Dandruff, which is characterized by itchy, white flakes of skin on your scalp, can be uncomfortable and embarrassing to deal with. It may also cause other symptoms, such as greasy patches on your scalp and tingling skin.
However, it’s easy to treat and relatively common, with some reports estimating that this condition affects up to 42% of infants and 1–3% of adults worldwide.
Dandruff may be caused by multiple factors, including dry skin, seborrheic dermatitis, sensitivity to hair products, and the growth of a specific type of fungus that lives on your scalp.
Though there are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) products designed to treat dandruff, natural remedies are often just as effective.
Here are 10 simple home remedies to naturally get rid of dandruff.
1. Tea tree oil
Historically, tea tree oil has been used to treat ailments such as acne and psoriasis.
It is also proven to have powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help alleviate symptoms of dandruff.
In fact, according to one older review, tea tree oil is effective at fighting the specific strain of fungus that can cause both seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.
Another study found that applying placental tissue soaked in tea tree oil to the skin was more effective than a prescription antifungal treatment at healing lesions caused by this fungus.
What’s more, in an older study, 126 people with dandruff used a shampoo containing either 5% tea tree oil or a placebo daily. After 4 weeks, tea tree oil reduced the severity of symptoms by 41% and improved greasiness and itchiness, compared with the placebo.
Still, more high quality research is needed.
Additionally, tea tree oil may cause irritation in those with sensitive skin. Therefore, it’s best to dilute it by adding a few drops to a carrier oil such as coconut oil before applying it directly to your skin.
Summary: Tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce the severity and symptoms of dandruff.
2. Coconut oil
Renowned for its multiple health benefits, coconut oil is also used as a natural remedy for dandruff.
It may work by improving skin hydration and preventing dryness, which can worsen dandruff.
According to some research, coconut oil may be as effective as mineral oil in improving skin hydration when applied as a moisturizer.
Other research suggests that coconut oil aids the treatment of eczema, a skin condition that may contribute to dandruff.
One older, 8-week study found that applying coconut oil to the skin reduced symptoms of atopic dermatitis — a type of eczema characterized by itching and inflammation — by 68%.
In a 12-week study in 140 women, applying coconut oil to the scalp led to significant improvements in the scalp microbiome and certain markers of dandruff.
Coconut oil and its compounds have also been shown to have antimicrobial properties in some test-tube studies, although researchers have not yet examined the effects on the specific strain of fungus that causes dandruff.
Summary: Coconut oil may improve skin hydration and reduce dryness, thereby combating symptoms of eczema and dandruff.
3. Aloe vera
Aloe vera is a succulent that’s often added to skin ointments, cosmetics, and lotions.
When applied to the skin, it may help treat skin conditions such as burns, psoriasis, and cold sores.
According to one review, the antibacterial and antifungal properties of aloe vera may also protect against dandruff.
Similarly, several test-tube studies show that aloe vera may be effective against several species of fungi and may help control certain fungal infections.
Suggested read: 14 benefits and uses for tea tree oil
Test-tube studies have also found that aloe vera can reduce inflammation, which may relieve symptoms.
Despite these promising results, additional studies are needed.
Summary: Aloe vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties that may reduce inflammation and decrease dandruff symptoms, but more research is needed.
4. Minimize stress levels
Stress is believed to affect many aspects of health and wellness, influencing everything from chronic conditions to mental health.
While stress itself doesn’t cause dandruff, it may worsen symptoms such as dryness and itching.
Long-term high stress levels may alter or suppress your immune system’s activity, which may impair your body’s ability to fight off some fungal infections and skin conditions that contribute to dandruff.
In fact, in a study in 166 people with seborrheic dermatitis — one of the most common causes of dandruff — approximately 28% reported that stress was a trigger for dermatitis symptoms.
To keep stress levels under control, you can try stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or aromatherapy.
Summary: Stress may weaken your immune system and decrease your body’s ability to fight off infections that cause dandruff. Furthermore, stress often precedes episodes of seborrheic dermatitis, one of the most common causes of dandruff.
5. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been associated with a variety of health benefits and is often used as a natural remedy for dandruff.
That’s because the vinegar’s acidity is believed to help stimulate the shedding of dead skin cells on your scalp. Apple cider vinegar is also said to balance the pH of your skin to reduce fungal growth and thus fight dandruff.
However, no studies support these claims. Many of the supposed benefits of apple cider vinegar for dandruff are based on anecdotal evidence.
Suggested read: Is coconut oil good for your skin?
In fact, one small study in 22 people found that applying diluted apple cider vinegar to the skin topically didn’t improve eczema or skin barrier integrity — and even worsened skin irritation.
That said, test-tube studies show that apple cider vinegar and its compounds may prevent the growth of certain types of fungus.
If you’d like to give apple cider vinegar a try, add a few tablespoons to your shampoo or combine it with essential oils and spray directly onto your hair.
Summary: While no research backs these claims, apple cider vinegar is anecdotally said to remove dead skin cells and balance the pH of your scalp to reduce dandruff.
Salicylic acid is one of the primary compounds found in aspirin that’s responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties.
This acid is also an ingredient in many anti-dandruff shampoos.
It works by helping to get rid of scaly skin and loosening flakes so they can be removed.
In an older, 4-week study, 19 people with dandruff used two shampoos containing either piroctone olamine and salicylic acid or zinc pyrithione. Both shampoos decreased dandruff, but the one containing salicylic acid was more effective in reducing the severity of scaling.
Another small study showed that a shampoo containing salicylic acid — along with other ingredients such as glycolic acid and urea — significantly improved irritation and itching in 10 people with scalp inflammation.
For an easy dandruff remedy, try crushing two aspirin tablets and adding the powder to your shampoo before washing your hair.
Summary: Aspirin contains salicylic acid, an ingredient found in many anti-dandruff shampoos. This acid has been shown to be effective in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in your body.
Not only do they make up the cell membranes that surround your cells, but they’re also crucial for the function of your heart, immune system, and lungs.
Plus, omega-3s are vital to skin health. They help manage oil production and hydration, promote wound healing, and prevent premature aging.
A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can cause an array of symptoms, including dry hair, dry skin, and even dandruff.
Although more research is needed, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation, which may, in turn, relieve irritation and dandruff symptoms.
Suggested read: Top 4 natural remedies to clear pimples fast
Fatty fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. You can also take a fish oil supplement or increase your intake of other omega-3-rich foods, such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Summary: Omega-3 fatty acids are important to skin health and may help reduce inflammation. Deficiency can cause dry skin, dry hair, and dandruff.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that have been linked to numerous health benefits, including allergy protection, lower cholesterol levels, and increased weight loss.
These bacteria may also enhance immune function, which may help your body fight the fungal infections that cause dandruff.
In fact, one study showed that taking probiotics for 56 days significantly reduced dandruff severity in 60 people.
Probiotics have also been shown to help treat and prevent skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, especially in infants and children.
Probiotics are widely available in supplement form for a quick and convenient dose. They can also be found in many fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, and natto.
Summary: Probiotics may help enhance immune function and have been shown to reduce dandruff severity.
9. Baking soda
Baking soda is a quick, convenient, and readily available dandruff remedy.
It’s believed to act as a gentle exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and reduce scaling and itchiness. It also has antifungal properties that may benefit dandruff treatment.
An older test-tube study measured the antifungal effects of baking soda on some of the most common strains of fungus that cause skin infections and found that it completely inhibited fungal growth in 79% of specimens after 7 days.
Another older study looked at the effects of baking soda on 31 people with psoriasis. Treatment with baking soda baths significantly reduced both itchiness and irritation after just 3 weeks.
However, more research is needed, as one study found that baking soda had no effect on psoriasis, skin hydration, or skin redness.
For best results, apply baking soda directly to wet hair and massage it into your scalp. Let it sit for 1–2 minutes, and then continue shampooing your hair as usual.
Summary: Baking soda has antifungal properties and may help relieve itching and skin irritation. However, more studies are needed.
10. Avoid certain foods
Although more research is needed on the relationship between diet and dandruff, some people may find that limiting consumption of certain foods relieves inflammation, which may help improve scalp health.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that dietary modifications prevent fungal infections by controlling the growth of yeast and improving the gut microbiome, which may aid in the treatment of dandruff.
Some foods that you may want to limit are:
- refined carbs such as white bread, white pasta, tortillas, and crackers
- red meat
- processed foods
- fried foods
- sugary foods and beverages
Additionally, certain foods may trigger flare-ups of skin conditions such as eczema, which may contribute to dandruff.
While specific trigger foods vary from person to person, some of the most common are white flour, gluten-containing products, and nightshades such as eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
Summary: Making changes to your diet may reduce inflammation and prevent fungal infections, which may help treat dandruff. Some foods may also trigger symptoms of eczema, which may cause itchy skin and dandruff.
If home remedies don’t work
Although many home remedies for dandruff are available, additional treatment may be necessary in some cases.
Many OTC medicated shampoos and scalp treatments contain antifungal or antibacterial ingredients designed to decrease dandruff.
If these products don’t work after 2–3 weeks, you may want to consult a dermatologist to determine whether other prescription shampoos or medications would be beneficial.
Suggested read: Can you cure your acne with apple cider vinegar?
Healthcare professionals often prescribe topical antifungal medications, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators to treat dandruff and other skin conditions, such as psoriasis and dermatitis.
Summary: While home remedies are often beneficial, you may need topical medications or shampoos to treat dandruff.
Although dandruff can be a difficult problem to deal with, a variety of natural remedies may reduce symptoms and provide relief.
The next time you start spotting flakes, try a few of the natural remedies above to support scalp health and decrease dandruff naturally.
If these remedies don’t work, consult a dermatologist to find out whether other treatment options may be necessary to provide long lasting relief.