How to Get Rid of Pesky, Itchy Dandruff

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This week, the Cut explores women’s complicated relationships to beauty standards and the efforts required to meet them.

The Weather Channel has spoken and this winter’s prognosis consists of more blizzards, whiteouts, and flurries. It’s also the potential forecast for your scalp. As the weather gets colder and drier, dandruff can become a big issue. Below, some tips and tricks (other than not wearing black) for how to address your head case — because no one wants to be President Snow.

1. Know what causes it. Nunzio Saviano of the Nunzio Saviano Salon explains in layman’s terms: “Dandruff is caused by either dry skin or oily skin. Oil can build up and flake. If [the skin is] dry, chances are the hair is dry, too.” Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, a trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic, explains that dandruff’s causes include hormonal variables and fluctuations (which influence oil production), stress, poor nutritional habits, and not cleansing the scalp often enough. All of these factors react to a naturally presenting fungus (yum) that sits on the scalp and creates flakes.

2. Yes, diet can affect your scalp. According to Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, a New York–based dermatologist, poor nutrition can lead to dandruff. “Dandruff is also caused by an overgrowth of yeast," she says. "High-carb foods can result in the buildup of glycogen in the skin, which yeast feeds on." She suggests you avoid carbs and sugars if you're prone to dandruff. 

3. As with many things, water can be a solution. Don’t forget to keep your scalp hydrated by drinking enough water, recommends Saviano.

4. It can cause you to lose hair. Says Cunnane-Phillips: “When your skin or scalp is not in optimal health, the debris on it can actually affect the amount of hair you see in the shower when you shampoo.”

5. If you aren’t sure what is causing your dandruff, start first by washing your hair more often. “There’s this concept now that you need to let natural oils sit longer on your scalp, but that can add to the problem,” Cunnane-Phillips explains.

6. If that doesn’t work, try exfoliating your scalp (yes, this is a thing). Much like exfoliating your skin, exfoliating your scalp gently lifts the top layer of dry skin. Scalp exfoliators typically utilize small amounts of salicylic acid (more commonly found in acne products) to remove dead skin. Try Philip Kingsley’s Exfoliating Scalp Mask.

7. A hot-oil mask can also gently lift the top flaky layer of skin. You can try heating up the only oil celebrities are unafraid of, coconut oil, in a microwave and gently applying it to your head. Be careful not to make the oil too hot, as doing so increases the risk of burning your scalp.

8. Use a medicated shampoo containing zinc or sulfur, which reduce yeast populations. Gone are the days of smelly Selsun Blue. I wouldn’t go so far as to say dandruff shampoos have become chic, but their smell and packaging no longer make them repellent. Malin & Goetz has released a refreshing eucalyptus-scented dandruff shampoo that contains one percent zinc. Even French hair-care brand Kérastase has a dandruff shampoo (dandruff sounds much cuter in French). And then, there is the classic Head & Shoulders, which you can use to wash your hair and then follow up with a more fun shampoo of your choice.

9. Hide your dandruff with a ponytail or updo. Nathaniel Hawkins, a celebrity hairstylist for Adele and Heather Graham also adds, “Resist the urge to itch. When your hair is down and has freedom of movement the flakes will fall.”