiny.
Maintain healthy hair habits to avoid dandruff:
Breathe: Stress has damaging effects on the entire body and dandruff is an indication that it needs better management. Yoga, meditation, and exercise go a long way in overall better health and can make a difference in treating things that trigger outbreaks of dandruff.
Sunlight and vitamin D: a bit of sun helps treat a flaky scalp, but don’t overdo it and get a sunburn. A little exposure goes a long way!
Products on rotation: switch up your shampoo and conditioning products every three months and use a clarifying shampoo once every two weeks to reduce build up on scalp.
Diet: we are what we eat. Just as carbs and sugars can cause acne breakouts, they can contribute to oil build up on the scalp. Eggs, berries, fish, nuts, avocados, spinach, and sweet potatoes are all good for skin and hair in general.
Brushing: clean your hair brush often to prevent redistributing dirt, oils and products directly onto your hair and scalp. Avoid vigorous brushing which can injure the skin on the scalp, causing infections.
Home treatments and masks to combat dandruff:
Coconut oil for a dry scalp: coconut oil is moisturizing and has anti-fungal properties. How to use it: massage 1 tbsp of coconut oil into the scalp and follow by rinsing thoroughly. Note: this treatment is not for those with seborrheic dermatitis (oily scalp).
Tea tree oil: moisturize a dry scalp and prevent yeast and fungus which cause dandruff with tea tree oil’s anti-fungal, cleansing properties. How to use it: look for s shampoo containing tea tree oil, or mix a small amount (think a tiny drop only) into your shampoo. Note: some people are allergic to tea tree oil so watch for irritation, redness, itching, or burning which could indicate an allergic reaction.
Argan oil: treat a dry, itchy, flaky scalp with argan oil for its anti-inflammatory properties which soothe and reduce irritation, while moisturizing. It contains fatty acids, vitamin E and proteins that improve scalp health. How to use it: add 3 drops to shampoo and wash as usual. Or place a few drops into the palms of your hands and massage into your scalp for several minutes. Follow up by shampooing, rinse well, and use conditioner. Each time you wash your hair with argan oil the condition on the scalp will improve.
Yogurt and honey mask: yogurt contains lactic acid which exfoliates skin leaving a smooth and soothed scalp. Honey soothes and moisturizes skin. DIY mask: mix into a paste 1 tbsp of honey with 2 tbsp of fresh, plain yogurt. Apply to scalp using a hair coloring brush, leave on for 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly. Follow up by washing with a gentle shampoo. Switch lemon juice for honey to clarify the scalp, reducing plaque buildup. Massage mixture into scalp and leave on for 15 minutes before washing and rinsing throughly.
Aloe Vera and honey mask: Aloe has both anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties and is well tolerated. It soothes and calms skin, reducing irritation. DIY mask: mix 2 tbsp of honey with 4 tbsp of aloe gel and massage mixture into scalp. Leave on for 20 minutes, wash and rinse thoroughly.
Dandruff doesn’t have to get in the way of creating your most gorgeous hair looks, and it doesn’t have to make every day a hat day. Identify what is causing the outbreak and treat it accordingly, to say goodbye to white flakes and itchy scalp for good.