Q. I have been treating a scalp problem for many months. Prescription drugs such as clobetasol, ketoconazole shampoo and fluocinonide each help, but do not clear it up altogether. I still have itching and flaking.

I’ve tried lots of other remedies such as Head and Shoulders shampoo, organic baby shampoo, baby oil, jojoba oil, tea tree oil and Mane ‘n Tail shampoo for animals but none do the job. Do you have any ideas to clear this up?

A. Other readers have suggested remedies for itching and scaling that you may not have tried. One calls for rinsing the hair and scalp with dilute vinegar after shampooing. Another approach is to soak the scalp with amber-colored Listerine. Some people find that applying milk of magnesia to the scalp can be helpful.

We don’t know if any of these would work when antifungal drugs have not, but they are all inexpensive and worth a try. For more details on these and additional home remedies for dandruff and itching, we are sending you our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. It also includes information on hair loss, lice and hair dye safety.

One reader reported his experience with a standard dandruff shampoo: “Years ago, a dermatologist told me to leave the zinc pyrithione shampoo (I use a generic one) on my scalp for a while.

“Three 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.”

Another woman’s husband used a more alternative approach: “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 second 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.”

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  1. CJ

    Once again. I have tried all of the suggested remedies for Itchy Scalp without success. There has to be something that will help. Are there any other things that I should try?

  2. LN

    I’ve tried Sea Breeze (the blue one) on my itchy scalp WITH hair loss but no dandruff. The S/B does give me temporary relief from the itch but my hair is not growing back in.
    I have zero, fine, baby hairs and fear I’ll be a 58 y/o bald female at some point in time. I think it must be hormonal… but since I’ve had estrogen positive breast cancer in the past – I’m afraid to see a doctor for hormone treatment.
    The itchy scalp is absolutely miserable and it seems to be worse at night time. My dermatologist ran all kinds of tests and every one of them came back as normal. I did ask my MD for a short run of steroid tablets as I think my scalp is inflamed, but she refused. Sometimes I just want to scratch my hair out of my head! I’ll try just about anything to get rid of this itch!

  3. KE

    I am a female, who just turned 60 yesterday. I have been plagued with an itchy scalp, no dandruff, for at least the past 20-25 years. It drives me crazy sometimes. I tried ACV, but the itching continues. A topical solution that gives me excellent temporary relief is Scalpicin containing 3% salicylic acid. It soothes & cools, putting the itch at bay. I prefer this version of Scalpicin to that which contains hydrocortisone.
    If you can’t find it at your local drugstore, it is available online at Drugstore.com. I also find that Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo & Conditioner helps soothe the scalp. It leaves the scalp cool & tingling. Another thought might be to try Sea Breeze.
    Growing up, my aunt was a beautician. She poured sea breeze right out of the bottle & massaged it into the scalp, after giving me a permanent. It felt so cooling & calming to the scalp & smelled wonderful. Back then, permanent waves were more harsh, so I’m sure the Sea Breeze took care of any potential irritation to the scalp. I just checked the ingredients at drugstore.com for Sea Breeze; it has Salicylic acid & camphor. It’s worth a try.

  4. Mike R

    Try straight white vinegar, leaving it on as long as possible.
    Use a name brand 1% selenium dandruff shampoo. In a severe case, I applied the shampoo right out of the bottle, rubbing it into my dry scalp and leaving it on for a day. Looks messy, can’t go out in public. Worked.

  5. CJ

    Sorry to say that shampooing with Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap has not helped my very itching scalp. Does anyone else have a suggestion that works? I really need help!

  6. HB

    My solution to itchy scalp is one that’s been around for decades, Grandpa’s Pine Tar (bar) Soap! It’s a simple, inexpensive solution for me. It does have a distinctive scent of pine tar when using it, but that diminishes quickly, although I happen to like it. I’ve used it over 60 years, as the need arises and always keep a bar in the bathroom cabinet. My last bar was purchased online, as I don’t know any local stores that now carry it. The bar is a very dark brown but lathers white. Good luck!

  7. CJ

    I have had a very itchy scalp for years but no dandruff. I have followed the Graedon’s Guide to “Hair and Nail Care”. I have seen a dermatologist several times. No help. The things that I have tried among others are: Prescriptions– Capex, Keteorozole 2%, Clobetasol Propionate 0.05%, oral anti-fungal medication. OTC’s — Neutrogena T/Gel, Nioxin Bionutrient Cleanser, Nioxin Scalp Therapy, Selsun Blue 3% Salicylic acid, Free and Clear Shampoo, Baby Shampoo, Selsun Blue Selenium Sulfide 1%,Head and Shoulders Pyrithione Zinc, Paul Mitchell Tea tree Shampoo, Eucerin Shampoo with Urea. Vinegar rinse, Amber Listerine rinse, and Hydrogen peroxide rinse.
    The only relief sometimes is to change shampoos after a couple of days. There is no lasting relief. What now?

    • Brooke

      What about taking fish oil pills?? I don’t have itchy scalp, but I wonder if it would relieve it. I’m looking for a solution for my husband!!

  8. HP

    I have tried all the creams, been to the dermatologist numerous times with no results. To me it is unbelievable that no one has a cure. We can clone animals replace body parts, but no one can tell us how to cure it. Medical Profession???

  9. bbn

    I tried ACV but it dried out my hair…leaving it NOT soft or manageable. : (

  10. Jan

    I’ve suffered with itchy scalp, nearly my whole life. I started a rinse/massage with organic apple cider vinegar, and it went away!!! I pour the AC vinegar onto my scalp, after final shampoo, massage it in, then I rinse very lightly, in cool/cold water. Not another itch since.
    It has been working for nearly one year. Feels great !!! Hair is softer, too, and much more manageable. Age is 57.

    • Ev

      I have to say that I am going to try your method but needed to ask if you used conditioner during the process?

      Thank you.


  11. HB

    Old-fashioned pine tar soap works well for scalp itching. Let the lather remain for a few minutes and rinse off without using conditioner and hair will feel really clean and soft, and the itch will be gone! It may be hard to find, but a bar lasts a long time.

  12. Barbara RN

    I had a similar problem for two years. Extremely itchy scalp but no dandruff. After trying prescription meds and just about every shampoo and conditioner available I finally read about about Free and Clear shampoo. I used free samples available from their website. http://www.psico.com and have had no further problem. What a relief. It’s worth a try and I hope it works as well for you as it did for me.

  13. VR

    I have always had the driest of skin and my scalp was also affected by this dryness. Even as a young adult it was as though I had “cradle cap”. The flaking was endless so I just had to stop wearing dark colored clothing because it was unsightly. I have found that one tablespoon of cod liver oil has finally eliminated my scalp problem. If I stop taking the oil, the dandruff and flaking return. I believe regular fish oil would also work, and at time I have used that as well.
    I prefer the cod oil because it also gives me a good dose of vitamin D.

  14. Susan

    No dandruff but an itchy scalp. I’d read that it could possibly be a fungus….I only use shampoo on a monthly basis as I have curly hair. I wash with conditioner. So there was a bottle of Listerine (blue) in the bath that no one uses. So I tried it!…washed my hair with conditioner, poured the Listerine diluted with water onto my scalp and worked it in, then applied the conditioner to the ends and left it for a few while I finished the shower. I rinsed it thoroughly. Took about 3 applications over a week, but no more itchy scalp! It will be a monthly treatment now.

  15. Georgine Floyd, ND

    Products are chemicals. Our scalp and hair – and skin as well – do not interface easily with chemicals. I have seen chronic dandruff/itchy scalp clear up within 6 weeks, and remain clear, by using the following simple regimen.
    Keep in mind that product use – even natural products – may have dried the scalp out to such a degree that it is probably over producing oils. A week or two of being product free may be required before this over production ceases.
    Brush your hair well. This stimulates the scalp and distributes nature’s perfect moisturizer – oils excreted by the scalp – to the ends of the hair. Previously I had needed three conditioners applied just to be able to comb my hair. The first time I brushed well and used water and vinegar, my hair combed through easily.
    While showering, gently massage or “shampoo” the scalp with comfortably warm water. I do this this at the beginning and again at the end of my shower.
    Use a cup of vinegar, poured on the scalp and running into the hair. Leave on for 30 seconds and rinse well. This will help remove environmental pollutants, work toward controlling unwanted microorganisms on the scalp, release tangles and make hair shiny and soft. The odor of the vinegar vanishes as soon as the hair is dry.
    To get another endorsement, check out the NYTimes article “Why Can’t Middle Aged Women Have Long Hair?”

  16. WLA

    I have used everything from sulfur and salicylic acid shampoos to prescription treatments for my scalp itch. Then I started taking fish oil capsules, and the itching has mostly subsided. It took a few weeks for the change, and if I quit, it takes some days or weeks before the itch comes back. But I still use some of the salicylic shampoos once in a while.

  17. Karen

    One might pause to wonder if the problem is starting on the outside or the inside. What about a decent dose of fish oil for 90 days?
    Or looking at the writer’s diet, to see what might be kicking up irritation? Most of the things that go wrong on my skin, save roundworm, have best been treated by fixing what I’m putting into my body. YMMV.
    No fungicide is going to fix celiac. (I’m making this up, because I have no idea of whether celiac causes itchy scalp in some people. But the analogy works.)

  18. cpmt

    I think dandruff is a yeast or fungus and Listerine or any anti fungal product probably can help and it will work. But sometimes dandruff is sign of something in your body, maybe to acidic? or…???

  19. MC

    I went on a gluten free diet a few years ago, my health improved but my scalp continued to itch. I switched to a gluten free shampoo and conditioner and my scalp quit itching.

  20. Michael R

    I second the amber Listerine or generic amber equivalent, it has worked for me on sort of a ‘hot spot’ (if I were a dog). Soak the area and leave it on as long as possible.
    And, leaving the medicated shampoo on as long as possible also works IMHO.

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