Everyone has dandruff--at least some dandruff--and that includes bald people. That's because every human scalp sheds dead cells, which "flake" off as new ones arc pushed up from deeper skin layers. When these flakes become obvious on our hair and clothing, we call them dandruff. Perfectly natural stuff--but too often, we're made to feel as though this "problem" falls somewhere between global warming and playing high-stakes poker with someone named Ace.
In reality, there's nothing unusual about dandruff, and it definitely doesn't mean you're going bald. But here's how to remedy this nuisance if you're itching for some answers.
Bag the mousse. "A lot of times, what we call dandruff is not really a scalp problem at all but rather the result of using hair sprays, styling gels and mousse," says Nelson Lee Novick, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "Some of these products cause the flakiness that we think of as dandruff--particularly hair sprays when they're used to excess."
Hit the showers. If you ignore dandruff or the flakiness associated with the use of hair cosmetics, you allow scale to build, resulting in itchiness and possible infection, says Maria Hordinsky, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and the director of the Center for Hair Diseases at the University of Minnesota. Most experts say that shampooing often--daily, if necessary--with a specially medicated "dandruff" shampoo is the best way to control this problem.
Take five to do it right. What you may not know about that special shampoo is how to use it. "You've got to leave the shampoo on the scalp for a full five minutes," says Thomas Goodman, Jr., M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in Memphis. "If you leave it on for less time, you're undermining the shampoo's effectiveness."
Spread some oil. "Massaging some heated pure virgin olive oil into the scalp and then vigorously brushing with a natural-bristle hairbrush helps loosen dandruff scales," says Markus Bluestein, a St. Louis hair stylist and makeup consultant. "It's also an excellent way to treat a dry scalp--the cause of much of the flaky, 'snowy' dandruff, You should microwave the oil until its warm to the touch and apply it no more than twice a week. Each time, leave it on for about 20 minutes and then wash it out with a good shampoo."
Beat the tar out of it. If your scalp is oily rather than dry, you'll see "chunkier" dandruff that looks greasy and has a yellowish tint. Go with a tar-based shampoo such as Ionil T or Neutrogena's T/Gel. If you have blond or graying hair, however, stay away from tar shampoos, because they can give your hair a brownish tint, warns Patricia Farris, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
Invest extra thyme. A potion made with thyme is believed to have medicinal powers that help dandruff when the solution is rinsed into the hair after shampooing, says New York City hair stylist Louis Gignac, owner of Louis-Guy D Salon and author of Everything You Need to Know to Have Great-Looking Hair. Boil four heaping tablespoons of dried thyme in two cups of water for ten minutes. Strain it and allow the brew to cool. Then pour half over your just-shampooed hair while it's still damp. Massage in gently and don't rinse. (Store the rest in the refrigerator for another treatment.)