Dandruff is a common scalp condition that includes flaking and itchiness. It affects as many as 3% of adults worldwide. There are many home remedies that can control the symptoms of dandruff. Some home remedies may work better for some than others.
In this article, we’ll cover 10 natural remedies for dandruff that you can try at home. We’ll also discuss how to know when you should see a medical provider.
A popular natural remedy, coconut oil can be found in the beauty section as well as the food section of most grocery stores. It can help hydrate the skin and reduce the dryness that leads to flaking. One small study found that coconut oil improved scalp conditions over the course of 12 weeks.
Older research looking at how coconut oil impacts eczema, a skin condition with dry and itchy skin, found that using it for 8 weeks led to fewer symptoms. To try it for dandruff relief, massage a small amount into the scalp before sleep, or apply it and leave it on for a few hours before washing hair.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has antimicrobial properties, which may make it helpful for certain types of dandruff. Large clinical studies have not been done to determine how effective tea tree oil may be for dandruff, but an older review showed that tea tree oil was effective for fungal infections that may cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Another older study found that a shampoo with 5% tea tree oil was more effective than placebo at reducing dandruff severity and symptoms. Tea tree oil and other essential oils can irritate the skin if used undiluted. Pair it with a carrier oil, like coconut or jojoba, and apply to the skin.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has not been studied as a dandruff treatment. Some evidence even shows that ACV can lead to skin irritation when used topically. Even without evidence, other than the risk of skin irritation, there is little harm in trying apple cider vinegar for dandruff. Dilute it with water or a carrier oil, and test a small area of the skin to ensure that it does not cause skin problems before using all over the scalp.
Baking soda might not seem like a logical choice to get rid of itching and flakiness. It can work as an effective scalp exfoliant, sloughing off dead skin cells and reducing itchiness. Clinical studies have not been done to evaluate baking soda as a dandruff treatment, but there is some limited evidence showing potential for baking soda to positively affect itching and irritated skin in psoriasis.
Many healthcare providers recommend baking soda baths for irritated skin and eczema, so it may help soothe an irritated scalp, too. To use baking soda, wet your hair as if you will wash it and apply baking soda directly to the head. Massage it in and allow it to sit for 1-2 minutes. It will form a thick paste when mixed into wet hair. Follow with normal hair washing.
Lemon juice is potent and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C. Hair and beauty products use lemon and vitamin C frequently, although studies have not been done to determine whether lemon juice can effectively address dandruff. Like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice as a dandruff remedy may not be effective, and may even cause irritation to the skin or hair, as it can have a bleach-like effect.
If you do want to try lemon juice as a dandruff remedy, be sure to dilute it with water in a ratio of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of water. Test a small area to ensure that it does not cause irritation or change the color of your hair, which is most likely if it remains in hair and is exposed to heat from styling or direct sunlight.
Aloe vera has a broad spectrum of medicinal uses. It can be applied to sunburned skin, eczema, psoriasis, and more. Some evidence suggests that aloe vera may also help to prevent dandruff. However, large clinical studies have not been done, and while aloe is unlikely to cause harm or irritation, it may not be effective either.
Probiotic supplements have been studied for a wide range of health benefits, although many of these studies are small, show inconclusive results, or have low-quality evidence. One small placebo-controlled study of 60 people found some benefits for a strain of probiotics, L. paracasei, in improving symptoms of dandruff over 56 days. While this may be promising, larger studies would need to replicate the same effects to determine if this or other strains can improve dandruff.
Probiotic supplements are available in most stores and are not associated with a high risk for side effects. However, they can be expensive and they take time to work, if they will be effective at all. You can also support good bacterial balance in the gut by consuming foods that contain natural probiotics. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and other fermented foods. You can also eat prebiotic foods, like bananas, as well as a diet high in fiber, to support a healthy microbiome.
Dandruff shampoo is widely available in most drug stores. It is over-the-counter and comes in many types and brands. Dandruff shampoo typically contains at least one antifungal or antibacterial active ingredient. These products are usually designed to provide relief within a few weeks. These may include:
- Salicylic acid
- Coal tar
- Zinc pyrithione
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are the anti-inflammatory fats that are necessary for many aspects of health. Everything from the brain, heart, lungs, and more rely on adequate amounts of omega-3 fats. The skin also benefits from omega-3s. These fatty acids support proper wound healing and hydration. When levels are low, it can result in dry skin, dry hair, and other skin conditions.
While omega-3s have not been studied in the direct prevention or cure for dandruff, if a diet is too low in these essential fats, that’s a good place to start. Foods like salmon, trout, mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
While evidence is not clear on specific foods that may cause or prevent dandruff, an overall well-balanced diet may help. Diets that contain too many inflammatory or processed foods, and not enough vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, may be associated with more skin conditions or microbiome problems.
When to See a Medical Provider
Dandruff can be an embarrassing and frustrating problem. If home remedies do not address symptoms, see a medical provider. They may be able to prescribe stronger medicated shampoo or look into other underlying causes of your symptoms.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. (2016).
Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. (2018).
Longitudinal study of the scalp microbiome suggests coconut oil to enrich healthy scalp commensals. (2021).
The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial. (2014).
Essential Oils as Potential Source of Anti-dandruff Agents: A Review. (2022).
Role of antifungal agents in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. (2004).
Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo. (2002).
Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. (2019).
Old fashioned sodium bicarbonate baths for the treatment of psoriasis in the era of futuristic biologics: an old ally to be rescued. (2005).
Aloe Vera. (2020).
The Review on Properties of Aloe Vera in Healing of Cutaneous Wounds. (2015).
The positive benefit of Lactobacillus paracasei NCC2461 ST11 in healthy volunteers with moderate to severe dandruff. (2017).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (2022).
Daily Lifestyle and Inflammatory Skin Diseases. (2021).
Pityriasis capitis: Causes, pathophysiology, current modalities, and future approach. (2021).