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Can Listerine Cure Itchy Scalp Symptoms?

When your head itches it can be terribly distracting. Getting a correct diagnosis is crucial, but if it's a mystery, how about Listerine to cure itchy scalp?

Have you ever experienced an itchy scalp? It can be unbearable! It’s not always due to dandruff, and medicated shampoos don’t always solve the problem. What about Listerine? Can this old-fashioned mouthwash cure itchy scalp? We have heard from readers who have tried this remedy.

Listerine Instead of Sarna Lotion for the Scalp:

Q. For 30 years, I’ve been plagued with horrible itchiness. Multiple dermatologists and allergists have been unable to give me a diagnosis. However, one brilliant dermatologist finally suggested Sarna Lotion, original scent (with camphor and menthol).

If I start applying it as soon as I begin to feel itchy, I can get relief. I do have to apply it multiple times a day, but I’ve been itch free for four or five years using this regimen.

My scalp has also been itchy. Sarna Lotion Original is too messy to apply in my hair, but Original Listerine has a very similar smell. I tried it on a chronic itchy spot on my scalp behind the right ear and it worked.

Applying it straight from the bottle is awkward, though. Instead, I put it in a plastic squeeze bottle like a ketchup or mustard container used in diners. With a hand towel over my shoulders to catch any runoff, I lightly squeeze a small amount onto the itchy spot on my scalp. I ofttimes need to use it for a week or so to overcome the problem. The bottle certainly helped with the application process.

A. Camphor and menthol are classic ingredients in anti-itch formulations. These old-fashioned compounds stimulate TRPM8 receptors in the skin to provide a cooling sensation. In fact, just cooling the skin can sometimes stop itch temporarily (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2018). The transient receptor potential channels called TRPM8 also respond to menthol 

Listerine also contains menthol in addition to eucalyptol, methyl salicylate and thymol. Many other readers report that it can help ease scalp itching. Thank you for describing an ingenious method of applying this mouthwash to the scalp.

A Reader’s Delight:

Q. I have had an itchy scalp for months. It was so bad that I often found myself scratching till my scalp bled.

I tried every dandruff shampoo and cure I could find. The doctor recommended tea tree oil, various commercial preparations, and then cortisone. In desperation I poured a capful of Listerine on my scalp.

The itching stopped. The angels sang.

The itching wouldn’t stop for anything before this! I don’t really seem to have dandruff, just the maddening itch. It still comes back, but I just pour the Listerine straight on it, out of the cap, full strength, and it stops. I use a towel to keep Listerine out of my eyes and off my clothes.

I use just enough to saturate the itchy spots. I comb it around a little so it doesn’t drip down the back of my neck. And then I just leave it there and bask in the blissful lack of itch.

Shampooing with a hypoallergenic shampoo seems to help it stay calm for a good while afterward. I hope it will cure the problem completely, but meanwhile, I’m just grateful that Listerine has stopped the itch before I completely lost my mind!

Why Listerine Might Cure Itchy Scalp:

A. You are not the first person to report that Listerine was helpful against itchy scalp. Of course, it would be nice to know what is causing the itch in the first place. That might require a dermatologist’s diagnosis.

If you have lice, Listerine is surprisingly successful at killing them. If you are dealing with a fungal infection of the scalp, Listerine has antifungal ingredients that might help.

Once upon a time, the original maker of Listerine advertised the product for “infectious dandruff.” Whatever the cause, we’re delighted that you have achieved relief with an old-fashioned remedy.

We think, however, that the transient receptor potential (TRPM8) effect on itch is enough to explain the benefit you enjoyed. Researchers have confirmed that activating these channels can ease itchiness (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2018).

Does Cool Mint or Freshburst Listerine Cure Itchy Scalp Too?

Another reader wonders whether other types of Listerine would also work:

Q. I have been using original Listerine for scalp issues for years.

Courtesy of all the pandemic hoarders today, I am no longer able to find amber Listerine. Do the other types of Listerine work as well as the original for other issues than just bad breath? If not, could you suggest something that would work for itchy scalp?

A. If the mouthwash you put on your scalp is blue or green, you might end up with colored hair. One reader soaked her feet in Listerine Freshburst to treat athletes’ foot. She found it turned her feet green.

You should be able to find house brand amber mouthwash with ingredients similar to those of Listerine: eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol and alcohol (26.9 percent). The essential oils have antifungal properties that may help explain why this old-fashioned remedy seems to help alleviate scalp itching.

Listerine to Cure Itchy Scalp:

Lisa and her daughter also use Listerine:

“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. We let our hair dry naturally (the odor dissipates). It completely takes care of itchy scalp. It is so much better than any dandruff shampoo!”

Henry says Listerine is his First Aid Kit in a bottle!

“For many years, at sea, I employed Listerine for most everything – as an antiseptic for cuts and bruises, as an after shave lotion, for an itchy scalp or dandruff, for rashes, for pimples, mosquito bites, etc., and, oh yes, also as a mouthwash. It was my First Aid Kit in a bottle – and still is today.”

Susan has a monthly Listerine routine:

“I don’t have dandruff but I do have an itchy scalp. I’d read that it could possibly be a fungus. I wash with conditioner. There was a bottle of Listerine in the bath that no one uses. So I tried it! I washed my hair with shampoo, 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 minutes while I finished the shower. I rinsed it thoroughly. It took about 3 applications over a week, but no more itchy scalp! It will be a monthly treatment now.”

You can learn more about itchy scalp, dealing with dandruff and hair loss in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. You can find it in the Health eGuides section of this website. Share your strategy to cure itchy scalp in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Liu B & Jordt S-E, "Cooling the itch via TRPM8." Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.jid.2018.01.020
  • Palkar R et al, "Cooling relief of acute and chronic itch requires TRPM8 channels and neurons."
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