Dandruff can be an annoying problem. There are a lot of shampoos on the market to help treat dandruff, including those that contain the active ingredient zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders), selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue), or coal tar (Neutrogena T/Gel).
But what if you need your flakes fixed right now, and you prefer not to head out to the store to buy something over the counter? According to experts Bridgette Hill and Dr. Nava Greenfield, all you need is Epsom salt, shampoo, and a little elbow grease.
First, a note: Scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can be easily confused with dandruff. These scalp conditions may trigger a sensitive, irritated scalp. If your scalp is irritated (or has open wounds or cuts from scratching), Epsom salt would not be the appropriate scalp treatment to use before shampoo, as it could cause the scalp to burn and further irritate the skin. Before you try any at-home scalp treatment, its best check in with your dermatologist and figure out what, exactly, you're dealing with.
Ahead, check out how to make your own Epsom salt dandruff treatment at home and how it can help treat a flaky scalp.
Meet the Expert
- Nava Greenfield, MD, is a dermatologist practicing at Schweiger Dermatology Group. She is based in Brooklyn.
- Bridgette Hill is a trichologist who splits her time between New York City and Palm Beach, offering individualized hair services and treatments to clients.
How Does Epsom Salt Help Dandruff?
Epsom salt is a mineral compound that assists with managing dandruff. "The main ingredient in Epsom Salt, magnesium, stimulates cellular turnover by reducing calcium build-up around the hair follicles. Calcium build-up on the scalp leads to dry flaky scalp and hair shedding and loss," says Hill. "I find that the majority of people who believe they suffer from dandruff, in fact, have more serious scalp concerns such as dermatitis or psoriasis, which require a more comprehensive approach than just a logical anecdotal solution."
"Epsom salt can help in a few different ways. It provides nutrients to the scalp that help hair and skin health like magnesium and sulfate. It acts as a physical exfoliator that removes dead skin and dandruff build-up," adds Greenfield.
How to Use Epsom Salt For Dandruff
- Epsom salt
- Avocado oil
- Shea butter
"If anyone were to want to use Epsom salt in their scalp care arsenal, I would suggest mixing with a fatty acid oil, such as shea or avocado, and half a teaspoon of salt to every three teaspoons of oil," Hill suggests. If you have dry hair, it is effective to use the Epsom salt with nourishing conditioner or oil.
Gently massage a few tablespoons of Epsom salt onto your dry or slightly damp scalp for two to three minutes. The salt granules will effectively exfoliate the dead skin cells off your scalp and help treat dandruff. "Massage the treatment into your hair and scalp and let it sit for another two to three minutes before washing out. Rinse hair and follow with gentle moisturizing shampoo- preferably with added oils. Repeat twice weekly," Greenfield instructs. Shampoo your hair immediately after your scalp massage. If you have a dandruff shampoo, let it sit on your scalp for 30 to 60 seconds before rinsing.
How Often to Do an Epsom Salt Dandruff Treatment
You can use this dandruff treatment once a month, depending on the severity of your flakes. Even if you find that an Epsom salt treatment helps improve your condition, it may still be a wise idea to invest in a good dandruff shampoo to help treat the problem and prevent flakes from returning.
"There are so many good products to use for dandruff but the key is to alternate and not use only one. A selenium sulfide product alternating with a zinc pyrithione works better than using only one," Greenfield explains. "For light dandruff, I like LaRoche Posay Kerium Anti Dandruff Shampoo ($31), which hydrates with glycerin. If the dandruff is intense, I like Head and Shoulders Royal Oil Moisture Boost Shampoo ($7).
"Always let the product sit on the scalp for five minutes; do not wash off right away. During summertime make sure to use a sunscreen on the scalp like Coppertone Sunscreen Stick ($4), because a tan or burn will increase dandruff and dry scalp," Greenfield shares.
Is Epsom Salt Suitable For All Hair Types?
While it is possible to use Epsom salt in your hair regardless of hair type, the salt is drying to hair fibers. "Fine, straight hair types and textures with oily scalps may gain the added benefit of volume, but for any other hair type, the salts can be drying leading to brittle ends," Hill explains. "Should anyone decide to incorporate Epsom salts into their scalp care regimens, I suggest pretreating the ends with a pre-shampoo hair treatment such as Rene Furterer's Karité Nutri Intense Nourishing Oil ($40)."
"I prefer oils or cream-based masks versus grainy exfoliants. The granules on an irritated scalp can trigger other conditions to develop and the granules have a tendency to attach to the base of hair fiber and not be easily rinsed out," Hill advises.
If you're struggling with dandruff and looking for a solution, an Epsom salt treatment is an affordable, at-home remedy to try. It is important to note that the treatment can cause damage if it is not used with the proper conditioning and protective products. "If over the counter products are not completely treating the dandruff, prescription products may be needed," says Greenfield. It's best to seek out professionals for a specific routine and course of treatment if you are unsure about dandruff.
To maintain a healthy scalp, Hill likes to incorporate zinc and coal tar-based products applied to the scalp. Pre-scalp treatments from Rene Furterer Astera line like the Fresh Soothing Freshness Concentrate ($50) and Design Essentials' Peppermint & Aloe Soothing Scalp Tonic ($10).
Scrubs with rough granules might possibly create micro-abrasions on the scalp that indirectly increase the production of harmful bacteria and fungi. This could increase dandruff and exacerbate the problem. "I am a fan of oils, masques, serums for scalp care. Massage with oils or scalp mask that stimulate the scalp, like peppermint, tea tree, and citrus-based oils. They’ll not only enhance circulation, which is exactly what you want to do but can also decongest the scalp," Hill suggests.
Below, a few of our other favorite products to help treat dandruff.