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How to Get Rid of Dandruff, According to Dermatologists

Photo: Dieter Meyrl/Getty Images

If you’re someone who’s sworn off wearing black for fear that your dandruff might upstage you, you’re not alone. Just about anybody with a scalp will experience some form of dandruff in their lives, and whether it’s temporary and mild or severe and chronic, how it affects your life can be embarrassing and itchy. Celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer says there are many factors that play a part in dandruff production: “Some people have a genetic predisposition, or lifestyle issues that stimulate dandruff, like poor eating habits and stress.”

According to NYC dermatologist Dr. Howard Sobel, hydration is your first line of defense against a flaky scalp. He recommends drinking plenty of water as well as moisturizing at the root of the problem. “By keeping your scalp hydrated, you cut down on the amount of flaky skin cells, which will overall decrease the appearance of dandruff.” However, if you’re guzzling water by the gallon and still suffering from a flaky scalp, the two dermatologists we talked to have some thoughts on the best dandruff remedies and removal techniques.

The Best Anti-Dandruff Shampoos and Conditioners

When it comes to treating your itchy scalp, Dr. Sobel is a fan of the classics. “I recommend patients that are already suffering with an itchy scalp use shampoos that are specifically made to treat dandruff, including Head & Shoulders and Neutrogena T/Sal.” The active ingredient in this clinical-strength Head & Shoulders is selenium sulfide, an anti-fungal that excels in the treatment of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

Both Dr. Lancer and Dr. Sobel recommend Neutrogena T/Sal as an over the counter solution with 3 percent salicylic acid (the same thing you use to fight pimples), which is a powerful anti-dandruff ingredient. Sobel advises using it each time you shower to start, and gradually tapering off. “For severe cases, start by using the dandruff shampoo every day, but do make sure to cut down to every other day or even once per week once symptoms subside.”

Dr. Lancer stresses the importance of a combination of good lifestyle and grooming habits: “Improve your diet, quit smoking, reduce stress where you can, and keep your hair and scalp clean”. He also recommends Neutrogena T/Gel, which contains coal tar extract, one of his three favorite ingredients in the fight against dandruff. “For over the counter products, look for non-medical shampoos that contain tar, salicylic acid or zinc.”

DHS Zinc Shampoo

When it comes to zinc shampoo, Dr. Lancer’s pick is DHS Zinc Shampoo with 2 percent pyrithione zinc, which works to calm irritated and inflamed skin.

The Best Anti-Dandruff Scalp Moisturizers

If you’re suffering from a particularly dry scalp, you may be tempted to scratch. But Dr. Sobel advises against scratching at all costs and encourages finding ways to de-stress. “Scratching at your scalp will only make the symptoms more severe and lead to increased flaking and irritation. Stress can also trigger increased dandruff, so I advise patients to relax and moisturize to keep symptoms at bay. I recommend patients use a natural, extra-hydrating product like coconut oil to lather into your scalp everyday.” Insta Natural’s 100-percent pure fractioned coconut oil is lightweight, non-greasy ,and fast-absorbing, making it a great no-frills scalp moisturizer.

For thick, curly hair, and especially for people with braids or dreadlocks, this non-greasy, nourishing blend of Ubuntu Mafura oil, which nourishes and relieves dry, itchy scalps, plus jojoba, sweet almond, crambe, argan, rose-hip seed, and castor oils, is a great way to soothe, moisturize, and protect an irritated scalp.

The Best Gentle Anti-Dandruff Scalp Exfoliant

When we asked Dr. Sobel about exfoliation, his reply came as a bit of a warning. “You have to be careful to not over-exfoliate when you have dandruff, because your scalp is already very sensitive, irritated and flaky. I recommend gently exfoliating with your fingers as you massage the coconut oil or dandruff shampoo into your scalp.” This micro-exfoliating shampoo from Briogeo is gentle enough that it won’t irritate, and contains moisturizing coconut oil to boot.

More Anti-Dandruff Remedies with Tar, Salicylic Acid, and Zinc

In addition to coal tar, Dr. Lancer cited salicylic acid as a key ingredient in ridding your head of dandruff. This scalp shampoo from SachaJuan combines rosemary oil, menthol, salicylic acid, and ginger extract for a soothing yet effective remedy that also smells really good.

Zinc, the third ingredient on Dr. Lancer’s list, can be found alongside amino acids and natural tea tree oil in Malin+Goetz’s eucalyptus-scented dandruff shampoo.

For a complement to your regular dandruff shampoo, this soothing spray from Aveda also contains Dr. Lancer’s recommended salicylic acid blended with sugar beet extract, lippia, rosemary, echinacea, and sage. Spray on affected areas and go.

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How to Get Rid of Dandruff, According to Experts