Dandruff is a scalp condition which causes white, unsightly flakes to form in the scalp and the hair.  This rather common condition is caused by seborrhea, a dermatitis (inflammation) of the scalp in which the white flakes are actually dead skin from the scalp.

Causes of Dandruff

The skin is in a constant state of renewal, with dead cells falling off as new ones form from underneath them.  While all individuals lose skin cells in this manner, the people who suffer from dandruff have an excessive number of dead cells which are shed from the scalp. 

While some people believe that dandruff flaking happens because the scalp is too dry, this is not true.  The flaking actually happens because of the increased turnover of the dead skin cells.  Some health care practitioners believe it is caused by a hormone imbalance, or possibly a fungus which is present on the skin but grows in excessive amounts.

If an individual’s scalp is generally free of dandruff and dryness, an occasional bout with this condition may be caused by a cosmetic trigger, such as failing to completely rinse shampoo from the scalp after washing hair.  Shampoo left on the scalp is a known culprit of irritation of the scalp and in sensitive individuals could bring on dandruff.

Current research is showing the condition may be hereditary, and that anxiety and stress just may play a role in the onset of dandruff.  In some instances, dandruff is a symptom of psoriasis or eczema.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dandruff is thought to be caused by internal causes, such as a yin deficiency and excessive heat.  This is thought to be a condition in which there is a lack of body fluid and cooling energy. 

Symptoms of Dandruff

Some of the symptoms of dandruff can include the following:

  • Excessively greasy hair and skin

  • Bright red patches on the scalp

  • A scalp which itches

  • The build-up of tiny, white flakes on the scalp.  Occasionally, other hair-covered areas of the body can be afflicted with this condition as well.

  • Sometimes the skin will crack and ooze

  • If skin is cracked and oozing, a hard, yellow crust can form

  • Red areas on the face, particularly around the eyebrows and on the forehead

  • Scaly patches of skin above the ears

How Dandruff is Diagnosed

Simple cases of dandruff can be recognized by the individual and treated without medical assistance.  However, extremely severe cases of dandruff may require the aid of a dermatologist or other health care practitioner to ensure proper treatment and to rule out other underlying conditions.

Dandruff Treatment

Perhaps the most common treatment for dandruff is the use of shampoos which contain selenium, salicylic acid or pyrithione zinc, such are the main active ingredients in many dandruff shampoos. 

A healthy diet can help this condition.  Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, such as celery, spinach, radishes, carrots, and pears are especially helpful.  Other foods that should be eaten to help treat dandruff include fish, oysters, mussels and brown rice.  Adequate amounts of vitamins C, E and A can be helpful in preventing some cases of dandruff.

The biotin found in B-complex vitamins has shown good results, and is thought to be more beneficial than taking biotin on its own.  A combination of the two in supplement form is a good course of action.

Other natural products which can be used to fight dandruff include:

  • Primrose oil and borage oil – Take as directed on the packaging

  • Zinc – 30 mg can support skin functions

  • Copper – 3 mg is the recommended dose for dandruff treatment

  • Tea tree oil – Use this as a 5% solution with water daily for several weeks.  If the skin reacts unfavorably to the oil, discontinue use.

  • Aloe vera  lotion – Apply a 30% solution to the scalp twice daily for 4 to 6 weeks

  • Burdock root – Apply topically to promote healing and calm the inflammation.  Burdock can also be taken internally and is available at health food stores.  This is often recommended when other treatments do not produce positive results.

  • Eucalyptus and wintergreen oils - Ointment made from these two essential oils is useful for dandruff as it acts as an antiseptic for the skin and a general healer.

One natural remedy for washing the hair when dandruff is present is to dilute one part of apple cider vinegar and one part of hydrogen peroxide in 10 parts of water.  Apply the solution as if it were a shampoo, and thoroughly rinse hair.  After rinsing, 20 drops of tea tree oil can be applied to the scalp, massaging it into the areas most affected by the dandruff problem.  Allowing the oil to stay on the scalp overnight kills the fungus present on the scalp and helps to eliminate the flakes caused by dandruff.

Another natural hair wash for dandruff is made from 600 g of fresh, white mulberry leaves.  The leaves should be rinsed in cold water and mashed up.  Gather the juice and add it to warm water to wash the hair.  This treatment should be used once a week for three to four weeks. 

Dandruff is thought to be a secondary symptom of other imbalances or disorders according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  As such, TCM practitioners recommend acupuncture to treat the problem. 

Prevention of Dandruff

Eliminating dairy products and eggs from the diet is sometimes beneficial in treating dandruff.  Ridding the diet of gluten can also help in some instances.   Some experts believe one should reduce intake of fats, sugar, peanuts, seafood and chocolate as well.

Who is at Risk

Anyone can develop dandruff.  When dandruff first appears, it may be wise to thoroughly rinse shampoo when washing hair to eliminate left-on shampoo as the problem.


  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)


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