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Dandruff Control and Treatment - Scalp

How to Live Flake Free


Man looking over shoulder, brushing dandruff off jacket
Judith Haeusler/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Dandruff is a problem that is uncomfortable, annoying, and embarrassing. There are many people who have this disorder, which is characterized by itching and flaking of the scalp. Fortunately, dandruff isn't contagious and dandruff control and treatment is fairly easily.


Dandruff is thought to be caused by a fungus called malassezia, a fat-eating fungus, which lives on the scalp of most healthy adults. While it does not cause problems for most people, malassezia can sometimes grow out of control and begin feeding on the oil on your scalp. The result is increased cell turnover and a large number of dead skin cells. These cells, combined with dirt and oil from your hair and scalp, form flaky white scales.


The common symptoms of dandruff include itching and white, oily flakes. That said, there are several conditions, including psoriasis, dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, which present similar symptoms. Before beginning treatment for dandruff, it is important to consult your dermatologist to make sure you're treating the right condition.


While controllable, dandruff can be persistent and requires consistent treatment. There are several types of over-the-counter shampoos available for treating dandruff. If you try one and it doesn't have the desired effect, move on to the next. Following are four common types of dandruff shampoos:

  • Zinc pyrithione shampoos, such as American Crew Anti Dandruff Shampoo and Head & Shoulders, contain an antibacterial and antifungal agent (zinc pyrithione) which has been shown to fight the fungus that causes dandruff.
  • Selenium sulfide shampoos, such as Selsun Blue, can prevent cell turnover and may help control the malassezia fungus. These types of shampoos may discolor blond or gray hair and can cause significant discoloration in chemically treated hair, so follow the directions carefully and rinse well.
  • Ketoconazole shampoo, like Nizoral, contains a broad antifungal agent.
  • Tar-based shampoos, such as Neutrogena T/Gel, contain coal tar, which slows cell turnover and reduces the formation of dandruff's scaly flakes.

Use of these shampoos above is recommended daily until dandruff is controlled. Once the dandruff is under control, use dandruff shampoo two or three times a week, alternating with a good moisturizing shampoo. If the dandruff shampoo loses its effectiveness, switch to another type of shampoo or try alternating between types. Be sure to follow directions carefully. Should over the counter treatments fail, see your dermatologist. Stronger treatments are available by prescription.

In addition to using the proper shampoo, other steps can be taken to control dandruff, including: eating right, exfoliating the scalp with a facial scrub , managing stress, and reducing the amount of styling products used. Consistently following a dandruff control routine should keep your hair and scalp looking healthy and flake free.

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