Many people like to wear black because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that dark clothing makes them look thinner and more elegant. Millions spoil the stylish image they seek, though, when white flakes of dandruff show up on their shoulders.

We hear from readers who have struggled with dandruff for decades. In addition to the unsightly flakes, they frequently complain about their itchy scalp. Scratching in public is almost as embarrassing as brushing off snowy shoulders.

Dandruff is caused by an inflammatory skin response to yeast that live on skin. Dermatologists keep discovering new species and new links between these Malassezia organisms and skin conditions such as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, folliculitis, eczema and psoriasis (Clinical Microbiology Reviews, Jan., 2012).

Scientists haven’t yet figured out why this fungus may get out of control for some people while others don’t even notice they have such organisms thriving on their skin. They have found that inflammation can trigger an immune response that interrupts the normal process of shedding dead skin cells. Instead of getting rid of one cell at a time, imperceptibly, large groups of cells clump together and fall off at once, making visible flakes. Histamine released as part of the inflammatory process may be responsible for the typical itch associated with dandruff and its nastier cousin, seborrheic dermatitis.

Common approaches to treating dandruff utilize chemicals such as zinc pyrithione, found in Head & Shoulders and other dandruff shampoos. This compound disrupts the metabolism of the scalp fungus (Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Dec., 2011).

Repeated use of the same compound may result in the yeast developing resistance, which could explain why a shampoo that worked at first loses efficacy. That’s why we often recommend rotating different types of dandruff treatments, switching from a zinc-based product to a selenium-based shampoo after a few weeks. We have included details on how to follow this regimen in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care.

Readers tell us that dandruff treatments that work for one person don’t always work for everyone else. That may be due to individual differences in the reaction to Malassezia fungi, as well as differences in the particular species. Some day dermatologists may have an easy way to determine which species predominate on a patient’s scalp, but for now we are stuck with trial and error.

Luckily, many readers have done some of that trial and error for all of us and have found some fascinating home remedies for flakes and itching. One says: “I happen to have long hair and issues with yeast-based dandruff. I use a mixture of amber Listerine and cider vinegar when the itchies act up. I haven’t had any problems with my hair drying out as a result.”

You will find many more home remedies for dandruff at

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  1. Wally

    I heard this in a radio!
    This treatment will cost you 0 money! Take one onion and crash it and take its juice and put it on your scalp, leave it about 90 minutes then wash your hair 4 or 5 times because it is smell bad. . . . the only problem is the smell. . . try it 2 times a week for 1 months

  2. No more itchy scalp

    I LOVE this site! Someone suggested Dial antibacterial soap for scalp itch and bumps. I was going out of my mind…tried everything from all the shapmoos out there to apple cider vinegar (very smelly) and lavender and special oils (very, very smelly). Nothing really worked, only a mild improvement in the itch, that returned with a vengence.
    The itch was making me crazy…until I tried Dial soap. I have long blond color treated hair…I lathered up a bar of soap and rubbed the foam on the itchy part (1/4 of my scalp) and it worked. The itch stopped immediately … what a relief! After about 5 shampoos the bumps are gone/healed. I am also diligent and wash my hair very soon after I workout/sweat, and now I swear by Dial Soap! I use girly shampoos and cream rinses… after rubbing Dial soap suds into my scalp. I’ve been told my hair looks great!
    I hope others find this helpful too. It is such a simple solution!

  3. Peggy

    My husband had dandruff and he rinsed his hair with apple cider vinegar and it went away. It also made his hair soft. The only thing was his dark hair went white. After the 2nd bout with cancer in which he lost his hair again, he used the cheapest mouth wash we could find and it worked great. He rinsed with it and didn’t wash it out. Hair was soft and best of all no dandruff.

  4. Eric H.

    I’ve had pretty bad dandruff every winter for as long as I can remember. Recently, I’ve started sitting in a steam room 1-2 times a week for about 10 minutes. Ever since then my dandruff has SIGNIFICANTLY decreased. And my skin in general feels less dry and cracky.

  5. Pete

    Years ago, a dermatologist told me to leave the zinc pyrithione shampoo (I use a generic one) on my scalp for a while.
    3 times a week, I put it on at the beginning of my shower and don’t rinse it off until I am done, which usually will be several minutes.
    No dandruff. I do use a tar shampoo once or twice a month to alternate, and no conditioner, as that makes for an itchy scalp.

  6. Barb

    Has anyone experience with coal tar shampoo for scaling and itching?

  7. fbl

    If these problems are caused by a yeast infection wouldn’t a diet lacking in sugar and easily digested starches solve the problem long term by starving the yeast? Also maybe take some anti-yeast remedies?
    It would also be interesting to check the blood sugar levels of those who are suffering from the scalp itch problem.
    Has anyone tried this?

  8. Natrualist

    In addition to topical remedies to flaky scalp, is there a nutritional adjustment in diet that should be made to relieve scalp itch? I had experienced scalp itch on one side of my head. After many months as a vegan the itch stopped. However I felt weak and reintroduced protein to my diet and about two months later the itch returned but in a completely different section of my scalp. It does not occur all over and I wonder if there is something I can consume differently that would relieve the itchy area. Moving from carnivore to vegan and back, I assume impacts skin with the change in variety of nutrients.

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