There's no denying that dandruff can be a real drag. Sometimes it feels like no matter what we do to rid ourselves of those pesky white flakes, they keep on coming back. So after trying countless anti-dandruff products to no avail, we thought it was time to think outside of the box by exploring natural home remedies.
To find out more, we turned to experts Shab Reslan, Veronica Joseph, and Jenny Liu. Not only did they reveal how to control and minimize dandruff using ingredients we already have at home, but they also shared their best tips for relieving a dry and flaky scalp,
Meet the Expert
- Shab Reslan is an NYC-based hair health expert.
- Veronica Joseph is an IAT-certified hair practitioner. She is also the founder of Luxju.
- Jenny Liu, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist.
Keep scrolling for some of the best DIY dandruff treatments for a healthy scalp.
What Is Dandruff?
Dandruff is a common condition of the scalp that often manifests as itching and flaking. It is a multifactorial hair and skin concern and can stem from an inflammatory response to the yeast pityrosporum, a normal part of skin flora. Joseph elaborates: "Dandruff is very visible white flakes that can appear on clothing from the scalp. The top layer of skin cells on our scalps will shed monthly. However when the process of sloughing off the top layer of skin occurs rapidly (every few days) large white, oily clumps present as dandruff."
What Causes Dandruff?
Several factors may contribute to dandruff, ranging from improper hair care to stress to genetics. However, the primary cause of this common scalp condition is the overproduction of sebum and the fungus that feeds on it. "We secrete sebum onto our scalp a yeast (fungus) interacts with the sebum. The body detects this interaction as an irritant and rapidly increases the production of skin cells that flake off and present as dandruff," explains Joseph.
The Signs of Dandruff
Although dandruff is sometimes confused with dry scalp, it's important to be able to differentiate one from the other. Both dandruff and dry scalp may cause an itchy scalp and flaking, however, the latter is associated with subtle flakes whereas the former is more noticeable. "White flakes of skin that can be seen on clothing, or an itchy scalp are signs of dandruff," comments Joseph.
The Best Home Remedies for Dandruff
Baking Soda Dandruff Shampoo
Baking soda's gritty texture grabs and removes the dirt and excess oil from your hair as well as the loose skin cells from your scalp that cause dandruff. However, keep in mind that this treatment should be used sparingly. "Baking soda has an alkaline pH level, and that throws off the natural pH of hair. It can dry it out and raise the cuticle, which exposes your hair and makes it susceptible to damage over time," says Reslan. Repeat once a week or every four to five shampoos for an occasional extra deep cleanse. Although hair may initially feel dry, after a few weeks, your scalp will begin to produce more natural oils, and your hair's softness will return.
- Combine one tablespoon of baking soda for every cup of water and mix well.
- Add two to three drops of rosemary essential oil to give this shampoo a light fragrance (Note: It's not a necessary ingredient, but a nice addition).
- Pour over your hair and massage it into your scalp.
- Rinse your hair thoroughly.
Use an empty (and clean) shampoo bottle to make this mix and have it ready in the shower for regular use. If you want to skip the mix, you can also rub a handful of baking soda directly into your wet hair and scalp.
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Another way you can use a DIY dandruff shampoo is not as a shampoo but as a rinse. "Apple cider vinegar can help remove build-up on the scalp, balance the pH level of the scalp and hair and help close the cuticles for shinier hair," explains Reslan. The vinegar may also help wash away dead skin cells and soothe the scalp at the same time. It's great for healthy hair, too!
- Add one part of apple cider vinegar to one part of warm water (Note: Most people can use one cup, but those with long and thick hair may need to use one or more cups).
- Pour the vinegar water over your hair and gently massage it into your hair and scalp for three to five minutes.
- Rinse with water. Just be careful not to let the vinegar get into your eyes!
- Repeat this rinse up to twice a week until your dandruff is under control. After that, consider making it a weekly or bi-weekly routine.
This rinse may leave a lingering aroma until you shower again. For that reason, it's best to do this treatment a couple of hours before bed and take a shower in the morning.
Lemon and Sweet Almond Oil Dandruff Shampoo
Similar to the vinegar rinse, lemon can be used as an inexpensive treatment for dandruff as the citric acid is meant to help clean the scalp of excess oil. However, Reslan notes that lemon is too alkaline and can damage hair or sensitive scalps, so it is best to use lemon essential oil to get the citric acid benefits instead. Afterward, nourish hair with sweet almond oil as a leave-in conditioner.
- Simply mix a few drops of lemon essential oil with two tablespoons of sweet almond oil.
- Gently massage into the scalp before jumping in the shower and shampooing it out.
- Do this daily until no longer needed.
Honey Dandruff Shampoo
Using honey in a homemade anti-dandruff shampoo can balance scalp pH and eliminate flakes while leaving hair soft and shiny: "Honey makes a great scalp cleanser as it's antibacterial and antifungal and gentle on the scalp," Reslan tells us.
- Combine one tablespoon of unprocessed raw honey with 1/4 cup of water in a mug or squeeze bottle.
- You can also add one tablespoon of aloe vera gel to get extra soothing benefits, although it's optional.
- Shake well and apply honey shampoo to wet hair and massage for one minute.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Repeat weekly.
Coconut Oil Dandruff Shampoo
Coconut oil is a great ingredient for moisturizing hair and scalps. Plus, its essential vitamins E and K and its high percentage of lauric acid may help manage dandruff. "Coconut oil has some anti-inflammatory effects and can help hydrate [your] scalp, but keep an eye on it: if dandruff is severe, it will not work well. Best talk to your doctor," says Liu.
- Combine one part coconut oil and one part jojoba oil into a container and mix.
- Apply the blend to your scalp and hair as needed.
- Massage for a few minutes and cover hair with a shower cap for at least 30 minutes.
- Follow-up with shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
- Repeat at least once a week.
What Ingredients to Look For In Dandruff Treatments
As we mentioned earlier, there are various reasons why you may be experiencing dandruff. To seek out the best treatment, you first need to determine the underlying cause. "Evaluate the causes of why dandruff may have occurred e.g. possible changes in diet or hair care products. Take corrective action in addition to applying hair care cleansers that are formulated to shed dead skin cells and reduce the growth of new cells," advises Joseph.
To anticipate whether a dandruff treatment will be effective, it's important to evaluate the product's ingredients. "Haircare cleansers with coal tar are effective to treat dandruff," says Joseph. In general, hydrating ingredients with anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties will be your best bet for combating dandruff.
Shop the Best Dandruff Treatments Below
Although this scalp wash isn't marketed as an anti-dandruff treatment, its ingredients suggest otherwise. Infused with tea tree oil, witch hazel, and eucalyptus oil it works to remove buildup and promote a healthy scalp. We love the gentle tingling sensation of this product that makes us feel like it's working—because it is.
First Aid Beauty might be best known for its impressive array of clean, cruelty-free skincare products, but did you know the brand also boasts a hair care line? This Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is our go-to for fighting a dry, flaky, and/or itchy scalp. Formulated with antifungal zinc pyrithione, anti-inflammatory calendula, and soothing Vitamin E, it will have you say bye-bye to dandruff in no time.
This gentle, yet effective anti-dandruff shampoo is clinically proven to control flaking and relieve an irritated scalp. The key ingredient, ketoconazole, targets the fungus that contributes to dandruff, nipping it in the bud. Bonus: Some users also praise Nizoral for curing their fungal acne—just saying.