What can I use for my dandruff/dry scalp?
February 20, 2010 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I need help with a Dandruff/Dry Scalp conundrum?

For a year or so I used to wash my hair daily with a gentle shampoo and conditioner (Garnier), and one day I noticed tiny white flakes falling out of my hair. (dry scalp) Mistakenly attributing these flakes to dandruff I began using Selsun Blue and harsher shampoos daily. All of this shampooing caused my scalp to itchy very annoyingly even after I hadn't shampooed in days! and so I contacted my doctor who gave me a steroid for my scalp and now the itch is gone.

So I am trying to balance between dry scalp and dandruff. If I don't shampoo for 2 days I see some dandruff , and if I shampoo daily I get the dry scalp flakes.

Can anyone help me? I'm looking for people with similar experiences, and what works for them.
Also -- how can I tell the difference between dry scalp and dandruff?
posted by ptsampras14 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I had the same issue and the only thing that cleared it was either
Paul Mitchell's Tea Tree Oil shampoo/conditioner
Neutrogena's T/Gel

Both worked, I prefer Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Oil Line, however, I only buy it from a salon/ProCuts when its buy one get on free (as its about 10 dollars a bottle).

Neutrogena's T/Gel smells strong but only when washing and it took is a little pricey, about four dollars for a tiny bottle.

posted by dolemite01 at 2:18 PM on February 20, 2010

Warning, that T/Gel stuff smells like something you'd dip your dog in to kill fleas. And the bottle is ridiculously small.
posted by CwgrlUp at 2:40 PM on February 20, 2010

Don't forget your scalp needs moisture! Is it possible for you to take some soaking baths? I have been dealing with this for years, because I live in a drier climate than I'm from. What has really worked for me lately is the fact that I switched to baths, leave the shampoo on my head for several minutes, and then soak my head in the water for several more minutes to rinse it. (All while reading, of course.)

I like the Body Shop's Ginger shampoo, but the very best stuff I have found is JR Liggett's Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo with tea tree oil, and I haven't been able to get it for a while.

If you can't soak your head in a bath, another option is to soak your scalp every three days or so. Cover it in Hollywood Beauty Tea Tree Oil (a cheap tincture really) or Fantasia Shea Butter Oil Moisturizer overnight, sleeping in a haircap, and then, in the shower, wash out the oil with two or three rinses of regular shampoo. If you are like me, your scalp will not bother you for several days. But if you're sharing a bedroom, it can be embarrassing to go through with.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2010

I have a couple of thoughts for you, as follows.

First, a lot of issues with dry scalp can occur if you are blow drying your hair after washing, particularly with warm air. Cut back or eliminate blow drying, and if you must blow dry, do it with cool, room temperature air, rather than heated air from the blow dryer.

Second, much also depends on what kind of conditioner, if any, you are using, post shampoo, and how that is leaving your scalp, as well as your hair. Ideally, a conditioner or post-shampoo treatment should leave your hair and scalp at normal skin acidity (slightly acid, about ph 5.5 for most people, but generally in the range of 4 to 6.5). And further, a good conditioner or post-shampoo treatment leaves a little light oil on the surface of the scalp and on the hair shafts, to help retain moisture, and make hair more lustrous and manageable. The key to this, is that only a tiny amount of good oil/fat, like shea butter, goes a long, long way. As little as a few milligrams of oil/fat residue remaining after your final rinse is usually enough to combat normal amounts of skin dryness, to the point of avoiding flaking scalp. So, take a look at the products you are using to shampoo and condition your hair, to make sure you are promoting healthy scalp ph and good conditioning, and give it a week or two, after changing products, to see full results.
posted by paulsc at 3:07 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

@paulsc I have very dry brittle hair, when I was shampooing daily it was very bad, now that I've cut back not so much but still after I shampoo my hair does not feel oily and soft/moisturized at all.. Do you have any good store conditioners that you recommend?

Price is not a concern for me, and the smell of T-Gel doesn't sound very attractive to me, I wouldn't mind putting a light oil in my hair and washing it out the next morning, not sure if I would have time to rinse 2 or 3 times!

I do not blow dry, and I've even tried to use less hot water because I know heat aggravates the scalp.
posted by ptsampras14 at 4:51 PM on February 20, 2010

also @Countess Elena does the bath have advantages over a shower

and what do you condition with
posted by ptsampras14 at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2010

I also have this problem, and the ONLY thing I have found to be helpful is Tea Tree oil. (I've tried all manner of dandruff shampoos, etc.) You can get tea tree oil at a health store like GNC, and a little goes a long way. I apply it directly to my scalp with a Q-tip.
posted by bearette at 5:18 PM on February 20, 2010

Mr. WanKenobi has also found that TGel is the only dandruff shampoo that works for him (the generics do not contain the same ingredients and therefore don't work nearly as well).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2010

Washing my hair in the bath is working much better for me personally, but so far as I know there's no other data. All I know is that we need moisture in our scalps one way or the other, even when we need the medication too.

If you have short hair, you'll have much less trouble washing out oil. It only takes me that long because I have long or medium hair.

Using oil also takes care of your conditioning needs for several days. I don't use conditioner often, because I have fine-textured hair and I think it makes my hair limp and heavy -- I do keep an eye on that if it's looking frizzy and blowsy, though.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:49 PM on February 20, 2010

I also think you might need some moisture! I use a light conditioner all over my hair (suave naturals coconut) and use it basically the same way as I do shampoo. I'll use something heavier for just the ends if I feel like my hair is dry. Sometimes I even skip shampoo and just use conditioner (I have curly hair, so this might not work for your hair type) as shampoo, complete with scrubbing my scalp. Make sure you use your finger tips and not your nails when you shampoo. When the seasons change and I get especially flaky I have had success using more natural shampoo without the -sulfates and with tea tree oil. I like Trader Joe's tea tree shampoo and conditioner. Alba brand shampoos smell really good and work well for me to keep the flakes away.
posted by Swisstine at 6:20 PM on February 20, 2010

Have you considered the possibility you have psoriasis?

Coal tar shampoo was what did it for me - once every few days. Keeping your hair short is also a big help.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:39 PM on February 20, 2010

The less I wash my hair, the better my dandruff gets. I am finally at a point where I wash it maybe twice a week or less and lo, my lifelong dandruff problem has essentially vanished. However, if that squicks you out, the other thing I have had good luck with is a thyme rinse. Get a bottle of dried thyme at the grocery store, pour half of it into a pot of water, leave it overnight, strain it (this step is important. I skipped this step the first time and days later I was still combing bits of thyme out of my hair.) and after shampooing your hair, rinse it with the thyme water. Leave it in for a couple of minutes and really scrub it into the scalp, then rinse and condition as usual. It smells heavenly and it helped me a lot.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:16 PM on February 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

"... Do you have any good store conditioners that you recommend? ..."

Personally, I have good luck, especially in winter, using Redken for Men Acid Balanced Cleansing Bar as both my shower soap and "shampoo," followed, on my hair, with a bit of Redken Finish Up Daily Weightless Conditioner. Avoiding shampoos with high concentrations of sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), or ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) as sudsing agents and surfacants will help you, as these common lathering ingredients are also very high ph (basic, as in "non-acidic") in their chemistry, leading to overall product ph levels that actually reverse the natural acid balance of human skin. So read the ingredient labels of products you consider using, stay away from strongly basic formulations with chemical lathering agents (and be satisified with the somewhat "anemic" lathering action of products which don't have these agents), and if nothing else, use a tablespoon or so of common cider vinegar as a final rinse agent and "conditioner," after using commercial shampoos, to re-acidify your scalp.
posted by paulsc at 9:28 PM on February 20, 2010

Consider using a shampoo that does not contain sodium lauryl sulphate like Burts Bees. It is not in the shampoo section ususally but in a little Burts Bees section near the makeup. It has done wonders for my chronic itchy, flaky scalp.
posted by tamitang at 10:00 PM on February 20, 2010

After two years of chronic dandruff, coal tar shampoos, tea tree oil, herbal rinses, pretty much every other suggestion, I tried Head and Shoulders 2 in 1. Poof. One week. Gone. Use it every third shampoo and have not had a problem at all. It's a cheap thing to try before you go the T-gel route.
posted by littleflowers at 11:46 PM on February 20, 2010

Stop shampooing. Seriously. I have a very dry scalp and sometimes scalp psoriasis, and about three months ago I went over to conditioner-only cleansing.

Most shampoos contain sodium lauryl sulphate, which can dry out the scalp (and hair). Conditioners don't contain this and so don't strip the hair or dry out the scalp.

I buy a big-ass bottle of a cheap conditioner from the pound shop (dollar store) - expensive conditioners contain silicones which coat the hair. I put a huge dollop of it into my hair and massage it really, really well into my hair and scalp. I leave it for a minute or two, rinse and then repeat as if conditioning after shampoo..

This has made a huge difference to my scalp.

Some companies sell 'cleansing conditioners' - you might have seen the Wen infomercial. Sally Beauty Supply also sells a cleansing conditioner, which I've used, but it's no different from using a cheap conditioner to wash my hair in.
posted by essexjan at 2:56 AM on February 21, 2010

Totally seconding essexjan. Try going shampoo free. Really. Since, at the suggestion of my hairstylist, I started going without shampoo at all, my hair and scalp have been amazing. I've found it doesn't even matter what conditioner I use. And I usually don't repeat. Just "wash" with conditioner, rinse well, and I'm good to go.
posted by pocket_of_droplets at 10:32 AM on February 21, 2010

The problem if I go shampoo-free, I will have dandruff buildup...not to mention the smell of my hair.

What I've gathered from everything is I should get some tea tree oil or shampoo and use that once every few days

Now on the off days -- should I just condition or use like a very light shampoo like Free&Clear or Burt's Bees?
posted by ptsampras14 at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2010

I have had issues too and have switched to conditioner only during my showers. I condition everyday with Paul Mitchel's tea tree conditioner only. The ones that really help are tea tree conditioners with enough of tea tree in them.

Prior to that the best was the tea tree conditioner by Eden Gardens but they seem to have shut down operations. :-(
posted by iNfo.Pump at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2010

Dandruff is a condition of the skin drying up. Shampoos tend to make it worse by drying out the scalp further. Hence the switch to condition only allows the skin to receive moisture. Two other factors that affect me are
long hair (cannot have long hair, dandruff builds up) & nutrition.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2010

iNfo.Pump, dandruff is not just dry skin but often caused by a fungus. Tea tree oil has antifungal properties, which is probably why it's effective in treating dandruff.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:05 PM on February 21, 2010

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