woman yelling with her fingers in her hair, itchy scalp

Have you been bedeviled by an itchy scalp? There are plenty of reasons why your scalp might itch. Lice are one possibility, of course, though they seem to be most common among children and people who live with or work with children. The other possibilities include a range of conditions, from dandruff to psoriasis. Seborrheic dermatitis (aka super-dandruff) may be one of the most common causes. What can you do to soothe it?

Soothing Your Itchy Scalp:

Q. Using old-fashioned amber Listerine for my itchy scalp worked wonders. Thank you for writing about this remedy.

Is It Infectious Dandruff?

A. The original maker of Listerine used to advertise its product for “infectious dandruff.” This had certain advantages from the perspective of the advertiser, since it fed social paranoia and made people even more anxious to get rid of (or cover up) their itchy flakes. But there’s no good evidence that dandruff is actually contagious or infectious.

That is probably why the FDA no longer allows this claim for Listerine. Nonetheless, dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are characterized by flaking, redness and itching of the skin on the scalp or even on the face.

The Mysteries of Malassezia:

Both conditions are associated with an overabundance of normal skin yeast called Malassezia globosa (British Journal of Dermatology, Oct., 2011). This yeast requires fat to grow, so human skin provides excellent conditions for it. In fact, children start with a much wider range of skin fungi or yeast, but after puberty Malassezia globosa appears to dominate (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, online July 29, 2016). In addition to seborrheic dermatitis, Malassezia can cause a skin discoloration called tinea versicolor. Overgrowth with Malassezia is linked to skin itching and flaking.

Listerine to the Rescue:

While many dandruff shampoos can knock down Malassezia populations on the skin, the ingredients in Listerine also have antifungal activity. Veterinary researchers in Tehran isolated several Malassezia species (including M. globosa) from dogs with itchy skin (atopic dermatitis). They cultured the yeast and applied medicinal essential oils to see which were most helpful against these skin denizens. The most effective of these were Zataria multiflora, a wild herb from Iran that contains thymol and carvacrol, and Thymus kotschyanus, an Iranian species of thyme (Journal de Mycologie Medicale, March, 2016).

Thymol is an important constituent of both plants and an active ingredient in Listerine. It is reasonable to conclude that the thymol in Listerine contributes to its activity against common Malassezia.

Many people report that thoroughly soaking the scalp with Listerine before shampooing can control dandruff. Others have found that rinsing the scalp with amber Listerine after washing the hair relieves itching and flaking.

Our Guide to Hair and Nail Care includes a discussion of Listerine and many other home remedies for dandruff.

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  1. Lilo
    Kenya
    Reply

    I got braids last week and scalp started itching so bad I got sores. I read somewhere about Listerine, put it in a spray bottle, and sprayed generously on my scalp. Three days later my scalp is as good as new 😁😁😁😁

  2. Dee
    UK
    Reply

    I have been suffering from burning/ tingling of the scalp and hair loss for a number of years now. I have tried everything including very expensive medication. To date, nothing has worked.

    Then last night, I came across a video on YouTube where this lady was talking about using Listerine to stop the burning sensation. So I decided to try it this morning – my scalp was on fire when I woke up. I diluted a capful of Listerine in a little bottle with and applied a few drops to the problem areas on my scalp. It instantly stopped the burning sensation! I am still in shock! It has been a few hours now and still no burning. I am now interested to see what happens if I keep using it.

  3. Lynn
    Reply

    Are you talking about Listerine the mouthwash gargle? I want to make sure before I try it. I have terrible itching and flaking. I have some psoriasis on my body and starting on the edges of my hair line and I wonder if Listerine will burn it.

  4. Angel
    Florida
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis but I have NO dandruff, just an itchy scalp. The doctor gave me a prescription but when I went to get it filled it was close to $250 and I declined.

    I am so thankful to know about Listerine and will try it my next shampoo. If it works it will be a lot cheaper than the doctor’s prescription.

  5. Carey
    Chicago
    Reply

    Other reasons for itchy scalp include allergy to fragrance in hair products and nickel in barrettes.

  6. Mary
    Reply

    I have had rather intense skin itching almost all over my body in different areas at different times. Night time itching can cause me to lose sleep.

    This article made me wonder if using a wash cloth to apply Listerine to itching areas might be helpful.

    Maybe I will find out for myself.

  7. Sylvia
    South Carolina
    Reply

    For years I suffered with an itchy scalp until I stopped using a hot dryer to dry my hair. Using the dryer on a cooler setting fixed the problem overnight!

  8. Patricia
    Bellevue WA
    Reply

    I am not surprised that children are afflicted with an itchy scalp. I was having trouble with an allergy to shampoo. I have a very allergic reaction to soaps of all kinds. I used baby shampoo on just one occasion and my scalp began to itch very badly, the itching lasted 2 days. Now I am using shampoos DHS and T/gel and have no more irritation problems of my scalp

  9. Lisa
    Illinois
    Reply

    My daughter and I both use a Listerine rinse periodically (every 3-4 months), when itchiness starts to bother us. We shampoo, then pour a couple capfuls of Listerine on the scalp, then let our hair dry naturally (the odor dissipates). It completely takes care of itchy scalp. So much better than any dandruff shampoo!

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