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How to treat dandruff

Board-certified dermatologist’s tips

ROSEMONT, Ill. (Dec. 12, 2023) — Dandruff, a common scalp condition, affects people of all ages, especially in the cold winter months. If you notice small pieces of dry skin flaking from your scalp or persistent itching, it may be time to seek treatment options.

“It is a common misconception that dandruff is caused by poor hygiene,” said Mona Sadeghpour, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pittsburgh, Pa. and Lone Tree, Colo. “Causes range from oily skin to hair care habits, along with some medical conditions.”

You can usually treat mild dandruff at home by regularly washing your hair. If this is not manageable or doesn’t relieve your dandruff, Dr. Sadeghpour and the AAD recommend following these tips from board-certified dermatologists:

  1. Choose a dandruff shampoo. You can find shampoos specially formulated to treat dandruff over the counter at your local drugstore. If one shampoo doesn’t work, try alternating between dandruff shampoos with different active ingredients. Look for a shampoo with one of the following ingredients: Zinc pyrithione; salicylic acid; sulfur; selenium sulfide; ketoconazole; or coal tar shampoo. 

  2. Follow the instructions on the dandruff shampoo bottle. Dandruff shampoos need to be applied to and lathered on your scalp. You may also need to allow some dandruff shampoos to sit on your scalp for about 5-10 minutes before rinsing. These instructions will be different depending on the shampoo you choose and your hair texture. 

  3. Shampoo according to your hair type. If you have fine or naturally straight hair, or an oily scalp, wash your hair often. For example, you may need to shampoo daily or every other day and use your dandruff shampoo twice a week. If you have coarse or naturally curly or coily hair, wash your hair when needed, and use your dandruff shampoo about once a week. Take care to only apply the dandruff shampoo to your scalp if you have curly or coily hair, as the ingredients that treat dandruff can dry your hair. There are some dandruff shampoos specifically for coarse hair that are more hydrating. You can also shampoo and condition your hair with your normal products after using your dandruff shampoo if it is needed for hair care. 

  4. Protect your scalp from the sun. Some dandruff shampoos, such as those containing coal tar, can make your scalp more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays. A sunburn on your scalp can also increase flaking. To protect your scalp from the sun, seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing, like a wide-brimmed hat, and apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your scalp if you have thinning hair. Try powder or spray sunscreen for easier application to your scalp. 

“If these tips do not provide you relief from dandruff, it is best to make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist,” Dr. Sadeghpour said.

These tips are demonstrated in “How to treat dandruff” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Your Dermatologist Knows” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair, and nails.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Shelby Homiston, shomiston@aad.org

Rhys Saunders, rsaunders@aad.org

Media Relations, mediarelations@aad.org

More Information

How to treat dandruff

10 reasons your scalp itches and how to get relief

AAD B-Roll Library

About the AAD

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,800 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care because skin, hair, and nail conditions can have a serious impact on your health and well-being. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow @AADskin on Facebook, TikTok, Pinterest, and YouTube and @AADskin1 on Instagram.

Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.