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When you look down at your favorite black jacket or top and see white flakes on your shoulder, your embarrassment may make you think that you're the only person around dealing with dandruff. The truth is that you're far from alone. An incredibly common skin condition, dandruff affects nearly 60 million Americans and millions more around the world.

Dandruff is a scalp condition marked by the presence of white or whitish-yellow flakes. The flakes often look oily, and people dealing with dandruff may suffer from oily hair as well. Along with the flakes, itchiness along the scalp is also common.


A number of factors can bring about the presence of dandruff on your scalp. In some cases, more than one cause is responsible for the condition. Dry skin is the leading culprit and occurs when sebum levels in the skin become depleted. Because your skin is the driest during dry, cold months, you may experience dandruff only during the winter.

A yeast called malassezia can also contribute to dandruff. Nearly everyone has a small amount of this fungal microbe present on their scalps; however, when the yeast rapidly reproduces, it can lead to dandruff flakes. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and sensitivity to shampoos and other products used on the scalp may also cause or exacerbate dandruff.


Dandruff does not usually pose any real risks to your health, making treatment unnecessary from a clinical standpoint; however, the embarrassing and uncomfortable nature of dandruff leads most sufferers to look for a cure. A variety of treatment options are available to help you deal with dandruff, including home remedies, clinical treatments and over-the-counter products.

Home Remedies

When you are dealing with dandruff, try to limit the number of styling products that you use on your hair. Hair sprays, gels, mousses and the like can leave behind a build up that can make flakes worse. Ensure that you wash your hair frequently while dandruff persists, particularly if you are noticing signs of oiliness in your hair.

Olive oil has long been used as a home remedy for the treatment of dandruff, as it can replenish lost moisture and help combat dryness. A popular method for dandruff treatment with olive oil is the overnight mask. Simply apply 8 to 10 drops of olive oil to your hands and then massage it directly onto your scalp. It is not necessary to coat your hair as well. After you have finished, slip on a shower cap and leave the olive oil in place overnight for a minimum of 8 hours. The next morning, shampoo and rinse your hair as usual.

Clinical Treatments

In most cases, clinical treatment for dandruff is not necessary; however, if home remedies and over-the-counter treatments fail, a trip to the family doctor or dermatologist may be beneficial. To address dandruff that has not responded to traditional treatments, doctors typically prescribe a topical corticosteroid drug. These medications are generally for short-term use only as prolonged use can result in thinning of the skin.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

The most common method of treating dandruff is through the use of over-the-counter shampoos, conditioners and treatments. A wide variety of products are available on the market today, differing mainly in their active ingredients. As you begin to try different over-the-counter remedies for dandruff, you may need to try several to find the one that works the best for the specific underlying causes of the condition and the chemistry of your body.

Zinc Pyrithione

Zinc pyrithione is a combination of the mineral zinc, sulfur and oxygen, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties. When the substance comes in contact with fungal cells, it interferes with their ability to produce energy to power their inner processes. As a result, the cells die and the amount of malassezia on your scalp decreases. Zinc pyrithione is an extremely common ingredient in dandruff shampoos and has been used in the treatment of the condition for decades.

Coal Tar

Coal tar is a thick black substance that is produced when coal is processed into coke or coal gas and is included in a number of dandruff treatment products. When applied to the skin, coal tar slows down the skin cell turnover process. This causes a slowing in the appearance of flakes on the skin and is beneficial for those dealing with dandruff due to dryness. Doctors do not fully understand why coal tar has this effect, but its usefulness for dandruff is generally accepted among clinicians.

Salicylic Acid

A natural substance originally isolated from the willow tree, salicylic acid is a powerful exfoliator often used to treat acne and signs of aging on the face. On the scalp, salicylic acid helps remove dead skin cells by dissolving their bonds to ordinary, healthy cells. With regular use, salicylic acid can eliminate flakes from the scalp that are due to dandruff caused by dry skin.

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide is shown to slow down the production of skin cells. It is a chemical compound formed from the elements selenium and sulfur. In dandruff shampoos and hair care products, selenium sulfide is shown to slow down the production of skin cells, similarly to coal tar. In addition, clinical studies have revealed that the compound has antifungal properties, which can make it effective for treating dandruff caused by malassezia.


An over-the-counter antifungal medication, ketoconazole prevents fungal cells from producing substances that are necessary to form the protective coating over their cells. Without this vital raw material, fungal cells do not form properly and die off quickly. Over time, this leads to the elimination of malessezia and other fungal cells and, in turn, the appearance of dandruff flakes.

Tea Tree Oil

A natural extract obtained from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil is a proven antifungal agent. It is added to many antidandruff shampoos to help eliminate yeast and reduce flakes. In addition, the extract has soothing, cooling properties that reduce the itching associated with dry skin and dandruff.

Jackalberry Leaf

Jackalberry leaf is an extract obtained from the African ebony tree. When applied to the skin, jackalberry penetrates the outer layers of tissue to reach the sebaceous glands beneath. There, the extract helps regulate the amount of sebum or oil produced. As an ingredient in dandruff shampoos and treatments, jackalberry is beneficial both for combating dryness and reducing excess oil.