Dermatologists' Tips to Treat and Control Dandruff

Do you have a favorite black sweater, but you’re afraid to wear it because of dandruff? Fear not, say dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology. Although those pesky white flakes of dry skin can be annoying, especially if you’re wearing dark colors, it’s fairly easy to treat and control dandruff with patience – and the right dandruff shampoo.

“Many people believe dandruff is caused by poor hygiene, but this simply isn’t true,” said board-certified dermatologist Adam J. Friedman, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology and director of dermatologic research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Rather than try to remedy dandruff by over-shampooing or over-brushing your hair, which can both be damaging to the hair, use dandruff shampoo and scalp treatments instead.”

To get the best results from using dandruff shampoo, Dr. Friedman recommends the following tips:


  1. Follow the instructions on the dandruff shampoo bottle. There are many different dandruff shampoos, and each contains different active ingredients for controlling symptoms. To get the best results, always follow the instructions on the bottle. For example, some dandruff shampoos require that you lather the shampoo into the hair and onto the scalp and leave on for about five minutes before rinsing; others should not be left on the scalp.
  2. If you are Caucasian or Asian, shampoo daily and use dandruff shampoo twice a week. If using one dandruff shampoo does not bring relief, try alternating between dandruff shampoos with different active ingredients.
  3. If you are African-American, only shampoo once a week using a dandruff shampoo. See a board-certified dermatologist for the best product recommendation for your hair type.
  4. Be careful when using a dandruff shampoo that contains coal tar. Tar shampoo can discolor blonde, grey or white hair, so if you have light-colored hair, you may want to choose a different dandruff shampoo. In addition, tar shampoo has the potential to make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight. If you use this type of dandruff shampoo, it’s important to protect your scalp from the sun by wearing a hat when outdoors and seeking shade whenever possible.

“For most people, dandruff does not require medical attention,” said Dr. Friedman. “However, sometimes the flaking and itching that appears like dandruff is actually a medical condition, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, fungal infections of the scalp, or eczema. If you continue to have symptoms after using a dandruff shampoo, consult a board-certified dermatologist.”

The “Dandruff: How to Treat” video is posted to the Academy website and the Academy’s YouTube channel. This video is part of the Dermatology A to Z: Video Series, which offers relatable videos that demonstrate tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the Academy’s website and YouTube channel each month.


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