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How to Get Rid of Dandruff in 5 Easy Steps

For more than 50 million Americans, dandruff is a weekly, if not daily, occurrence. While it’s relatively harmless in most cases, it’s irritating and embarrassing. That’s why we’ll show you how to get rid of dandruff below.


How to Get Rid of Dandruff: A Summary

How to Get rid of Dandruff graphic showing 4 common ways to get rid of it

Dandruff is a common phenomenon and nothing to be ashamed of, even if it is frustrating. However, despite being common, the condition means that your scalp and hair needs some work to become healthier and more stable overall.

For some people, it’s relatively easy to spot and treat dandruff at home—treating most cases can be as simple as using over-the-counter medicated hair treatments and proper hygiene. On the other hand, dandruff can be much more stubborn for others.

To get rid of dandruff, you’ll need to perform the following steps in order:

  1. Find the cause of the dandruff
  2. Shampoo more often
  3. Use a medicated shampoo
  4. Reassess your routine
  5. Consult a dermatologist

The process of treating dandruff can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on your scalp’s responsiveness to treatment. If you notice any severe symptoms, such as significant pain or even hair loss, you should talk to your dermatologist right away.

How to Get Rid of Dandruff in 5 Steps

If you’re tired of dealing with dry, red, irritated, or flaky skin, you can start treating your dandruff at home relatively quickly. Here are the five key steps to eliminate dandruff and have a healthier scalp overall.

Step 1: Find the Cause of the Dandruff

For a piece on how to get rid of dandruff, a woman with lots of skin flakes on her shoulder in a black shirt

Doucefleur/Shutterstock

As mentioned, the main symptoms of dandruff are irritation and flaking. The condition is usually caused by excess dryness, excess oil, the overabundance of a common (and harmless) fungus, or highly sensitive skin. To understand what’s causing your dandruff, consider your risk factors: 

  • Being young, as in a young adult, means you’re more likely to have dandruff.
  • According to research, men are more likely to develop the condition than women are.
  • Those affected by certain nervous system diseases and immune diseases are at a higher risk.

You should also assess your bathing routine and the products you use. Remember, having any kind of buildup on your skin can aggravate flaking and scaling, so avoid heavy leave-in products like hairsprays and gels.

Step 2: Shampoo More Often

Asian woman closing her eyes while shampooing her hair in a grey tiled shower

Sahacha Nilkumhang/Shutterstock

Once you’ve assessed the cause of your dandruff, begin treatment by shampooing more often, about once a day. Experts recommend a gentle, lightly scented, or unscented shampoo for mild cases.

When shampooing, be sure to thoroughly wet the hair, then carefully work the product down to the skin. Gently massage it in circular motions around the entire scalp for the best possible results.

Read Next: How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?

Step 3: Use a Medicated Shampoo

Several bottles of Selsun Blue shampoo to use if you're trying to get rid of dandruff

Raihana Asral/Shutterstock

If, after about a week, your dandruff has not improved with daily washing, it’s time to step up the treatment. Consider switching to a medicated dandruff-treatment shampoo.

Specially formulated to address both the causes and symptoms of dandruff in adults, these products are the best solution to get rid of your dandruff. The most common active ingredients in medicated dandruff shampoos are:

  • Pyrithione zinc, a relatively mild antibacterial and antifungal agent
  • Coal tar, which slows skin cell decay and flaking
  • Salicylic acid, a descaling agent (a topical descaler reduces the feeling of dry, scale-like skin on the scalp and should not be confused with a descaling cleaner)
  • Selenium sulfide, another potent antifungal agent
  • Ketoconazole, a chemical antifungal agent that can be particularly strong and used often in more stubborn cases

Dandruff shampoos are available over the counter in groceries and drugstores. They’re also available from salons and, in the case of higher dosing products, through prescriptions from a dermatologist. 

Be sure to follow the directions on the packaging, as misuse can reduce the effectiveness of the treatment or have side effects on the hair (most commonly, discoloration). Some products will need to sit on the scalp for a short period about five minutes while others should be removed immediately by thoroughly rinsing with water.

Step 4: Reassess Your Routine

Man stressed out and holding his eyes with his glasses in his other hand with an open laptop symbolizing one of the ways to get rid of dandruff (mitigating stress)

fizkes/Shutterstock

If using a medicated shampoo doesn’t seem to help your condition after a week or more, you’ll need to take further action. Assess everything about your routine that may be affecting your hygiene. You should adjust your schedule to reduce stress, as it is a common trigger.

Clean your sheets, hairbrush, and all other head and hair accessories to remove oil buildup. Better yet, avoid using these accessories at all. Make a list of possible triggers in your environment, and address any that stand out immediately.

Step 5: Consult a Dermatologist

Image for a piece on how to get rid of dandruff featuring a dermatologist examining a man's scalp under a bright white light

Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

If your dandruff is not responding to the treatment, regardless of what you try, or if you just want to seek professional advice, consider making an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

Dermatologists can assess your lifestyle and medical risk to help you create a more effective dandruff treatment plan. They can also prescribe you more intensive treatments, especially with particularly stubborn cases.

Bring your list of factors with you to your dermatology appointment. You should also have a list of the names of and active ingredients in the products you use in your hair and on your scalp, including the medicated shampoos you’ve tried or are currently using.

Things to Consider When Getting Rid of Dandruff

These five steps are the most effective way to get rid of dandruff, but there are other things that you need to know about the condition. Consider the following tips and reminders before, during, and after the dandruff treatment process.

  • Children need more sensitive therapy when dealing with dandruff. While some may be surprised to learn that children may develop dandruff, even infants are susceptible to a version of it called “cradle cap.” When treating them, be sure to use products specifically made and approved for kids, as adult dandruff shampoos may irritate their skin.
  • Your hair type can play a role in how often you should clean your hair. Frequent washing can damage coarser hair types.
  • Consider gently exfoliating your scalp with a light chemical scrub or tool before trying a medicated shampoo to see if that removes stubborn buildup. Avoid physical exfoliants they can irritate your scalp even more.
  • Using one treatment for an extended time can make it less effective. If you find that the dandruff shampoo you’ve been using works for a short time then stops working, try alternating between two different products to prevent your skin from acclimating too much to one treatment.
  • If you condition your hair, avoid working the conditioner onto the scalp, as this can cause oil buildup.
  • Some oil treatments such as tea tree or coconut can help soothe dry, irritated skin. Follow the directions included carefully to avoid irritation or discoloration.
  • Some conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, can look very similar to dandruff. If you notice flaking or scaling on skin that isn’t on the scalp, consider visiting your doctor to be assessed for these conditions.
  • Lifestyle choices outside of your hygiene routine can affect dandruff. Be sure that your diet is rich in vitamins and healthy fats, that you’re getting plenty of sunlight (but not getting sunburned, as this can worsen symptoms), and that you reduce your stress levels as much as possible.

In addition to these tips, you should know the most common misconceptions about dandruff. These rumors serve as outdated advice and can range from harmless but ineffective to actively harmful.

For instance, there’s a common myth that dandruff is even worse during the summer. This belief isn’t always the case. Some people find that their dandruff is worse in the winter, whether because of the dry, cold air or because head coverings are more often used.

Some suffer more extensively in the summer when they are more likely to sweat and produce more oil. For some, it’s a year-round condition. It’s also standard advice to “remove flakes before shampooing.”

This advice is wrong, as aggressive removal of flakes and scales can lead to further irritation and bleeding. That leaves your scalp open to infection and can be extremely painful. Additionally, if the scales and flakes are large enough to pull off with a comb, you may have a more severe condition.

Don’t trust everything you read about dandruff. Consult professionals and trusted studies and sources to ensure that you’re treating your skin as safely and effectively as possible.

So, How Do You Get Rid of Dandruff?

Image of a woman holding her scalp in a side-by-side image for a piece on how to get rid of dandruff

Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

For most persons, dandruff will only affect you for a short time before going away once the trigger that caused it has passed. It’s frustrating, but your dandruff can be managed by:

  • Assessing your situation
  • Treating your scalp with the right products
  • Adjusting your routine
  • Seeking professional guidance as needed

Consider your options, and listen to your body. Everyone is different, so if you find a method not listed here that works for you, as long as it is safe to do so, use it. You and your dermatologist know your own hair best.

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