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.
1. Tie: The Best Dandruff Shampoo
Not only does the Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo treat dandruff, but it helps relieve the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, too. The active ingredient that makes the shampoo so strong is called Neutar, which contains 0.5 percent coal tar. Though it gives the shampoo a strong chemical smell, coal tar is responsible for shedding dead skin cells, which relieves itching and flaking in the process. The formula also helps soothe inflammation and redness, and it even continues to work long after it's been rinsed out. You only need to use the shampoo, which has been recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation, twice weekly to start seeing results.
A favorite among Amazon users, the Neutrogena shampoo currently has over 1,000 five-star reviews. "My son has eczema, and he had a bade case of dandruff in the past. No other product worked except for this one," reported one customer. Another reviewer wrote, "This works great for my husbands dandruff caused by dermatitis [...] He uses it about every other day and it's the only hair care product that has worked for him."
2. Tie: The Best Dandruff Shampoo
For another clinically-proven option, the Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo lathers and smells like a more traditional shampoo, but still has the strength to treat dandruff. The active ingredient here is 1 percent ketoconazole, which helps eliminate flaking and reduce itching by killing dandruff-causing fungus on the scalp. Use it twice a week, and expect to see results within a few uses.
Nizoral is another Amazon favorite, with nearly 3,000 five-star reviews. "I had severe dandruff that was so bad I could shake my head and it would come off. With just a few uses per week, I got rid of all of my flakes. My scalp also stopped burning from dryness. My hair has never been healthier," commented one satisfied customer.
3. A More Moisturizing, Better Smelling Alternative
If you're looking for a more moisturizing medicated shampoo, the Dove Dermacare Dryness & Itch Relief Dandruff Shampoo is one of Dr. Gohara's favorite options. "It helps fight dandruff and soothe the scalp to relieve any irritation," Dr. Gohara explains. In this formula, zinc pyrithione helps treat dandruff thanks to its antifungal and antibacterial benefits, while coconut oil and shea butter offer hydration to dry, itchy scalps. The result is smoother, healthier, and of course, flake-free hair, and like the other options on this list, it only has to be used a couple of times a week. Plus, it has a coconut-y scent that smells delicious.
Amazon users love the shampoo as well, particularly because it doesn't have the harsh scent typically associated with dandruff shampoos. One reviewer wrote, "I was scratching and flaking like crazy [...] I tried my husband's dandruff shampoo, but it smelled chemically and didn't help. I found this in the store by my house and it helped after one wash. And the smell was AMAZING! I still smelled clean and fresh, not like a hospital."
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