Most people think of dandruff and its flakes as a winter-time problem. Cold air and central heating are thought to dry out the skin and make the scalp flake.
But skin problems are not restricted to cold weather. This time of year, heat and humidity can also cause itchy scalp and all kinds of other irritating skin conditions. Seborrheic dermatitis, jock itch and athlete’s foot can all be bothersome when the temperature and humidity go through the roof.
What all these skin problems have in common is yeast. Most of the time, we live in harmony with a fungal organism called Malassezia. When it gets out of control or our immune systems react badly to it, the result can be itching, redness and inflammation.
Making the skin less hospitable for this yeast seems to help control the inflammation. Dermatologists frequently prescribe anti-fungal shampoos and creams (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 22, 2009). An over-the-counter product called Nizoral A-D shampoo contains ketoconazole and can be helpful for many people. There are also prescription-strength topical anti-fungal agents such as ciclopirox shampoo that can be effective.
Selenium sulfide shampoo (Selsun Blue), commonly marketed for dandruff, can also help to control redness and itching from yeast infections.
Despite the research backing these medications, people are not always satisfied with the results. Some turn to home remedies to ease their symptoms. There are no scientific studies to demonstrate that these approaches are effective, but many readers have found them helpful against itching and redness.
One of the most popular is old-fashioned amber Listerine. Many decades ago it was marketed for dandruff, but the FDA no longer permits that. The herbal oils in Listerine have anti-fungal action, though, and some people use Listerine to rinse an itchy scalp. Others apply it to the face for seborrheic dermatitis or to skin folds to relieve jock itch or other yeast infections.
One reader shared this story: “I was in Marine Corps boot camp and developed a bad case of jock itch. My drill instructor, although an extremely harsh and seemingly uncaring guy, had warned us all of this possibility and suggested using Listerine.
“It worked beautifully, and the rash cleared up in just two days. Old-fashioned amber Listerine does burn a bit going on, but it works well. It is also good for athlete’s foot.” Many others agree that soaking feet in Listerine or a combination of Listerine and white vinegar discourages athlete’s foot and toenail fungus.
Vicks VapoRub contains some of the same ingredients found in Listerine. When dabbed on itchy spots on the face, it may bring relief. So can Noxzema cleanser, which contains camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil.
Another remedy for dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis is milk of magnesia applied directly to the face or scalp. This too may help control fungus.
For more suggestions on dealing with dandruff, nail fungus and seborrheic dermatitis, we offer our Guide to Hair and Nail Care.