How to treat dandruff?

In a Nutshell

  • Dandruff is a skin condition that is characterized by flakiness of scalp skin
  • Most cases respond to traditional over-the-counter anti-dandruff treatments
  • Sometimes, skin conditions like fungal scalp infections, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema are mistaken for dandruff

Dandruff - What is it?

Dandruff is a common skin condition that is characterized by dryness and flakiness of scalp skin that may cause itchiness and scraping of skin. Although dandruff is not a serious or contagious disease, it may cause embarrassment and cosmetic issues. It is a common misconception that dandruff is caused by poor hygiene, which is not true. The exact cause why some people develop dandruff is not fully known.

Treatment of dandruff revolves around the use of scalp treatments and dandruff shampoos.

Evidence-Based Treatment Regimen

- Follow the instructions on your dandruff shampoo: There are a number of really good anti-dandruff shampoos that are highly effective at managing dandruff symptoms. It is highly recommended to follow the instructions on your anti-dandruff shampoo carefully, for example some shampoos require leaving the lather in your skin and scalp for several minutes prior to rinsing, while others may not require long term application.

- Choose your anti-dandruff shampoo smartly: There are a ton of options when it comes to anti-dandruff shampoos. It is always advised to look for ingredients and pick a shampoo that has at least one or more of these ingredients:

- Alternate between different dandruff shampoos to see which one works for you: If your dandruff shampoo is inactive at delivering desired results, add another shampoo to your haircare regimen. Also note, it takes 2-4 weeks to start seeing results after initiating any anti-dandruff regimen.

- Be careful when using coal tar shampoo: Some dandruff shampoos contain coal tar that may discolor your blonde, gray or light-colored hair. It is highly recommended to check the ingredients of your shampoo before buying. Tar shampoos are also known to increase photosensitivity of scalp skin to sun, so make sure you cover your scalp with a scarf or hat before going outdoors.

- Wash and Brush your hair at regular intervals: If your hair are oily, you can wash your skin on daily basis. It has also been observed that less frequent brushing or bathing makes dandruff worse.

Nuances/ Safety

In most cases, dandruff symptoms respond to anti-dandruff shampoos. If your dandruff symptoms are not responding to the therapy, speak to a board-certified dermatologist to explore:

- Other treatment options that may be suitable for you

- To confirm if you are not suffering from another skin condition that mimics dandruff symptoms such as fungal scalp infections, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema.

Strength of Evidence: B
The recommendations made in this article are advised and approved by American Academy of Dermatology and other renowned health bodies.

Our Ruling

Dandruff is a common skin condition that usually responds very well to anti-dandruff shampoo and other over-the-counter treatments. It is advised to speak to a dermatologist if your symptoms don’t respond to traditional OTC anti-dandruff treatments as some scalp skin conditions may also mimic dandruff symptoms.

Our Sources:

  1. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/scalp/treat-dandruff
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dandruff/
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/152844
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dandruff/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353854
  5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-treat-dandruff#1
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How we grade evidence?

Learn more about it here.