Dandruff is perturbing, no matter how severe it is. Whether you deal with stubborn, persistent peeling or periodic flakes, it’s right up there with breakouts and unsightly shave cuts in terms of grooming annoyances. It sucks enough to be the one sporting shoulder snowfall, but beyond that, a flaky, itchy scalp can also hurt. If you want to know how to get rid of dandruff, no matter the severity, then read on.
However, a note: If you have a severe case of dandruff, you may need to work with a board-certified dermatologist or scalp-centric trichologist to get a tailored, prescription-strength regimen. Still, almost everyone can rely on products like the ones below for a fast and effective fix (and once you have that down, you’ll want to prevent dandruff from re-appearing). Anti-dandruff shampoos are important, but it’s more than that—it’s important to have scalp-focused conditioners, treatments, and scrubs, and even some hair stylers that are formulated to neutralize flaking.
1. Swap out your regular shampoo—and wash thoroughly
If you have active flakes, now’s the time to use targeted, active ingredients in your shampoo, so swap out your regular shampoo with an anti-dandruff option. Ideal ingredients include ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, and salicylic acid. While we normally don’t suggest shampooing daily, now might be a time for bucking this advice since these active ingredients need to be absorbed into your scalp each day. (You can swap in an antifungal or anti-dandruff serum, gel, or cream between washes if you don’t want to shampoo daily.) Still, regardless of how often you shampoo, let it set on your scalp for a minute or two when you wash, and give it a good massage as you go.
2. But step up your conditioner game
Don’t worry too much about swapping in an active-ingredient conditioner; the shampoo is a better way to target the scalp. However, anti-dandruff washes tend to be extremely drying for the hair, so make sure your conditioner is nourishing and reviving for your strands. (In that sense, it may be worth upgrading your conditioner to a luxe, bond-building option that smooths strands and prevents hair from splitting, drying, frizzing, and breaking. Condition after every wash—even when you’re using regular shampoo and dandruff isn’t an issue—and especially after using a drying anti-dandruff shampoo, let the conditioner set for a couple of minutes before rinsing it out.
3. Scrub your scalp twice a week
Exfoliation plays a big role in removing dead cells from the surface of your skin, and when it comes to dandruff, that means helping to slough away the cells in the shower before they can flake themselves away throughout the day. Some will help target the problem itself but don’t make that your primary priority with an exfoliant. Rather, in terms of treatments, this is a prime chance to just remove excess flakes—exfoliation at its simplest. Do this twice a week throughout your recovery process and at least once a week when things clear up.
4. Incorporate scalp treatments
If your dandruff is anything above a few flakes, then you should add an additional proactive topical to the mix—something that settles into the scalp without being immediately rinsed away. There are numerous serums, masks, lotions, gels, and the like out there that target different things, and you need to assess your situation and decide which topicals are most needed.
The key ingredients will dictate the function of these products; consider one with tea tree oil to tone oil and fight fungus; choose pre or probiotics to fortify the scalp’s barrier; choose charcoal to detoxify and purify the scalp to prevent oil buildup; choose alpha hydroxy acids or salicylic acid to help exfoliate (and the latter to tone oil levels, too)… the list goes on. You can also seek out a hydrating lotion or gel if your flaking is the result of a dry, irritated scalp.
5. Use hair stylers with anti-dandruff ingredients
Oftentimes, the hair products we use can aggravate the situation, so go easy on anything that is applied directly to your scalp to prevent buildup and irritation on inflamed areas. (You can also apply one of the above nourishing or toning treatments prior to styling hair as another preventative measure.) We suggest subbing in a styler with an active anti-dandruff ingredient, too, like zinc pyrithione or tea tree.
6. Avoid unnecessary heat
Minimize long, hot showers (and short showers, at that) while fighting flakes. Also, minimize the use of blow dryers and any other hot tools that might further parch your dome.
7. Keep your bedroom humid
Make sure your sleeping environment is plenty humid so that you don’t lose moisture in the layers of your skin as you slumber. See, if you rest in a dry room for six to eight hours, then the environment is going to extract moisture wherever it can come up with some (and thus, in this case, it’s your skin and hair). Keeping a humid chamber is generally a great practice for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and fresh breath, too.
8. Briefly park any topical hair loss medicines
While it’s imperative to use hair loss treatments like finasteride and minoxidil every day in order to see and maintain hair density, any topical solutions might aggravate severe inflammation or flaking. Make it a priority to get rid of the dandruff quickly and effectively, and avoid applying any topical minoxidil or finasteride in the interim. Don’t go off these medicines for more than a week; it’s not like your hair retention efforts will suddenly go away, but you do not want to lose the habit. If your dandruff persists, then speak with your dermatologist to discuss a safe cadence so that you don’t lose any progress. (Ask them about oral minoxidil, too.)