If you're one of the nearly 50% of Americans who struggles with dandruff, you're probably familiar with its telltale symptoms: itchiness, a dry scalp, white flakes appearing on your dark sweaters. The chronic skin condition can be caused by dry skin, a sensitivity to certain hair products, or a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. And while there are over-the-counter shampoos that can help combat flakes, you may already have a potential solution sitting in your pantry. Experts say at-home remedies such as coconut oil and crushed aspirin can go a long way towards easing the itch and fighting dandruff-causing yeast.
Here, five at-home treatments that dermatologists recommend to their patients.
One of the most popular natural dandruff remedies, coconut oil can help reduce some of the yeast that contributes to flakes, explains Geeta Shah, MD, a Maryland-based dermatologist. She recommends massaging a small amount into your scalp and leaving it there for at least 15-20 minutes. "The longer the better," she says. "Some people even leave it on overnight with a towel or shower cap so it penetrates a little deeper." One caveat: It may take a few washes to fully rinse out of strands, so maybe don't try this right before date night.
Apple cider vinegar
Thanks to its high pH, apple cider vinegar can also help inhibit the growth of flake-causing yeast, says Dr. Shah. But unlike coconut oil, you shouldn't put it directly on your hair: "You want to dilute it," she says. "I recommend a half and half solution of half vinegar, half water." Apply the mixture to your scalp and let it soak in for at least 15 minutes. There will be a lingering vinegar smell even after you shampoo, she says, "but it fades pretty quickly and [vinegar] is easier to get out of the scalp and hair [than coconut oil]."
Like many over-the-counter dandruff remedies, aspirin contains salicylic acid, which can help reduce flaking, says Dr. Shah. To use, crush a few aspirin and mix with water to create a paste that you can apply to your scalp. Another option: Add the crushed aspirin to your shampoo to give it an instant dandruff-fighting boost.
Unlike other natural remedies, aloe vera won't necessarily help get rid of dandruff, since it doesn't attack the yeast that's often at the root (see what we did there?) cause of white flakes. However, it can offer other benefits: "Some people have a lot of inflammation from dandruff, and aloe vera is anti-inflammatory, so it helps the itching," says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. Rub a small amount on your scalp for fast, cooling relief.
Tea tree oil
Another great natural anti-inflammatory: tea treat oil. Mona Gohara, MD, a Connecticut dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale, suggests adding a few drops to your regular shampoo to calm your scalp.