Flaky hair is back with a vengeance.
December 11, 2007 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My dandruff is back, and bad. Help!

I have lots of very thick hair. Seriously, almost every new barber I've gone to has commented on how thick it is. It's fairly dry, but it can get oily.

As a kid, I had dandruff that could appropriately be called "hellacious." wow, why didn't I post this anonymously? When I went off to college, though, I could more or less keep it under control. I attributed this to a) cutting my hair shorter (I used to have a Jewfro) and b) showering with municipal water (back home, we had softened-but-still-basically-hard water). Life was good.

Now that I've moved to a different city, though, it's back. Neither a) nor b) has changed, but lately I find that I only have about 10-12 hours after each shower before my hair gets flaky. This is ... not ideal.

I tried shopping from the embarrassing shelf in the shampoo aisle as a teenager (T-Gel, etc.), but it never made a difference and I haven't tried the specialty stuff since. Should I give it another go now? What else do you recommend?
posted by electric_counterpoint to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
On the occasions when I've gotten dandruff, scrubbing my scalp in the shower with a stiff brush and then using "coal tar" dandruff shampoo (usually available as a generic brand) has gotten rid of it.
posted by XMLicious at 12:06 PM on December 11, 2007

I have similarly thick hair, complete with frequent comments by barbers. I also have moderately bad dandruff, and Head & Shoulders keeps it mostly (though not 100%) under control. If I use non-dandruff shampoo for more than about one shower-cycle, it starts getting bad again.

...and for what it's worth, I actually get plenty of comments from the ladies about how good my hair smells. This causes me no end of amusement.

That all said, it sounds like your problem's worse than mine, so more-potent treatment might be in order.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:07 PM on December 11, 2007

I recently switch from Head & Shoulders to Nizoral, (thanks to a this Wikipedia entry) and it's made a huge improvement.

Of course, this is just my experience, although I do get similar "thick hair" comments from my barbers
posted by coondognd at 12:10 PM on December 11, 2007

See your doctor, it sounds like psoriasis or eczema to me, they can give you some cortisone to clear it up, works for my flaky head.
posted by Cosine at 12:12 PM on December 11, 2007

The medicated shampoos work best if you lather up and leave them on for several minutes -- like 5 or even 10 minutes at a time -- during flare-ups. You can also cycle between the shampoos -- a few weeks of a salicylic acid-based shampoo, followed by a few weeks of zinc-based, followed by a few weeks of coal tar-base -- to see which works best for you.

For more severe cases (or for seborrheic dermatitis, which I battle from time to time), lots of good info here.

Apple cider vinegar, applied topically, can also help in some mild to moderate cases, as can tea tree oil.
posted by scody at 12:12 PM on December 11, 2007

I've used t-gel most of my life, got over the embarrassment long ago. But during a particularly bad bout a few years back, I switched to a selenium sulfide prescription shampoo -- similar in active ingredient to Selsun Blue but considerably stronger -- and it worked miracles. Problem was it smelled gross. It was called MSP or something like that, pretty standard stuff.

I've tried some dietary supplements suggested by other know-it-alls over the years, such as saw palmetto, but none have made any difference. Stress, however, does play a role in the seriousness of my dandruff.

Ahh, gross dermatological problems, the great equalizer.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:17 PM on December 11, 2007

(rats, missed cosine's comment on preview)

Yes, cortisone (or other topical steroids) can help settle things down, but the problem with them -- as with any steroid therapy -- is the risk of the rebound effect. I had a doctor give me topical steroid drops for my dermatitis a few years ago, and the effect was an immediate and dramatic improvement, followed a few weeks later by an intense secondary flare-up after I taped off the drops as prescribed, which took a lot longer to get under control.

posted by scody at 12:17 PM on December 11, 2007

Have you tried the "no-poo" method offered here? The theory goes frequent hair-washing dries out your scalp and puts things out of balance, so your body produces excess oils, gets dandruffy, and has whatever other nasty problems. Not washing helps bring your scalp back to a more natural oil production level, and in the end your hair will actually end up healthier and less oily.

Basically, stop washing your hair. Wash it maybe once a week. When you do wash it, you can use a very small amount of shampoo (like the size of a dime or smaller for short hair) or the baking soda concoction in the link above. For the first two weeks your dandruff will get a lot worse and your hair will feel oily and gross and out of control. And then your scalp will stop overproducing and you'll find yourself with oily hair a lot less frequently.

It's important that you brush the oils through your hair every day, though. You get a boar-bristle brush (these are the brushes with lots of bristles close together like hairs). After brushing and detangling your hair thoroughly with a comb or normal brush, go through it with the boar-bristle to distribute your natural oils from roots to ends.

I know this method works for excessively oily scalps, since I used to be a freakin' greaseball if I went twelve hours without washing, and now I can go a week or so between shampoos before it's noticeable (though I do rinse in the shower every day). It is also softer and healthier. I don't personally have dandruff, but in my various no-poo wanderings, I've heard that some people have found this method to help tremendously with the dandruff. You could give it a shot for three or four weeks and see how it works for you.
posted by Anonymous at 12:22 PM on December 11, 2007

Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Seriously.

After years of trying everything on the "embarassing shelf" of the shampoo aisle to no avail, I asked my doc for a referral to a dermatologist. As she handed me the referral, she said, "before you make this appointment, humor me and try baby shampoo for a week."

Sweet merciful Zeus. When I think about all the money I wasted on the embarrassing shelf. Turns out my "dandruff" is actually a reaction to something in grownup shampoo.

A word of warning: since I am also of the thick curly hair, I have to use a lot of baby shampoo and scrub hair and scalp vigorously to get that really clean feeling. But it's worth it, as far as I'm concerned -- baby shampoo is cheap, I don't need conditioner anymore, and I'm completely flake-free.
posted by somanyamys at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding scody's 'lather' technique: try massaging shampoo into your hair, deep all the way until it reaches the scalp, then leaving it in for as long as possible before you wash it out. For me, this works with all kinds of shampoo, not only the special dandruff kind.
posted by suedehead at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2007

Oh noooooooooooooo. I lost my answer in a new-password log-in mishap!

Basically what I said was that dandruff is often due to a fungal infection, and that Nizoral was what worked for a good friend when nothing else did, and here are the Mayo Clinic's recommendations for stubborn dandruff treatment.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:58 PM on December 11, 2007

The medicated shampoos work best if you lather up and leave them on for several minutes -- like 5 or even 10 minutes at a time -- during flare-ups. You can also cycle between the shampoos -- a few weeks of a salicylic acid-based shampoo, followed by a few weeks of zinc-based, followed by a few weeks of coal tar-base -- to see which works best for you.

I second (third?) this as it is what my dermatologist told me to do. You can also get prescription stuff for dandruff, although personally the T-Gel worked just as well. But anyway, I usually lather up and get out of the shower and hang around in a bathrobe for 10-15 minutes.

But I am glad to read this thread because my dandruff has been getting a lot worse lately. I think I will try this Nizoral stuff.
posted by sutel at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2007

I used to think I had dandruff, but one day, while getting my hair cut, a hairdresser suggested that I may have a scalp which is allergic to soap. So I tried using a shampoo that has no soap (Garnier Fructis Anti-Dandruff, but there's bound to be others you can find) which has pretty much eliminated the flakes. You may be in the same boat. Give a no-soap shampoo a try.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2007

Someone asked this in another thread, and (as per scody) the response was "apple cider vinegar". I have dry scalp, with only the occasional flaking, and I rarely shampoo. So I tried this. And it seemed to work. But only for a week or two. Once I notice flakes again, I just re-apply. But be careful - the vinegar makes your hair, and body, smell. So do the vinegar thing first; then soap; then shampoo.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2007

I go with my doc's suggested regimen of rotating through dandruff shampoos. I use Head & Shoulders Refresh, T-Sal and Nizoral, and that keeps it under control. I know a lot of people like T-Gel but I can't stand the smell in the bottle, let alone on my hair for the rest of the day!

There are also treatments your dermatologist can prescribe. I used to use Olux foam at night which helped. There was also a great shampoo but I can't remember the name.

I am a girl with very thick hair. Recently I got my hair cut by a new person (yeay for $15 cuts at the Aveda school!) and she used a razor-comb to "thin" out my hair. I have noticed that my dandruff/oiliness has gone down significantly. I went from having to shampoo every day to being able to skip a day with no problem.
posted by radioamy at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2007

nth to leaving shampoo on a long time - i had a dermatologist tell me that a fool-proof cure was

a) brushing your hair very throughly

b) applying your favorite drugstore shampoo (T-gel or tea tree work for me)

c) putting on a swim cap for 10 minutes

d) rinsing well

I find that it's a moisture/irritation issue, always, always, always dry your hair at your scalp. Rinse your hair if you get super sweaty. Do not go to bed with it wet. Ever.

Shampooing every third day also helps, because it reduces moisture. It will take a few gross weeks until your hair settles down on oil production, but worth the effort.
posted by beezy at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can recommend the no poo method. don't use shampoo at all.

Just rinse vigorously with water every time you shower.

It will take about 6 weeks for your natural oils to reach equilibrium... but your hair will be fabulous.
posted by taff at 2:01 PM on December 11, 2007

I have a jew-fro and in the winter I use head and shoulders and then aveda's scalp therapy, and I have no problems. Also make sure you give yourself a thorough scalp massage in the shower-- really does wonders (and feels good!)
posted by np312 at 2:16 PM on December 11, 2007

I can recommend the no poo method. don't use shampoo at all.

Just rinse vigorously with water every time you shower.

It will take about 6 weeks for your natural oils to reach equilibrium... but your hair will be fabulous.

I didn't wash my hair for four or five days when I was hostelling it in Denmark because the showers only had cold water and I wanted to get out of there quickly. My dandruff was just... unbelievable. My scalp was itchy and flakes were coming out in big chunks (gross, I know).

Maybe that goes away after a couple of days but it was hideous and unpleasant for me. My scalp gets pretty oily to begin with and since my hair is thin and fine, my hair gets greasy quickly, too. I've tried washing my hair every other day but it just makes my dandruff worse.
posted by sutel at 2:17 PM on December 11, 2007

Couple of echoes to these answers. I have very thick but pretty short hair, and have for the last decade or so had moderate-to-shameful dandruff, and here's what's worked mostly well for me:

1) when it's really bad, I shampoo with a mixture of equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Whisk the two together, and apply after you wet your hair in the shower. Better get a shower cap, though, because the longer you leave it on, the better it works. I will usually leave it on for 15-30 minutes. Then shampoo it out with either normal or dandruff shampoo.

2) I too am a big proponent of the no-poo method. Except in the winter when it kicks up a lot, I will usually go 6-8 months without washing, and after a few weeks dandruff is gone.
posted by x41-pbj at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2007

If you don't have oozing, bumpy, crusty bits on your scalp then you don't have a dandruff problem. Go for a clarifying shampoo (pantene has a good one) and a bland conditioner. One thing you should spend a little extra money on; shampoo and conditioner. The cheap stuff is hellish on the skin. Mid to high range shampoo will last longer too.
And please, people, stop with the 'natural oils' myth! :) I can't believe how many people have fallen for it! If your hair feels better when you don't wash it then your usual shampoo/conditioner is too harsh for you. Even baby shampoo is harsh as hell.
posted by gatchaman at 3:34 PM on December 11, 2007

Oh yeah, and don't go to bed without drying your hair completely.
posted by gatchaman at 3:35 PM on December 11, 2007

I use Lush cosmetics' "soak and float" shampoo bar. It smells like a campfire, kinda gross, but it's the only thing that really, truly works.
posted by InnocentBystander at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2007

I know it's mentioned briefly in the Mayo Clinic article, but it's worth highlighting that Nizoral is available OTC in the 1% concentration and by prescription in the 2% concentration. It can get expensive if your insurance doesn't cover it, but it might be worth asking your doctor for the stronger stuff. It made a difference for me.
posted by summit at 4:53 PM on December 11, 2007

I don't have much to say on the dandruff front (the dark blue H&S bottle of shampoo (selenium selenide) always worked for me), but I have to strongly disagree with gatchaman. Do not use a clarifying shampoo. Those are some of the of harshest shampoos out there, and they may irritate your scalp. They aren't supposed to be used regularly, just to completely clean your hair out every once in a while. I mistakenly used a Neutrogena clarifying shampoo pretty often a few years ago, and I got flaky scalp and really, really dry hair neither of which I had ever had before. My hair cutter told me to switch back to a regular shampoo which improved the situation immensely.
posted by bluefly at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2007

If it's really bad (i.e. flakes all the way to your nose, ugh), this stuff once a day until flakes are under control, then once every week or two for maintenance is awesome. It's the corticosteroid solution people talked about earlier. I haven't noticed any rebound effect at all, and it's changed my life to the point of me wanting to hug my doctor every time I see him for prescribing it for me.
posted by Addlepated at 6:23 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, all! I think I'm going to set up a recurring iGTD event on an (arbitrarily arrived at) three-week schedule to try all of these solutions from top to bottom until I find something that works well for me.

(Gotta nth the apprehension about the 'poo free method, though. If I miss a day's hairwashing, I am not fit for public. I might try this plan out last.)
posted by electric_counterpoint at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2007

This stuff is very soothing. When my scalp gets itchy, I glob on a lot and comb it through with a wide toothed comb and let it sit for at least five minutes. It really helps.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:57 AM on December 12, 2007

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