The People's Perspective on Medicine

Listerine Cured Infectious Dandruff

Is there such a thing as infectious dandruff? Is it possible to get rid of itchiness and flaking with an old-fashioned mouthwash like amber Listerine?
Bearded man peering at flakes on his suit jacket shoulder

Flakes on the shoulder is a likely sign of dastardly dandruff. A businessman wearing a perfectly tailored suit can completely destroy his image with snowy shoulders. Ditto for a woman in a black dress. What can be done to overcome this embarrassing problem? Is there something to the idea of infectious dandruff and can it be overcome with an antifungal approach?

Q. Dandruff is caused by a yeast (fungus). Here’s how I got rid of it 40 years ago with amber Listerine. I parted my hair in the middle, soaked a cotton ball with the Listerine and saturated the exposed scalp with the Listerine. Then I parted my hair about 1/2 inch from the original part and soaked the newly exposed scalp with Listerine.

I repeated this over my entire scalp. The idea was to get Listerine in direct contact with my entire scalp to kill the yeast. It probably took at least 45 minutes to do this procedure. I used a towel over my shoulders to catch the drips. I left the Listerine on for a short while afterwards. Then I washed my hair as usual.

One week later I repeated the procedure with the Listerine. The dandruff went away and has never returned.

A. It may come as a surprise to many readers that the makers of Listerine used to advertise their antiseptic as a treatment for “infectious dandruff.” One 1930 newspaper advertisement offered this:

“Here’s an easy way of getting rid of dandruff. When your scalp itches or burns, when your hair is dull and lifeless, and when you are bothered with loose dandruff, start using full strength Listerine on the hair and see how quickly you note improvement…Being a germicide capable of killing germs in 15 seconds, it readily takes care of any infection that may be present…LISTERINE: The Safe Antiseptic–Kills germs in 15 seconds.”

Does Infectious Dandruff Really Exist?

Dermatologists used to dismiss the idea of infectious dandruff. The FDA determined that the makers of Listerine could no longer advertise their mouthwash for the scalp. Now, however, there is a growing realization that dandruff may indeed be caused in part by a yeast-like fungal infection (Malassezia). Although most of us harbor some yeast on our scalp, for reasons that are unclear, some people react to this yeastie beastie with inflammation and irritation. That leads to cellular growth and flakes, ie, dandruff.

As far as we can tell, there have been no randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials of Listerine against dandruff. Would it work? Quite possibly. There are antifungal ingredients in Listerine.

You are not the first person to tell us that old-fashioned amber Listerine was effective, though we have not heard of this treatment as a definitive “cure.”

James in Detroit offered this anecdote:

“Several years ago I found it amusing to collect old magazines, such as Life Magazine, from as far back as the 1940s. I read some of the Listerine advertisements about “infectious dandruff” and more or less laughed at them because I remembered Listerine’s claim that “gargling with Listerine would prevent colds.” I remembered that eventually the FDA forced Listerine to recant that claim and to state in their ads for a few years that “Listerine does NOT prevent colds,” in order to undo the damage they had done to public belief on that subject.

“Then when I was about 55 years old (nearly 20 years ago) I experienced itchiness and small eruptions on my scalp, mainly on the back of my head just above the neck. Shampooing my hair with my normal “dandruff remover” shampoo was effective for just a day or so, then the eruptions and itchiness returned.

“I remembered the old Listerine claim that it cured “infectious dandruff” so I gave it a try. I shampooed my hair thoroughly as usual, dried if with a hair dryer using as much heat as I could tolerate, then saturated that area of my scalp with Listerine.

“Amazing results! The itchiness and eruptions were gone the next day and stayed away for about 2 years! When the problem occurred again I repeated the treatment and it worked. The Listerine seems to kill something that causes the itchiness and tiny eruptions, and they stay away for considerable time before returning. So although Listerine deserved to be punished for its false claim that gargling with it “prevented colds,” I think the claim that it cured “infections dandruff” was true and I keep a bottle of it in my bathroom to deal with that problem whenever it occurs, which is not very often. Sometimes two or three years go by with no problem.”

Anyone who would like to read more about some other dandruff remedies, especially details on rotating different kinds of dandruff shampoos, may find our Guide to Hair and Nail Care of value.

Let us know your own experience dealing with dandruff. There is room in the comment section to share your story.

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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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I have had itchy scalp for months; so bad that I often found myself scratching til it bled, despite my best efforts. I tried every dandruff shampoo and cure I could find. The doctor recommended tea tree oil, then cortisone, various commercial preparations, and one day recently in desperation I poured a cap of listerine on my scalp.

The itching stopped.

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 it out of my eyes and off my clothes, and 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.

Sometimes I sleep with it in my hair, and sometimes I wear it during the day, if I’m home and don’t have to worry about smelling so weirdly minty-fresh. 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 it has stopped the itch before I completely lost my mind!

I went into a accupuncturist yesterday and asked how to treat my auto-immune condition-Lichen Planopilaris. Where the hair follicles are attacked. It looks like dandruff in a way.

Anyways, he told me to use regular Listerine followed by baking soda and leave on overnight. Shampoo out in the morning.

The other day, I decided to look into scalp-dandruff remedies and I ran into this post. Not sure why I’ve never read about Listerine killing the yeast/ fungus on one’s scalp before. That being said, I’m always willing to try something new, since it doesn’t hurt to try. Off to my bathroom I went. I knew I only had the green (Cool Mint) Listerine but if this one didn’t work, I’m just 1/2 mile from a CVS that’s across the street from a Rite-Aid, so I would be fine.

Know what? The Cool Mint works too! I’ve been using it the last few days and my scalp hasn’t been itchy at all. ZERO! Nothing. I’m going to keep using it, until I’m certain I’ve killed the yeast, then wait and see how long it takes to come back, if it does at all. So you don’t actually need the original! They’re apparently all the same, with the exception of the added coloring (FD&C Green #3) and different flavor: Poloxamer 407, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Saccharin, Sodium Benzoate. Get’er Done! Hope this finds you and helps you as well.

I have had to use anti-dandruff shampoos for decades. About 25 years ago, I came across tea tree oil shampoo at an organic food store. It pretty much cured my dandruff, as it is an anticeptic, similar to what is in Listerine (the yellow one I mean).

Over the years I bounced back and forth with the dandruff shampoos because–hey, I am cheap guy! :) I have found though, nothing ever worked as well as the tea tree oil hair products, regardless of brand (it does however, have to have enough of the oil in the product to work right, and most seem to).

Then one day when I was out of anti-dandruff shampoo, and I was two days into using some cheap plain shampoo and beginning to get ‘scaley.” I thought “why not use the mouth wash?” It feels similar in the ‘tingle affect’ on on my tongue and mouth lining as did my scalp when using the tea tree oil stuff.

After using a full cap-full every other day for four days, it was gone! I mean, it just cleared up, so I continued to do it.

I no longer buy anti-dandruff shampoos; I can buy the cheapest crap on the market, just as long as I keep putting the yellow mouthrinse on my scalp about two times a week.

So you understand how I use it:
Rinse hair thoroughly with warm water in shower. Wash with a bit of shampoo. Rinse, repeat (you know how you get that extra lather on second wash). After that, I tilt my head back and begin pouring the cap of rinse onto my scalp, working into my scalp with my free hand. Then I leave it in and keep from bending my head forward if possible (the stuff really stings if you get it in your eyes!) and I shave, or wash my arms and chest to kill about a minute of time. Then I rinse it out thoroughly and my scalp treatment is over.

Also, I noticed that my hair doesn’t tangle near as badly when I get out to comb it once I started doing this.

I can remember being about 6 years old and my mother telling me I had “cradle cap”. At 64 I had lived with this for a very long time. Dandruff shampoos never worked any better than regular shampoo for me. About 25 years ago I was told that Tea Tree oil was the answer. I got some TT shampoo and some TT oil which I added to the shampoo to make it stronger. For all of these treatments take care to not get them in your eyes. It really hurts. Anyway, the TT seemed pretty good, but I didn’t use it as often or as long as I think I should of to effect a cure.

Well, a couple of months ago, I thought it was stupid to keep putting up with this and did some searches on the Internet. I found lots of things, but many, many stories about using vinegar and the supposed fungus cause. I bought a gallon of white vinegar and put some in a 16 oz plastic water bottle (small point applicator bottle would be better) and after wetting my hair I put my head back and starting at my forehead I slowly add vinegar and work it in with my fingers. The vinegar is cool so I can tell how well I am covering my scalp. The small really isn’t very strong and I keep it well out of my eyes. After I have applied 1/3 to 1/4 of the water bottle I just work it in with both hands and try to leave it on for a couple of minutes. Then I rinse and shampoo with a tea tree shampoo. My hair does NOT small like vinegar. Even with my wet hair and this short application it has worked for me. My wife says most of my scalp is pink now and not white. I started out doing this 2-3 times a week and now I do it 2-3 times a month. I have not finished the first gallon I bought.

Keep in mind that you may have yeast/fungus particles throughout most of your house. I would change your pillowcase often while you start using this. And make sure you soak brushes and combs in vinegar as well. Think about any hats you wear, living room pillows and furniture, and car head rests. I am sure Listerine will work much the same way. I think I tried it once, but I didn’t have any guide for how to use it.

I use the Wal-mart brand, Equate, instead of Listerine, which is much more expensive. The ingredients are the same. It is a terrific germicide and reliever of itches caused by yeast-type conditions.

A small spray bottle works well for easy dispensing. Using this instead of soaps to sanitize the hands works especially well. It leaves the skin feeling soft and much like they have been pampered by creams and lotions and it is quick, easy, and inexpensive.

I am pleased to see it getting the attention it deserves.

Does your hair fall out tho?

I found this forum thread and decided to give it a try… We don’t necessarily have the amber Listerine, but we have original so I figured it would at least be worth trying. I started off by saturating my scalp completely, followed by 5 minutes of gentle rubbing and massaging. I entered the shower to then rinse it out (I did notice a cool and refreshing feeling, the itching locations were burning a tad, but it was more of a “hurts so good” feeling.), I slowly bumped the water temp up as high as I felt effective and then applied a natural shampoo and a small amount of anti-bacterial face wash to break down any additional oils. This made sure all of the Listerine, body oils, bacteria, loose hairs, etc.. were all removed from my scalp. I concocted a mixture of coconut(being 75% of the solution), argon, and vitamin E oils. I did this to take advantage of the open pores and the coconut oil’s healing and anti fungal/bacterial properties. After that I used a very small amount of shampoo and rinsed as much of the oils out I could after letting the solution soak for 5 minutes. I then put my head in front of a fan to cool my scalp(to close the pores) and dry the damp hair. As of right now, which is about an hour later, my scalp feels soothed and hushed. No itch. That doesn’t mean it will always be gone, but I am satisfied with the result and I will do this for a few weeks to see if it helps my scalp recover. I would like to try doing the Listerine last, as James mentioned.

When my husband lost his hair due to Cancer, it grew back with dandruff. Heard about the Vinegar so used Apple Cider Vinegar straight as a last rinse. The odor went away after about 20 minutes. So did his beautiful black hair which turned white. The next time he lost his hair we started with the original (Amber colored) Listerine as a last rinse, did not rinse it off. Found out that the cheapest mouth wash worked as well to keep the dandruff at bay AND best of all, his hair was soft and shinny.

With all the previous information on this subject, and with many good results using many of the suggestion–still, I have a question.
The sheer number of people having these problems—scalp, eyelids, rosacea, [spelling?], toe nail fungus, etc., is there any possibility that a bodily yeast infection could be the culprit?
Thank you

Vinegar also works excellent. Stings a bit while working though. But one application and dandruff is GONE.
Eyedropper for toes. Hmmm. I soaked my toes in listerine, but that took a LOT of listerine.

Vinegar also works excellent. Stings a bit while working though. But one application and dandruff is GONE.
Eyedropper for toes. Hmmm. I soaked my toes in listerine, but that took a LOT of listerine.

I used the listerine in a eyedropper for toenail fungus. It was gone in less than 10 days.One drop under the nail once or twice a day.

What is “amber” Listerine? Is it different from other varieties?

I tried the amber Listerine by rinsing my hair with it after shampooing with a dandruff shampoo. I did not rinse the Listerine out of my hair; I left it on until the next day. It was somewhat effective but not completely. I did not do the procedure described in the comment above. I even had the dandruff (flaking skin) on my eyelids.
I mixed amber Listerine with a vegetable-based body oil in a small plastic bottle and dabbed the mixture on my eyelid with a q-tip. Even after several months of twice-daily applications, this was not effective.
Then I happened to see extra-strength T-Gel by Neutrogena and bought it. (I had tried the regular T-Gel with no success.) I added that to the oil-Listerine mixture and started to see results. As I used up the mixture, I added more oil and T-Gel but not Listerine and continued to use it on my eyelid (oh, also in my ears) and, after two weeks, my eyelid and ears are almost clear — 95% I would say.
I also use the T-Gel as a shampoo and my scalp has improved but is not as clear as the eyelid and ears. To clear the scalp, I am going to try a new idea: apply the T-Gel to my scalp, wrap my head in a plastic bag and a towel, and let it stay on for half-an-hour or so and repeat each day. I was so encouraged by how the T-Gel worked on my eyelids and ears that I think it’s worth a try.

Yes, this works. Undoubtedly. Remember, though, that not all cases of an irritated, itchy scalp actually result in copious visible dandruff. And the condition ISN’T caused by washing one’s hair too much. It CAN, though, be kicked off my leaving even the clean scalp wet after washing and not drying both skin and hair properly, or even after getting all sweaty and not giving the skin a chance to dry. (I’ve been told by both medical and hair people that — for whatever reasons — these days teenage girls self-inflict the condition, too. They wash the hair at night and — worse — tie it back in a tight ponytail to sleep, which only traps all the moisture against the scalp for hours. Shudder.)
Does itchy head sound like athlete’s foot? Yes — because it’s nearly the same thing. I call it “Athlete’s Head.” Listerine works, which makes perfect sense because scalp irritation is one of the conditions the product was originally intended to treat.
Oh, and another great — and perhaps easier — way to use Listerine (or one of the generics, which work as well) — is to put it into a squeezable bottle with the kind of cap that has a point. (These caps can be hard to find, though.) Similar to what the cotton-ball technique does, but with less mess, the pointed cap allows you to direct the fluid right onto the scalp where it can do some good, instead of getting a lot on the hair, which might not benefit from Listerine’s mild drying effect. Especially good if you have long hair. Keep the bottle in the shower and put the stuff on your not-yet-wet scalp at the start of the shower, let it soak in while steaming, then wash your hair last, being sure to dry your hair and scalp promptly after hopping out of the bath. Having that pointy bottle around is also handy for when you feel the itch creep up (after exercise or other scalp-dampening activity), because you can squeeze a bit on the itchy spot without going through the whole hair-washing routine.

This is another temporary relief of psoriasis on the scalp also.

Those are interesting remarks but I really think applying the Listerine BEFORE shampooing the hair is doing it backwards, because before you shampoo the hair, the hair and scalp are thoroughly coated with natural body oil which acts as a barrier to the Listerine in killing the germs (or fungus or whatever) that it should kill. My way of thinking is that the hair should be thoroughly shampooed and rinsed so that the oil is GONE; then the hair and scalp should be thoroughly dried with a blow dryer with plenty of heat, and then the Listerine is generously applied to saturate the scalp and really penetrate it, killing whatever germs or fungus it can kill without the interference of those “protective” oils that naturally secrete from the base of each hair.

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