When it comes to the always-expanding list of must-have beauty products, no one's ever really psyched about dandruff treatments. But that doesn't make them any less essential. "It is super-common and nothing to be worried about," says dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D., whom Bustle contacted to get the lowdown on all things dandruff. While that doesn't make the condition any less annoying, the good news is that there are plenty of options to help clear it up. But before you get to the best dandruff treatments, it's important to identify what's setting off your scalp in the first place.
What causes dandruff in the first place?
"Dandruff can be due to an overgrowth of a yeast that lives on our skin called malassezia," Dr. Gohara tells Bustle. "It is part of our normal microbiome that can overgrow," she says, adding that it's not a cause for concern. Because of this, there isn't any singular predisposing factor, but Dr. Gohara says that "stress, seasonal changes, and sometimes changes in hygiene habits, like showering less frequently, can affect it." According to Dr. Gohara, another cause of dandruff is a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which causes itchy, flaky patches and inflammation of the scalp.
How to treat dandruff
To treat dandruff, Dr. Gohara notes that using a medicated shampoo several times a week can make all the difference. "If malassezia or seborrheic dermatitis is the cause, using shampoos with anti-yeast and anti-inflammatory properties is beneficial," she says. "Ingredients to look for include zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, tea tree oil, and tar-based shampoos."
Dr. Gohara also stresses that it's important to make sure you're thoroughly rinsing these shampoos out of your hair, as product build-up contributes to scalp irritation. In fact. Dr. Gohara says that leaving hair products in for too long without completely washing them out can cause dandruff in the first place. "Since dandruff is something that comes and goes, using a shampoo for a month straight and then one to two times a week for maintenance can be very helpful," she suggests of how often to use a treatment shampoo.
Other tips for a healthy scalp
No matter what's causing your itchiness and flaking, there are a few things that can contribute to more irritation, like scrubbing your scalp or using leave-in products, according to Dr. Gohara. She also adds that alcohol-based products can make dandruff worse because they tend to be drying. Instead, she advises that anyone with dandruff stick to treatment shampoos — though, if your dandruff seems to be particularly severe, or if you haven't noticed an improvement with using an over-the-counter shampoo, go see a dermatologist, who might be able to provide a more effective treatment.
Here are three of the best dandruff shampoos for treating itching and flaking at home, including Dr. Gohara's recommendation.