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Remedies for Itchy Flaky Dandruff

Q. I have suffered with an itchy and flaky scalp for many many years. I have been to dermatologists and used various prescription and over the counter remedies to no avail.

Last year my hairdresser told me to use T/Gel Shampoo along with applications of Sea Breeze. This has amazingly taken care of my problem and now I can wear dark colors without worrying about “snow on the shoulders.”

I cannot believe I went through all of those years trying all those remedies and actually found this simple and inexpensive solution to my problem.

A. Congratulations! We are delighted that this combination has worked so well for you. T/Gel Shampoo contains coal tar as its active ingredient. It has been used for years to control dandruff. We’re actually surprised that your dermatologist never mentioned this approach.

Another reader wrote that Sea Breeze, twice a week in the shower, cleared up her itchy scalp too. The Sea Breeze pore astringent she was using had eucalyptus leaf oil, benzoic acid, camphor, salicylic acid and alcohol. Some of these ingredients may have anti-fungal activity which can knock out the yeast that often causes itching and flaking.

Common approaches to treating dandruff utilize chemicals such as zinc pyrithione, found in Head & Shoulders and other dandruff shampoos. This compound disrupts the metabolism of the scalp fungus (Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Dec., 2011).

Repeated use of the same compound may result in the yeast developing resistance, which could explain why a shampoo that worked at first loses efficacy. That’s why we often recommend rotating different types of dandruff treatments, switching from a zinc-based product to a selenium-based shampoo after a few weeks.

We have included details on how to follow this regimen in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. You will also find remedies for hard-to-treat nail fungus in this guide.

Readers tell us that dandruff treatments that work for one person don’t always work for everyone else. That may be due to individual differences in the reaction to Malassezia fungi, as well as differences in the particular species. Someday dermatologists may have an easy way to determine which species predominate on a patient’s scalp, but for now we are stuck with trial and error.

Luckily, many readers have done some of that trial and error for all of us and have found some fascinating home remedies for flakes and itching. One says:

“I happen to have long hair and issues with yeast-based dandruff. I use a mixture of amber Listerine and cider vinegar when the itchies act up. I haven’t had any problems with my hair drying out as a result.”

You can also find lots of cool remedies for dandruff and an itchy scalp in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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