Q. Dandruff is caused by a yeast (fungus). Here’s how I got rid of it 40 years ago with amber Listerine. I parted my hair in the middle, soaked a cotton ball with the Listerine and saturated the exposed scalp with the Listerine. Then I parted my hair about 1/2 inch from the original part and soaked the newly exposed scalp with Listerine.

I repeated this over my entire scalp. The idea was to get Listerine in direct contact with my entire scalp to kill the yeast. It probably took at least 45 minutes to do this procedure. I used a towel over my shoulders to catch the drips. I left the Listerine on for a short while afterwards. Then I washed my hair as usual.

One week later I repeated the procedure with the Listerine. The dandruff went away and has never returned.

A. It may come as a surprise to many readers that the makers of Listerine used to advertise their antiseptic as a treatment for “infectious dandruff.” One 1930 newspaper advertisement offered this:

“Here’s an easy way of getting rid of dandruff. When your scalp itches or burns, when your hair is dull and lifeless, and when you are bothered with loose dandruff, start using full strength Listerine on the hair and see how quickly you note improvement…Being a germicide capable of killing germs in 15 seconds, it readily takes care of any infection that may be present…LISTERINE: The Safe Antiseptic–Kills germs in 15 seconds.”

Dermatologists didn’t think of dandruff as “infectious” and the FDA determined that the makers of Listerine could no longer advertise their mouthwash for the scalp. Now, however, there is a growing realization that dandruff may indeed be caused in part by a yeast-like fungal infection (Malassezia). Although most of us harbor some yeast on our scalp, for reasons that are unclear, some people react to this yeastie beastie with inflammation and irritation. That leads to cellular growth and flakes, ie, dandruff.

As far as we can tell, there have been no randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials of Listerine against dandruff. Would it work? Quite possibly. There are antifungal ingredients in Listerine.

You are not the first person to tell us that old-fashioned amber Listerine was effective, though we have not heard of this treatment as a definitive “cure.”

Anyone who would like to read more about some other dandruff remedies, especially details on rotating different kinds of dandruff shampoos, may find our Guide to Hair and Nail Care of value.

Let us know your own experience dealing with dastardly dandruff. There is room in the comment section to share your story.

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  1. plm
    Reply

    When my husband lost his hair due to Cancer, it grew back with dandruff. Heard about the Vinegar so used Apple Cider Vinegar straight as a last rinse. The odor went away after about 20 minutes. So did his beautiful black hair which turned white. The next time he lost his hair we started with the original (Amber colored) Listerine as a last rinse, did not rinse it off. Found out that the cheapest mouth wash worked as well to keep the dandruff at bay AND best of all, his hair was soft and shinny.

  2. mary
    Reply

    With all the previous information on this subject, and with many good results using many of the suggestion–still, I have a question.
    The sheer number of people having these problems—scalp, eyelids, rosacea, [spelling?], toe nail fungus, etc., is there any possibility that a bodily yeast infection could be the culprit?
    Thank you

  3. Betty France
    Reply

    Vinegar also works excellent. Stings a bit while working though. But one application and dandruff is GONE.
    Eyedropper for toes. Hmmm. I soaked my toes in listerine, but that took a LOT of listerine.

  4. Betty France
    Reply

    Vinegar also works excellent. Stings a bit while working though. But one application and dandruff is GONE.
    Eyedropper for toes. Hmmm. I soaked my toes in listerine, but that took a LOT of listerine.

  5. Page
    Reply

    I used the listerine in a eyedropper for toenail fungus. It was gone in less than 10 days.One drop under the nail once or twice a day.

  6. Barb
    Reply

    What is “amber” Listerine? Is it different from other varieties?

  7. JMDSWS
    Reply

    I tried the amber Listerine by rinsing my hair with it after shampooing with a dandruff shampoo. I did not rinse the Listerine out of my hair; I left it on until the next day. It was somewhat effective but not completely. I did not do the procedure described in the comment above. I even had the dandruff (flaking skin) on my eyelids.
    I mixed amber Listerine with a vegetable-based body oil in a small plastic bottle and dabbed the mixture on my eyelid with a q-tip. Even after several months of twice-daily applications, this was not effective.
    Then I happened to see extra-strength T-Gel by Neutrogena and bought it. (I had tried the regular T-Gel with no success.) I added that to the oil-Listerine mixture and started to see results. As I used up the mixture, I added more oil and T-Gel but not Listerine and continued to use it on my eyelid (oh, also in my ears) and, after two weeks, my eyelid and ears are almost clear — 95% I would say.
    I also use the T-Gel as a shampoo and my scalp has improved but is not as clear as the eyelid and ears. To clear the scalp, I am going to try a new idea: apply the T-Gel to my scalp, wrap my head in a plastic bag and a towel, and let it stay on for half-an-hour or so and repeat each day. I was so encouraged by how the T-Gel worked on my eyelids and ears that I think it’s worth a try.

  8. Catherine
    Reply

    Yes, this works. Undoubtedly. Remember, though, that not all cases of an irritated, itchy scalp actually result in copious visible dandruff. And the condition ISN’T caused by washing one’s hair too much. It CAN, though, be kicked off my leaving even the clean scalp wet after washing and not drying both skin and hair properly, or even after getting all sweaty and not giving the skin a chance to dry. (I’ve been told by both medical and hair people that — for whatever reasons — these days teenage girls self-inflict the condition, too. They wash the hair at night and — worse — tie it back in a tight ponytail to sleep, which only traps all the moisture against the scalp for hours. Shudder.)
    Does itchy head sound like athlete’s foot? Yes — because it’s nearly the same thing. I call it “Athlete’s Head.” Listerine works, which makes perfect sense because scalp irritation is one of the conditions the product was originally intended to treat.
    Oh, and another great — and perhaps easier — way to use Listerine (or one of the generics, which work as well) — is to put it into a squeezable bottle with the kind of cap that has a point. (These caps can be hard to find, though.) Similar to what the cotton-ball technique does, but with less mess, the pointed cap allows you to direct the fluid right onto the scalp where it can do some good, instead of getting a lot on the hair, which might not benefit from Listerine’s mild drying effect. Especially good if you have long hair. Keep the bottle in the shower and put the stuff on your not-yet-wet scalp at the start of the shower, let it soak in while steaming, then wash your hair last, being sure to dry your hair and scalp promptly after hopping out of the bath. Having that pointy bottle around is also handy for when you feel the itch creep up (after exercise or other scalp-dampening activity), because you can squeeze a bit on the itchy spot without going through the whole hair-washing routine.

  9. Kahleen
    Reply

    This is another temporary relief of psoriasis on the scalp also.

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