Dandruff is a skin condition that affects the scalp, causing itchy, flaking skin and greasy patches.
Causes of dandruff include:
- seborrheic dermatitis
- dry skin
- allergic reactions to hair and skin products
- other skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
- overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications and special shampoos that treat dandruff. However, people can also help eliminate dandruff at home using the natural remedies below.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. Historically, people have used tea tree oil to treat a variety of conditions, such as acne, athlete’s foot, and dermatitis.
Tea tree oil contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol, which possesses powerful antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oils containing high concentrations of terpinen-4-ol may help reduce dandruff by suppressing the growth of fungi and bacteria on the scalp.
The authors of a 2018 study examined the bacterial composition of 140 Indian women’s scalps and discovered that women with dandruff tended to have more Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis) bacteria than those without dandruff.
A review from 2017 examined the antimicrobial effects of various essential oils. The authors suggested that the compounds in tea tree oil may effectively control S. epidermidis bacteria.
Applying tea tree oil directly on the scalp can cause inflammation or rashes, so people interested in using tea tree oil to treat dandruff can start by adding a few drops to their regular shampoo.
Alternatively, shampoos containing tea tree oil are available in some drug stores and online.
Lemongrass oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce dandruff symptoms.
According to the findings of a small study published in 2015, hair tonics containing 10 percent lemongrass oil reduced dandruff by 81 percent after two weeks.
Like tea tree oil, lemongrass oil may cause irritation or allergic reactions if a person applies it directly to the skin. People can dilute lemongrass oil with water or mix a few drops into their regular shampoo or conditioner.
People can purchase lemongrass oil at health food stores and online.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant known for its healing properties. The gel in its leaves contains several bioactive compounds, such as amino acids and antioxidants, that may reduce dandruff.
Authors of a 2019 review examined 23 clinical trials involving Aloe vera. The findings of these studies suggest that aloe vera gel may improve moisture retention in the skin and promote wound healing. Aloe vera may also reduce inflammation, which can help people with dandruff symptoms, such as itchiness.
Research from 2015 suggests that the antifungal and antibacterial properties of Aloe vera may prevent dandruff.
The authors of a small study involving 25 people concluded that a new topical gel containing Aloe vera was effective in treating a form of dandruff called seborrheic dermatitis.
People can use aloe vera gel directly from the plant, or purchase the gel online.
Omega-3 fatty acids may lower blood pressure, increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and support heart and brain health. A deficiency in this fatty acid can result in adverse symptoms, such as dandruff, brittle nails, and dry skin.
Omega-3s provide several skin benefits, such as
- managing oil production
- regulating inflammation
- improving hydration
- reducing signs of aging
Foods containing large quantities of omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, and walnuts. People can also take omega-3 supplements.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that most adults consume 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available in pharmacies, health food stores, and online.
Aspirin is an OTC pain reliever that could potentially reduce dandruff symptoms. Aspirin contains salicylic acid, an active ingredient commonly used in dandruff shampoos.
Salicylic acid can help exfoliate excess dandruff flakes, prevent oil buildup, and reduce inflammation on the scalp.
To use salicylic acid on dandruff, try crushing one or two uncoated aspirin tablets into a fine powder and mixing the power with a dollop of regular shampoo.
In the shower, apply the mixture to the hair and leave it there for a few minutes before rinsing it out.
Sodium bicarbonate, which many people know as baking soda, may help reduce dandruff. Baking soda is an exfoliant that can remove excess skin cells and oil on the scalp.
Baking soda also possesses antifungal properties that may help fight the fungus responsible for dandruff.
Baking soda has a very high pH level, which can damage the scalp if a person uses it too frequently. Using too much baking soda can strip the hair of its natural oils, which can cause dryness or irritation, so people should use it in moderation.
Baking soda is available in most grocery stores, health food stores, and online.
Zinc is a mineral that supports the body’s immune system and promotes cell growth. People can get zinc from animal proteins, nuts, and whole grains.
A comprehensive review from 2016 lists zinc deficiency as a potential contributing factor for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.
Many dandruff shampoos contain zinc pyrithione because it prevents fungal growth and removes excess skin cells from the scalp.
People can purchase zinc supplements in drug stores and online.MEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERStay in the know. Get our free daily newsletter
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Coconut oil may help improve hydration, reduce irritation, and prevent fungal growth on the scalp.
Findings from a test tube study found that cultured coconut extract lowered inflammatory markers in human skin samples. Another study observed similar anti-inflammatory properties after applying virgin coconut oil to artificial skin samples.
According to the findings of one clinical trial, applying virgin coconut oil to the skin led to a 68.23 percent decrease in atopic dermatitis symptoms in a group of 117 children aged 1 to 13 years old.
These preliminary studies show promising results, but researchers need to carry out more investigations to evaluate the role of coconut oil in treating dandruff.
People can try applying coconut oil directly to the scalp before washing it out or find a shampoo that contains coconut oil.
Coconut oil is available for purchase in grocery stores, health food, and online.
Food can have dramatic effects on the body. Food may not be the root cause of dandruff, but it may make symptoms worse.
There is currently little research on how food affects dandruff. However, a growing body of research suggests an association between diet and inflammatory skin disorders, such as seborrheic dermatitis.
Fruits and vegetables contain many essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation.
The results of a recent observational study involving 4,379 people showed that individuals who reported eating more fruits were less likely to have seborrheic dermatitis.
The results also suggest that typical Western diets may increase the risk of seborrheic dermatitis in females.
A 2018 review showed that a biotin deficiency could lead to several skin disorders, including seborrheic dermatitis. Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, plays a role in supporting healthy hair, nails, and skin. Biotin-rich foods include:
- egg yolks
- nutritional yeast
Stress plays a significant role in a person’s overall health. Prolonged stress can cause increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation.
Although stress may not directly cause skin disorders, it can worsen or trigger existing ones.
A Japanese study published in 2014 examined the relationship between anxiety-induced stress and atopic dermatitis. The participants with atopic dermatitis reported higher levels of anxiety than those without the condition.