Don’t ignore it. Whatever you do, don’t ignore a bad case of dandruff, or fall into a scratch-and-itch cycle. Dandruff won’t go away by itself, and ignoring it invites a build-up of scaling. That can cause itching, which can lead to scratching. Vigorous scratching can wound the scalp and leave it open to infection.
Shampoo often. Wash your hair often, even everyday. Generally, the more frequently you shampoo, the easier it is to control dandruff.
Start mild. Often a mild, non-medicated shampoo is enough to control the problem. Dandruff is frequently caused by an overly oily scalp. Shampooing daily with a mild brand can control the oil without aggravating your scalp.
If you need to fight, then switch. If regular shampoos aren’t doing the job, switch to an anti-dandruff formula. Dandruff shampoos are classified by their active ingredients, which work in different ways. Those with selenium sulphide or zinc pyrithione work fastest, retarding the rate at which scalp cells multiply. Those with salicylic acid and sulphur loosen flakes so they can be washed away easily. Those with anti-bacterial agents cut down bacteria on the scalp and reduce the chance of infection. Those with tar retard cell growth.
Be a lathering idiot. No matter what kind of dandruff shampoo you choose, lather up twice. Work up the first lather as soon as you step into the shower. Gently massage your scalp with your fingertips to help loosen scales and flakes, but don’t rub so hard that you scratch your scalp. Leave the shampoo on until you’re just about finished with your shower. Then rinse your hair very thoroughly and follow that with a quick second lather and rinse. The second rinse will leave just a bit of the medication on your scalp so it can work until your next shampoo.
Cap it. New York dermatologist Diana Bihova has another approach to improving the effectiveness of medicated shampoos. After you lather up, put on one of those hotel shower caps over your wet hair. Leave it on for an hour, then rinse.
Get into conditioner. Dandruff shampoos are effective, but they can be harsh on your hair. If your hair becomes unmanageable, alternate a dandruff shampoo with your regular brand. Apply conditioner after every shampoo to counteract its effects.
Strike oil. Although excess scalp oil (from the oil glands) can cause problems, an occasional warm-oil treatment helps loosen and soften dandruff scales. Heat a little oil until just warm. Wet your hair, and then apply the oil directly to your scalp. Section your hair as you go so you treat just the scalp. Leave the oil on for at least 30 minutes, and then wash it out with a dandruff shampoo.
Expose yourself. A little sun exposure is good for dandruff, say dermatologists. But by all means, use sun sense. Don’t sunbathe; just spend time outdoors. Limit sun exposure to 30 minutes or less per day. And use a sunscreen on exposed skin.