Dandruff is a skin condition that causes itchy scalp and flaking. Dandruff affects up to 50% of the world’s population. Half the world’s population will have dandruff at some point in their lives. Do natural remedies for dandruff like tea tree oil, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil work?
Dandruff can lead to a more severe condition called seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis causes inflammation of the sebum glands in the scalp. Sebum glands produce an oily substance and are located wherever hair follicles are.
Symptoms of dandruff
Symptoms of dandruff include a dry, itchy scalp. Itching of the scalp can lead to shedding of small white or yellow flakes of dry skin. Dandruff is not always painful, but the itching can be irritating and cause worry over the appearance of flakes on your shoulders.
Severe dandruff can even occur in mustaches and beards and cause a burning sensation wherever dandruff is present.
What causes dandruff?
If you have dandruff, you may think it is caused by dry skin or from washing your hair too much. To improve scalp dryness, you may wash your hair less. But the cycle continues, and more flakes and inflammation appear.
Dandruff is not caused by dry skin or too much hair washing, it is typically caused by yeast infection, your environment, or your health.
The main culprit is a yeast called Malassezia spp. This yeast is present in everyone’s’ hair and scalp. Doctors are still not sure of the exact way the Malassezia yeast causes dandruff, but they do know the yeast feeds on oily substances, like sebum.
When the yeast feed on sebum, the outer layer of the scalp tends to grow new skin cells more quickly than normal, which leads to the overproduction of skin cells we see as dandruff.
The environment can also contribute to dandruff. Dandruff is more likely to occur where yeast grows best – in dark, damp conditions. Warm, sunny environments can hold up dandruff production. Seasonal changes can also affect your hair and scalp. You may find dandruff worse in the fall and winter and better during spring and summer.
Your health can also play a role in developing dandruff. Stress can make dandruff worse, as well as other health conditions like Parkinson’s Disease or HIV. Genetics also play a part. If a family member has dandruff, you are more likely to also.
How to get rid of dandruff
Because much dandruff is caused by yeast, products that kill or limit its growth can improve or prevent dandruff. Over the counter shampoos are often the first choice to treat dandruff. Active ingredients in the anti-dandruff shampoos can be selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, coal tar, corticosteroids, antifungals, or salicylic acid.
If the dandruff is severe, it may require a prescription remedy. These cases may require treatment with coal tar or salicylic acid to remove the build up. Afterwards steroids may be applied to the scalp to treat swelling.
Natural home remedies for dandruff
If you prefer not to turn immediately to a medical solution, there are several home remedies that might be effective. However, other natural remedies might have the opposite effect. Here we review seven natural remedies for dandruff.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has been used as an antiseptic for hundreds of years. In the 1930s it was used for surgery and wound disinfectant. Tea tree oil has also shown promise in treating the symptoms of dandruff. One study showed a 41% improvement in dandruff severity when using a 5% tea tree oil shampoo versus doing nothing. Patients also noted improvement in itchiness and scaliness of their scalps after using 5% tea tree oil shampoo for a month.
Aloe vera is a plant commonly used as a home remedy. It contains vitamins A, B12, C, E, in addition to the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It is thought that aloe vera adds to the immune system and has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Aloe vera is used as a natural treatment for burns, stings, and scrapes. Because of its healing properties, it can also be used to treat dandruff. Aloe vera can help to reduce inflammation and may promote white blood cell activity.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has gained popularity in recent years as a treatment for skin conditions such as acne and eczema, and a digestive aid. Some even use diluted apple cider vinegar as a hair conditioner. Because it has antibacterial properties, using apple cider vinegar as a scalp rinse could slow the growth of dandruff-causing yeast.
While it may seem that dandruff means dry skin on the scalp because of the flakes, adding oil could make the condition worse. Since the yeast that causes dandruff feeds on oil, adding olive oil would not help cure dandruff and might even make it worse.
One physician noted that olive oil is the same ingredient scientists use to grow and culture the yeast that causes dandruff.
As close as your pantry, baking soda is a low-cost natural remedy for dandruff. Baking soda is a chemical called sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda is a home remedy that might show promise in treating dandruff because of its antifungal properties.
Scientists treated the fungi that cause human skin and nail infections with a baking soda solution and decreased the growth in 80% of the fungi.
Essential oils are an extremely popular homeopathic remedy. They can be diffused in the air, rolled on the skin, or taken orally. Some essential oils may be used to treat dandruff by washing your hair with the essential oils or massaging them on your scalp.
Lemongrass essential oil has shown promise in clinical studies when used to treat the dandruff-causing yeast, Malassezia spp. A 10% lemongrass essential oil caused a 75% improvement after one week’s application.
Ancient Hindu medical texts listed lemon juice as a natural remedy for dandruff. One group of researchers tested a lemon juice solution and found the treatment 70-75% effective in preventing Malassezia spp. growth over a short period of time. Unfortunately, the effects did not last long, and lemon juice may change hair color.
Natural remedies for dandruff are out there, but be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new treatment.
- Chaisripipat W, Lourith N, Kanlayavattanakul M. Anti-dandruff Hair Tonic Containing Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) Oil. Complementary Medicine Research. 2015;22(4):226-229. doi:10.1159/000432407
- Donato R, Sacco C, Pini G, Bilia AR. Antifungal activity of different essential oils against Malassezia pathogenic species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2020;249:112376. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.112376
- Elaine Siegfried MD. Use of Olive Oil for the Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis in Children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/1308503. Published October 1, 2012. Accessed January 20, 2021.
- Grimshaw SG, Smith AM, Arnold DS, Xu E, Hoptroff M, Murphy B. The diversity and abundance of fungi and bacteria on the healthy and dandruff affected human scalp. Plos One. 2019;14(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0225796
- Herrera-Arellano A, Jiménez-Ferrer E, Vega-Pimentel AM, et al. Clinical and Mycological Evaluation of Therapeutic Effectiveness ofSolanum chrysotrichum
- Standardized Extract on Patients with Pityriasis capitis(Dandruff). A Double Blind and Randomized Clinical Trial Controlled with Ketoconazole. Planta Medica. 2004;70(6):483-488. doi:10.1055/s-2004-827145
- Kang H-C, Park Y-H, Go S-J. Growth inhibition of a phytopathogenic fungus, Colletotrichum species by acetic acid. Microbiological Research. 2003;158(4):321-326. doi:10.1078/0944-5013-00211
- Letscher-Bru V, Obszynski CM, Samsoen M, Sabou M, Waller J, Candolfi E. Antifungal Activity of Sodium Bicarbonate Against Fungal Agents Causing Superficial Infections. Mycopathologia. 2012;175(1-2):153-158. doi:10.1007/s11046-012-9583-2
- Magalhaes F. Natural Treatments for Dandruff.; 2016.
- Malassezia and the Skin. 2010. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-03616-3
- Marks JG. Lookingbill and Marks’ Principles of Dermatology (Sixth Edition). Elsevier Masson; 2019.
- Mertas A, Garbusińska A, Szliszka E, Jureczko A, Kowalska M, Król W. The Influence of Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) on Fluconazole Activity against Fluconazole-ResistantCandida albicansStrains. BioMed Research International. 2015;2015:1-9. doi:10.1155/2015/590470
- Piérard-Franchimont C, Xhauflaire-Uhoda E, Piérard GE. Revisiting dandruff. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2006;28(5):311-318. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00326.x
- Qadir I. Medicinal and Cosmetological Importance of Aloe vera. International Journal of Natural Therapy. 2009;2:21-26.
- Saneesh K. Analysis on the Natural Remedies to Cure Dandruff/Skin Disease-causing Fungus – Malassezia furfur. Advanced Biotech. 2013;12(07):1-4.
- Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2002;47(6):852-855. doi:10.1067/mjd.2002.122734