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How to Get Rid of Dandruff: Treatment and Home Remedies

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Steph Coelho

Published 11/06/2018

Updated 05/08/2024

Wondering how to get rid of dandruff?

A dry, flaky scalp that produces dandruff isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It can also cause irritation and itchiness, and even lead to buildup that can impact the hair growth cycle

While the root cause of pityriasis capitis (aka dandruff) can vary, effective treatment typically involves using a dandruff-specific shampoo and adopting follicle-friendly lifestyle and hair care habits. 

Whether you’re looking to treat severe dandruff or dealing with a few flakes, we have plenty of tips for getting rid of it. Read on to learn more about tackling this common scalp condition.

If you’re experiencing dandruff, you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone — about 50 percent of adults worldwide deal with dandruff at some point in life.

So, why does it happen? Here are a few potential causes of dandruff:

  • Oil buildup. If you don’t shampoo your hair enough, your hair and skin’s natural oils (or sebum) can build up and cause a scaly, dry scalp to develop. 

  • Sensitivity to hair care products. You might notice some flakes if your scalp doesn’t react well to certain ingredients in shampoo, hair dye or hair gel.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This chronic skin condition causes scalp inflammation and reddish-yellow dandruff. 

  • Malassezia. A yeast-like scalp fungus, malassezia is naturally present on most scalps, but in some cases, it can cause ultra-rapid skin cell turnover, leading to large dandruff flakes.

  • Other underlying skin conditions. Disorders like psoriasis can also cause dandruff.

Getting rid of a scalp condition like dandruff can involve a bit of trial and error. 

But the most common dandruff treatments typically include:

  • Medicated dandruff shampoos or other types of specialized shampoo

  • Lifestyle changes

  • Healthy hair care habits

For Buildup: Use a Dandruff Shampoo

The best shampoos for dandruff symptoms contain one or more of the following active ingredients:

  • Selenium sulfide

  • Salicylic acid

  • Zinc pyrithione

  • Ketoconazole

Shampoos with one or more of these ingredients are proven to be effective for removing scalp buildup. 

Our dandruff detox shampoo contains pyrithione zinc (1%) and salicylic acid. 

Ketoconazole shampoo like Nizoral can also help treat dandruff.

If your dandruff is severe, you may need to use a medicated scalp treatment once a week to keep oil levels down, alternating it with regular use of anti-dandruff shampoo. 

You can learn more about these ingredients in this article on salicylic acid shampoo. Still curious about good vs. bad shampoo ingredients? Read our guide to sulfates in shampoo.

While dandruff doesn’t directly cause hair loss, you might be curious about whether dandruff shampoos affect hair growth. We’ve covered this topic in our guide to ketoconazole and hair loss and in Head & Shoulders and hair loss.

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For Seborrheic Dermatitis: Try a Coal Tar Shampoo

If your flaky scalp is caused by seborrheic dermatitis, you may find it helpful to add a coal tar shampoo to your hair-washing routine. 

Coal tar is a dark, viscous liquid with similar antifungal properties to the common dandruff-fighting ingredient ketoconazole. 

Coal tar shampoo is an effective treatment for psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp.

Keep in mind that like with any anti-dandruff treatment, it can take some time to see results with coal tar shampoo — about a month or so.

Additionally, coal tar can cause skin irritation in some folks, so stop using this type of shampoo if you notice any rash or redness. 

Lifestyle Tips to Stop Dandruff

If a fungal infection is to blame for your dry, flaky scalp, pairing a few lifestyle tweaks with specialized shampoos can help minimize flakes. 

Here are some examples:

  • Regular shampooing. We know the “no poo” movement is gaining traction, but it’s not a fit for all hair types. Shampooing more often can help clear buildup if you have an oily scalp. 

  • Limiting the use of styling products. Wondering how to prevent dandruff caused by skin cells clumping together with buildup? Minimize your use of hair products like gel and sprays. 

  • Tweaking your diet. What you eat can have a big impact on your skin health — and that includes your scalp. One study involving over 4,300 participants found a diet high in fruit resulted in fewer instances of seborrheic dermatitis. Conversely, there was a link between a diet high in processed foods and dandruff.

  • Managing stress. Keeping stress levels under control can benefit your mental and physical health. Some research even suggests a connection between stressful events and seborrheic dermatitis flares.

  • Adjusting your routine based on the season. Dandruff may worsen in the winter since dry air can lead to dry, itchy skin (and scalp). While you may not experience dryness in the summer, it may help to incorporate an anti-dandruff shampoo in your winter hair care routine.

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Some people swear by home remedies for dandruff. And some of them are backed by research. Let’s break down a few natural remedies for dandruff:

  • Tea tree oil. One small study found tea tree oil shampoo to be effective in treating dandruff. Research also shows it’s a potent antifungal, meaning it may help with fungus-related scalp irritation. 

  • Coconut oil. People often use this natural, multi-purpose ingredient for scalp and hair health. Because it’s so hydrating, it can help decrease dryness and limit dandruff. 

  • Other essential oils. Other natural oils, such as lemon and olive oil, may help treat dandruff in some people.

  • Aloe vera. This plant-based ingredient is known for its hydrating powers. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that may protect against dandruff.

  • Apple cider vinegar (ACV). There’s limited research on the scalp-related benefits of ACV, but some people claim it can help fight dandruff by balancing scalp pH and promoting dead skin cell shedding. 

  • Aspirin. This over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory boasts salicylic acid as its main active ingredient — a compound also found in many anti-dandruff shampoos. 

  • Probiotics. Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut can benefit more than just your gut. There’s growing research on the link between gut health and overall health — and those benefits extend to your skin. One 2017 study involving 60 participants found that those who took probiotics over 56 days saw decreases in dandruff severity. Research also suggests that probiotics may help treat skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema, that can cause scalp skin issues.

  • Baking soda. You probably have this ingredient in your cupboard right now. So, what can it do for dandruff? Baking soda may help in exfoliating the skin, helping to remove dead skin cells. It’s also an antifungal.

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Dealing with dandruff can be irritating in more ways than one. But you don’t have to get used to white flakes in your hair and on your shoulders. 

If you want to know how to stop dandruff, remember:

  • There’s no single best way to get rid of dandruff. Treating dandruff depends on the root cause, of which there are three: oil buildup, seborrheic dermatitis and the scalp fungus malassezia.

  • If you’re looking for how to cure dandruff permanently, know that it might not be possible. But you can minimize it with the right treatment.

  • If you’re wondering how to get rid of dandruff fast, you should also know that treatments can take a few weeks to show visible results.

  • Dandruff might be worse during colder winter months, so it may help to adjust your hair care routine with the seasons.

  • Dandruff treatments are not one-size-fits-all — you may have to try different shampoos until you find one you like.

Treating dandruff can take time, so try to be patient. Using specialized shampoos with the right ingredients and implementing good hair care habits can help improve your scalp and hair health. 

You might also consider discussing your dandruff concerns with a healthcare professional, like a dermatologist. They can help determine the underlying cause and outline your treatment options.

You should also know that dandruff doesn’t directly cause hair loss or contribute to male pattern baldness, so if you’re seeing signs of balding, you may want to look into hair loss treatments like finasteride and minoxidil.

13 Sources

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  2. Ranganathan, S., & Mukhopadhyay, T. (2010). Dandruff: the most commercially exploited skin disease. Indian journal of dermatology, 55(2), 130–134. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2887514/
  3. Manuel, F., & Ranganathan, S. (2011). A new postulate on two stages of dandruff: a clinical perspective. International journal of trichology, 3(1), 3–6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3129121/
  4. Berk, T., & Scheinfeld, N. (2010). Seborrheic dermatitis. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 35(6), 348–352. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2888552/
  5. Manuel F. (2010). Is dandruff a disease?. International journal of trichology, 2(1), 68. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002421/
  6. Clark, G. W., Pope, S. M., & Jaboori, K. A. (2015, February 01). Diagnosis and Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis. American Family Physician, 91(3), 185-190. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2015/0201/p185.html
  7. Nowicki R. (2006). Współczesne leczenie łupiezu [Modern management of dandruff]. Polski merkuriusz lekarski : organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego, 20(115), 121–124. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16617752/
  8. Sanders, M. G.H., Pardo, L. M., Ginger, R. S., Kiefte-de Jong, J. C., & Nijsten, T. (2019, January). Association between Diet and Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 139(1), 108-114. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X18324801
  9. Misery, L., Touboul, S., Vinçot, C., Dutray, S., Rolland-Jacob, G., Consoli, S. G., Farcet, Y., Feton-Danou, N., Cardinaud, F., Callot, V., De La Chapelle, C., Pomey-Rey, D., Consoli, S. M., & Pour le Groupe Psychodermatologie (2007). Stress et dermatite séborrhéique [Stress and seborrheic dermatitis]. Annales de dermatologie et de venereologie, 134(11), 833–837. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18033062/
  10. Satchell, A. C., Saurajen, A., Bell, C., & Barnetson, R. S. (2002). Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 47(6), 852–855. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12451368/
  11. Saxena, R., Mittal, P., Clavaud, C., Dhakan, D. B., Roy, N., Breton, L., Misra, N., & Sharma, V. K. (2021). Longitudinal study of the scalp microbiome suggests coconut oil to enrich healthy scalp commensals. Scientific reports, 11(1), 7220. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8012655/
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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