Q. I have suffered with an itchy scalp for years and now dandruff is adding to my misery. I have several expensive dark sweaters that I love. My sports jackets and suits are also dark and my wife is constantly brushing my shoulders and back to try to get rid of the unsightly flakes.
I have tried medicated shampoo without much success. Do you have any other remedies?
A. An itchy flaky scalp could be due to a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. Treating this overgrowth with home remedies may be more effective than you would think.
Readers of this column report that soaking the scalp with old-fashioned amber Listerine after shampooing does the trick. A variation is to mix Listerine with baby oil and leave it on the scalp for at least five minutes. The essential oils and alcohol in Listerine have anti-fungal activity.
Herbal teas made with rosemary or sage can also be used as a rinse to discourage dandruff. You will find details on these and other natural treatments for dandruff in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. One small study concluded that taking the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei could ease dandruff (Skin & Allergy News, Nov. 2009). It might be worth a try.
There is more information on how medicated shampoos affect Malasezzia in this article. Sometimes it is helpful to rotate shampoo types, not using any single kind for more than about six weeks. It is also important to leave the suds on the scalp for at least five minutes to give them time to fight the fungus. Pete reports that he has found that advice helpful:
“Years ago, a dermatologist told me to leave 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 I find that makes for an itchy scalp.”