How Does Dandruff Shampoo Work?

Dandruff can be a serious nuisance while also being extremely embarrassing and uncomfortable. The little white, snowy flakes on your hair and shoulders are hard to miss and are easily noticeable by all. Wear a dark-colored shirt, and they pop out even more; screaming for attention!

Quite obviously, the go-to product for most people when treating dandruff is dandruff shampoo. With a promise to help eliminate dandruff for good, these dandruff shampoos instill hope in people suffering from the condition.

Without knowing what dandruff shampoo does and how it works to treat dandruff, people use it in hopes of getting positive results. It’s time we answer this very important question: How does dandruff shampoo work? Dandruff shampoo works by cleansing the scalp of impurities and treating dandruff using scalp-friendly chemicals that prevent dandruff-forming microbes to appear while also restoring the scalp’s pH balance.

Some of the active ingredients found in dandruff shampoos are Zinc Pyrithione (ZPT), Salicylic acid, Selenium Sulfide, Coal Tar preparations, and Ketoconazole to name a few. Different brands of dandruff shampoo comprise of varying levels of the active ingredients present in them. It’s more of a trial and error process to see which works best for you and your condition. Read below to learn more about how dandruff shampoos work.

Dandruff 101

Before you start to work on your dandruff issue, you need to understand what the condition is and what causes it. Unless you don’t know the underlying causes and triggers of dandruff, you cannot treat it effectively.

Many people assume that dandruff has something to do with the hair and bad personal hygiene, which is wrong. The area to treat is the scalp since that is where the white flakes, a.k.a. dandruff forms. The flakes are part of the skin on the scalp that grows and dies off, which, is a pretty normal process. What causes dandruff is the speed with which it happens. The skin cells growing and dying too fast is the issue.

What causes this to happen isn’t clear. However, a common single-celled microbe by the name of Malassezia Globosa may have an important role to play in the formation of dandruff. This fungus is found on all warm-blooded animals, including humans. It is safe to say that every individual has Malassezia living on their scalp, however, how everyone reacts to it is what causes, or not causes, dandruff.

Another thing worth mentioning here is that sebum, the natural oils on your scalp, are the perfect feeding grounds for dandruff and the fungus Malassezia to thrive. The excess oil production on the scalp helps the fungus feed, which causes excess skin cell growth, which causes the white flakes to appear on the scalp. It’s a chain reaction and controlling one might help to eliminate dandruff for good.

Dandruff may get triggered by harsh, cold weather as well. While it is understood that excess oil and sebum cause dandruff, dryness can trigger the condition too. A dry scalp can become dry and itchy, and dandruff flakes caused by a dry scalp are smaller and less oily. Both extremes are bad for scalp health and therefore, you must strive to maintain a balance.

Is there any bad condition that isn’t aggravated by stress? Probably not. Stress is the faceless murderer that silently, but surely kills off all that comes in its way. A little too morbid? Yes. But it is true. Stress and worrying trigger dandruff and in some cases makes it even worse.

Let’s treat it!

Dandruff is pretty much harmless, except for the fact that it causes embarrassment. In serious cases, dandruff may lead to itching and redness of the scalp, which is a reason for distress. The itching, and in turn scratching, cause the flakes to appear on top of the scalp and visible on the shoulders as well. Here are ways you can treat dandruff and hopefully, eliminate it for good:

  • Find the right shampoo. Now that we have established the fact that dandruff is caused by the scalp reacting abnormally to certain factors, it’s time you treat it accordingly with the proper care that it deserves. Dandruff shampoo is a no-brainer and must be included in your hair care regimen. As discussed above, all dandruff shampoos are made up of different compositions and must-see which suits you best. A few might stop being effective after a while, and that’s when you know it’s time to switch. Try the Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo (Amazon), which was voted the #1 dandruff shampoo of 2019.


  • Don’t let it dry up. You can’t let the scalp get too oily or too dry. Finding the right balance is key and the most effective way of treating dandruff. Dandruff formed by a dry scalp looks and feels very different than dandruff formed by an oily scalp. Dry dandruff is smaller and less oily, whereas oily dandruff is oily to the touch. If your issue is dealing with dry dandruff, know that moisturizing helps a ton! You may use Head & Shoulders Anti Dandruff Conditioner – Hydrating Smooth & Silky (Amazon) in conjunction with a good shampoo, or go the natural route and opt for coconut oil instead.


  • Practice a good hair care routine and let your hair breathe. Don’t go too many days in between washes since that will cause excess sebum production and aggravate the dandruff issue even further. Keep your scalp clean and fresh and give it proper time and care. Do not use unnecessary hair products such as hair color and sprays, and steer clear from styling products such as blow dryers and hair straighteners. These products cause severe damage to the hair causing long-term problems.
  • Worrying will get you nowhere. If anything at all, it’ll make your problem even bigger. As is with everything, treating dandruff takes time and fretting over it will help you in no way. Stress causes severe harm to your immune system in the long run, and trust us, you do not want that. What’s more is that Malassezia grows when the immune system is weak and compromised, causing more dandruff. Sit back and relax and just give your scalp the care it requires and just see how dandruff goes away.


  • Know when to see the doctor. Mild dandruff is relatively easy to treat and doesn’t require a visit to the doctor. However, if the dandruff condition worsens and makes your scalp itchier, book a doctor’s appointment right away! It might be one of the severe forms of dandruff, or altogether different issues such as eczema, psoriasis, or fungal infection.

Using dandruff shampoo – but how often?

Words have been doing the rounds that dandruff shampoo is rather harsh and not good for long term use. Is it true or is it just a myth? Well, according to dermatologists, when faced with a dandruff flare-up, you may use it religiously. Leaving dandruff untreated can cause more harm than you can imagine. Dandruff itself doesn’t cause any harm, but the itching and the subsequent scratching can weaken the hair follicles and cause hair fall and damage.

A great solution would be alternating between a dandruff shampoo and regular shampoo. Also, as soon as the dandruff issue has been resolved, it is advised to switch back to your regular shampoo. The Dove DermaCare Scalp Coconut & Hydration Anti-Dandruff Shampoo (Amazon) is a milder dandruff shampoo that you may use without worrying about dryness and irritation. Make sure to leave in the product on the scalp after working up a lather and rinsing it out thoroughly leaving behind no residue.

Au Naturel?

There is a little research that supports natural remedies for treating dandruff, but there is no solid proof or a guarantee that they will work. A few natural products that people have been using for quite some time and swear by are:

Coconut oil

Being a natural conditioner, coconut oil treats itching like a charm. As mentioned above, if the cause for dandruff is a dry scalp, moisturizing it with coconut oil can help restore the natural pH of the scalp and prevent dandruff as well as itching. It can also be used to massage the scalp for treating headaches as well.

Tea tree oil

It works wonders for treating conditions such as acne and psoriasis. It is proven to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that might help alleviate dandruff. It is also said that tea tree oil stands a pretty good chance against Malassezia, the single-celled microbe causing dandruff.

Aloe Vera

Known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, Aloe Vera is a great contender against dandruff. It may help with the dryness and itching and help relieve these uncomfortable symptoms.

There is not much proof to support the use of natural remedies for treating dandruff, which is why we would suggest you go the conventional way and use dandruff shampoos along with the steps mentioned above. Don’t worry, you got this!

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