When it comes to stubborn beauty concerns, a dry, flaky scalp — aka dandruff — ranks pretty near the top of the list. And while there are plenty of ways to maintain a healthy head of hair, the best ways to treat symptoms aren’t always clear. (Spoiler alert: We’ve come a long way since simply switching out our shampoo and conditioner.)
“Dandruff — and its associate symptoms such as flakes, itching, redness, and dry scalp — is a scalp condition that many people experience,” Dr. Ilyse Lefkowicz, Head & Shoulders global dermatologist, says. “One out of two people experience dandruff, so whether your scalp is irritated by external factors or by naturally occurring factors such as skin having an ‘allergy like’ response to the natural and common micro-environment on the scalp, it’s important to care for and nourish your scalp to alleviate dandruff symptoms.”
“The cause of dandruff is a naturally occurring microbe on your scalp called Malassezia globosa,” explains Dr. Whitney Bowe, leading NYC dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. “This tiny organism feeds on…sebum, and as the sebum is broken down, it produces oleic acid — one in two people are sensitive to oleic acid.” A common reaction to oleic acid sensitivity? An irritated and inflamed scalp. “To get rid of this irritation, your body tells your brain to shed skin cells faster than usual,” says Dr. Bowe. “This rapid shedding is what causes dandruff flakes to appear on your scalp.”
That said, there’s no reason you can’t give your scalp some TLC even if you’re not dealing with flakiness — in fact, regular care can be the best way to prevent dandruff altogether. Scroll down to find the best products to keep flakes away — plus expert tips on how to make the most out of your hair care.
Get the most out of your shampoo and conditioner.
“Dandruff can easily be controlled by shampooing and conditioning regularly with a product that contains zinc pyrithione,” dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco tells Teen Vogue. Additionally, it’s important to look for a formula that contains ingredients that will nourish your strands in addition to your scalp. Another important tip? Make sure you’re actually leaving the product on your hair long enough for it to work: “An anti-dandruff shampoo must be left on the hair for at least five minutes for the active ingredients to optimally work. Continual maintenance is necessary to prevent dandruff from coming back,” says Dr. Bowe. Some of our favorites? Briogeo’s Scalp Revival, Dove’s DermaCare Scalp Invigorating Mint Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner, Head & Shoulders’ Clinical Strength Shampoo, and Oribe’s Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner.
Treat it smarter, not harder.
You don’t need a prescription to get potent formulas that’ll have your scalp in tip-top shape in no time. Apply an antioxidant-rich fluid like Evolis’s Prevent Activator directly to roots twice a day, or scrunch a micellar water-infused foam like Bumble and Bumble’s Scalp Detox (which feels like Pop Rocks on your scalp…in a good way) to get fast results. Want to go DIY? Dr. Bowe recommends making an at-home tea tree oil treatment that only requires one tablespoon of tea tree oil mixed into one cup of warm water. Apply directly to roots with a squirt bottle, and voilà. “Tea tree oil is one of the only essential oils that kills yeast on contact,” she tells Teen Vogue.