How is dandruff treated?

There is no cure for dandruff, but you can usually manage dandruff with a combination of diligent use of medication, excellent hygiene, and general good self-care to help avoid triggers. Use of special dandruff shampoos can help prevent flare-ups or manage a current flare-up. In severe cases, prescription medications, such as a corticosteroid shampoo or corticosteroid lotion added to your normal dandruff shampoo, may help relieve inflammation and itching. If you develop a secondary bacterial infection, your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic.

Practicing self-care strategies to help avoid triggers can go a long way toward controlling your dandruff. Also, it is important that you follow your treatment regimen, making it a part of your regular routine. Dandruff treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter shampoos that contain one of the following: selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue, Exsel), salicylic acid (Scalpicin, X-Seb), zinc pyrithione (DHS Zinc, Head & Shoulders), or coal tar (DHS Tar, Neutrogena T/Gel, Polytar)
  • Prescription antifungal ointments like ketoconazole (Nizoral)
  • Prescription corticosteroid treatments (lotions or shampoos to relieve inflammation and itching from dandruff), such as clobetasol propionate (Cormax, Temovate, Olux), hydrocortisone (Emo-Cort, Locoid), and fluocinolone acetonide (Capex)

    What you can do to improve your dandruff

    In addition to reducing your exposure to dandruff triggers, such as skin and hair products that contain alcohol, you can prevent or limit flare-ups by:

    • Cleaning your face and ears frequently
    • Diligently managing oily skin
    • Eating a diet that is low in fat and salty and smoked foods, and high in fiber and fruits and vegetables
    • Getting plenty of rest
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Protecting yourself adequately against weather extremes
    • Shampooing your hair frequently
    • Treating the effects of stress in your life

    What are the potential complications of dandruff?

    Complications of untreated or poorly controlled dandruff are rare. You can help minimize your risk of complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of dandruff include:

    • Embarrassment
    • Secondary bacterial infections


    1. Seborrheic dermatitis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
    2. Seborrheic dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology.
    3. Tierney LM Jr., Saint S, Whooley MA (Eds.) Current Essentials of Medicine (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

    What is dandruff?

    Dandruff, also called seborrheic dermatitis, is an inflammatory condition that forms on oily areas of the skin, particularly on the scalp or inside the ear. The inflammation results in flaking scales that range in color from white to yellow. In infants, this condition is called cradle cap.

    Dandruff is a chronic, lifelong disorder that is usually manageable with ongoing treatment a... Read more about dandruffintroduction


    What are the symptoms of dandruff?

    Symptoms of dandruff include flaky scales that range in color from white to yellow, usually on oily parts of the skin such as the scalp or inside of the ear. Sometimes the affected skin is also red.

    Common symptoms of dandruff

    You may experience fluctuations in dandruff symptoms, with extended inactive periods between flare-ups. Symptoms during flare-ups usually include... Read more about dandruffsymptoms


    What causes dandruff?

    Although the exact cause of dandruff is not known, it is likely caused by a combination of skin oil overproduction and Malassezia, a type of yeast found on the scalp. Experts propose that dandruff is not a disease of the sebaceous glands of the skin or its secretions. However, sebaceous glands appear to be necessary for the development of dandruff because of its preference for body sites w... Read more about dandruffcauses

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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