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The itchy, uncomfortable feeling and unsightly flakes that come with dandruff get old fast. Conventional treatments like shampoos, steroids and coal tar can help, but they’re far from natural or safe.
Natural shampoos are hard to find and the few decent options are really expensive. These natural dandruff remedies use effective ingredients like apple cider vinegar and anti-fungal essential oils for a way to control it naturally.
What Is Dandruff and What Causes It?
To really understand how dandruff remedies work, it helps to know what causes it in the first place. About 50% of people have it, so the issue is widespread. Environmental exposures, food choices, and genetics all play a role. There’s also evidence to show that gut microbiome dysfunction plays a role in dandruff production.
Dandruff is typically an overgrowth of the fungus malassezia on the scalp, and it can also be caused by dry skin. It involves shedding of excessive amounts of skin flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of dandruff where the flakes are greasy and white or yellow, with a red, irritated scalp. In theory, stopping the fungus can help resolve the problem.
Traditional dandruff shampoos often include harsh chemicals designed to fight fungus. Thankfully, there are natural options that work well without the dangers.
How to Get Rid of Dandruff (Naturally, of Course!)
Since dandruff is caused by microbes and dry scalp, anti-fungal agents and moisturizers both help. Whatever remedies are used, consistency is key. Improvements can be seen after the first use, but these natural remedies need to be used long term for best results. Most studies have shown the most success when used for three to six months (or longer).
Raw honey is a nutritional powerhouse with its proteins, amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Honey has been used as food and medicine since the earliest civilizations. Raw honey is emollient, humectant, healing, antimicrobial, and soothing to the scalp, while conditioning the hair. This sticky sweet substance also helps prevent pathogen infections and keeps the microbes that cause dandruff in check.
How to Use Raw or Manuka Honey for Dandruff
Since honey is so thick and sticky on its own, it needs to be diluted before use.
- Combine 1-2 TBSP of honey (I use this unfiltered organic and raw honey) with 2/3 cup of warm water and stir to dissolve.
- Rinse hair with the honey mixture and use the fingers to work it through the hair and over the scalp.
We all know that essential oils can be used for many natural remedies, and this is no exception! I like to order organic essential oils from here and often order bulk bottles so I have them to use in recipes.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea Tree oil has long been used for scalp and skin conditions because of its potent cleansing and anti-fungal properties. One 2011 study found that tea tree essential oil was effective against all of the dandruff-causing malassezia species tested. Not much was needed either for visible results. Researchers found that just a .25% dilution of tea tree inhibited the fungi that can cause dandruff. For practical purposes, this would be about 6 drops of essential oil to every ½ cup of carrier.
Lemongrass Essential Oil
Like tea tree, lemongrass has anti-fungal properties. This study out of Thailand tested how lemongrass essential oil shampoo performed against the malasezzia furfur fungal strain. Researchers settled on a 2% dilution to inhibit the fungus, however another study of 30 participants found that a solution of 10% was most effective against dandruff.
Frankincense Essential Oil
A 2016 study evaluated 9 different essential oils to see how they performed against a variety of micro-organisms. Frankincense essential oil beat out the rest and inhibited the candida, malasezzia, and even staph biofilms. Some researchers believe that staph bacteria overgrowth can also play a big role in dandruff. Frankincense is very soothing and calming, making it perfect for an irritated scalp.
How to Use Essential Oils for Dandruff
Since essential oils are highly concentrated, always dilute before use. There are many different ways to incorporate them into dandruff remedies, so I’ve included multiple options below.
- Add the essential oils of choice to some raw honey and stir well to combine. Then dilute with warm water and use as a hair rinse per the instructions earlier in this article. Raw honey isn’t a fat, but as a sugar it will also adequately disperse the essential oils.
- Add the essential oils of choice to a carrier oil, like sweet almond or grapeseed oil, and then apply to the scalp. Part the hair then apply some oil to the scalp. Then part it again about ½ inch over and repeat until the entire scalp is covered.
- Add a few drops of the essential oils to your shampoo or conditioner and wash as usual. Allow the mixture to sit on the scalp for about 5 minutes before rinsing out.
A study in Hungary found that probiotics reduced the overall symptoms of dandruff by 57%. The strains used helped to regulate the skin’s immune function and reduced scalp itching and greasiness. Over time, the malassezia yeast counts declined, as did the irritation and redness.
How to Use Probiotics for Dandruff
Consume fermented and probiotic rich foods daily. Kombucha, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, water kefir, milk kefir and yogurt are all good options. Those with autoimmune conditions may find that dairy aggravates the issue further. Taking a high quality probiotic supplement can also be helpful.
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has many uses and is often touted as the natural, magical cure-all. While it can’t quite do everything, it is one of the best natural dandruff remedies. Apple cider vinegar contains malic acid to naturally slough off excess skin cells. The acidic pH also helps to close hair cuticles on the scalp. And vinegar’s acetic acid attacks the yeast and bacteria that can cause dandruff.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Dandruff
Preferably raw apple cider vinegar that still contains “the mother” should be used. Since vinegar can be harsh on the scalp, it should be diluted before use.
- Combine 1 part water with 1 part apple cider vinegar and use it as a hair rinse.
- This mixture can be left in the hair after washing, or it can be rinsed out after 1-2 hours.
Herbal Infused Apple Cider Vinegar
Infuse vinegar with nourishing and anti-microbial herbs like rosemary, Pau d’Arco, and oregano for an extra punch of dandruff-fighting power.
- To infuse the vinegar, add 1/4 cup of the desired herbs to a pint-size glass jar, then fill the rest with vinegar.
- Store in a cool dark place, shaking every day for 2-4 weeks.
- Strain out the herbs, then dilute with water before using as a hair rinse.
Do you struggle with dandruff or know someone who does? Which dandruff remedies have you found to ease the symptoms?
Discussion (42 Comments)
manoj Kumar De
i am going to try it now.
As a former lifelong dandruff sufferer, all these topical treatments are great at reducing/knocking it back, but it never goes away. For years bleaching my hair managed to keep the dandruff away until my roots started growing out.
After my 3 months of taking daily AppleCiderVinegar/raw honey/filtered water tonic daily, dandruff (along with a whole host of other chronic issues that are now no issues) dandruff left to never return.
Then, once I quit using antibiotics and switched to only natural ones, gone forever.
Dandruff, heartburn, dry or excessively oily skin are all conditions resulting from our bodies imbalances. Heal the inflammation, reduce the stress, allow your good bacteria to rebound and *poof* better health.
Now I’m working on spiritual/emotional health because I found that once you heal your body using Mother Earth, you will continue to fight new issues until you heal emotions, then spirit. It’s been a wild ride, thank you for your continued piece of it!
I’m interested in your ACV/Honey/Water tonic. What amounts do you use per tonic?
Does this work for cradle cap for babies? My 9 month old has cradle cap that comes and goes since birth.
I use coconut oil.
My hair is really thick and wavy so it’s also really dry. I put coconut oil on my scalp overnight. I wash it twice in the shower the next day and it’s been much better. I’m going to add some tea tree oil to my shampoo and see if that helps even more. Thanks for the tips! Dandruff is the worst.
Tea tree is my go-to. I add a drop to my shampoo, and boom! problem solved. I experience classic malassezia overgrowth when I eat too much sugar over a week or two.
Thank you for your usefull blog about dandruff 🙂 So many people are buying harsh shampoos especially to treat dandruff, just to get the opposite result.
I always had dandruff, and five years ago it became worse and seborrhoeic eczema came up. Probably because of my sensitive skin. Although it’s difficult to pin down the causes of eczema (switches in the weather, stress, coffee, bad shapoos,..), I found some things that helped me the last couple of years:
For me honey, oils and apple cider vinegar didn’t have resultes,
but I noticed that using non traditional shampoos (I use the brand Herboretum now, but switch up with different brands) really helps. I wash my hair every five days, make sure you massage it really good when you do so all the dandruff gets washed cleaned off. When you have red dry patches in your face: try different brands of natural moisturiser.
Just don’t fuss to much with it. When I anxiously tries all the different methods I read about, it got worse. Keep it simple or your scalp reacts more. And don’t forget the factors extern of your scalp: reduce stress, not to much coffee, see that you house doesn’t have dry air during wintertime,…
Hope this helps 🙂 If you have got tips for me, I would like to hear them
(Also: forgive me for any grammar mistakes, English is not first language 😉 )
Do you put the honey/essential oil or carrier oil/essential oil on the scalp and then leave it for a certain amount of time (how long?) and then wash it out or do we leave it on the scalp/in hair until the next time we wash our hair? I would think the honey would make hair sticky and carrier oils would make hair greasy?
Also, how often should one of these treatments be used?
You’ll want to rinse it out. And these work best when used consistently. So as often as possible (I’m thinking daily).
Would you leave the honey on for a certain amount of time before rinsing it out?
I would leave it on for a few minutes if possible.
I haven’t tried this myself, but I’m just itching (heh) for someone else to: undecylenic acid shampoo. Undecylenic acid is a fatty acid constituent of human sweat and can be synthesized by cracking ricinoleic acid, the most prominent (and anti-irritant) fatty acid in castor oil. Undecylenic acid is skin’s own antifungal, and was used for many years as Desenex until supplanted by more effective materials against athlete’s foot. Since soaps are fatty acid salts, it would be very easy to formulate an undecylenate-based shampoo bar. Caveats:
(1) I don’t know effective undecylenic acid would be against the agent of dandruff.
(2) I don’t know if it would retain its activity at the high pH of soap.
(3) I don’t know if it would be effective enough in a rinse-off product.
(4) Undecylenic acid is said to smell sweaty.
With so many soapmaking hobbyists making shampoo bars, it seems somebody should try this. The ingredient would probably not smell as much as a salt (soap) as it would pure, plus of course it can be perfumed. Many shampoo soap makers include ricinoleate or castor oil anyway as an anti-irritant, so it’d seem an obvious extension to use this castor oil derivative as well, although I don’t know how many would want to make undecylenic acid at home as part of the process rather than buying it. Since undecylenate is a soap, I don’t think even incorporating a lot of it into a mixed soap would impair the product’s performance just as a cleaner.
I have very dry skin. I tried vinegar. I tried different shampoos. The thing that deleted about 90% of my dandruff was getting a chlorine shower filter that you recommended: https://wellnessmama.com/119128/shower-filter/
Guess what chlorine does–it dries out your skin. And it has the added benefit of mitigating the chlorine vapor emitted by warm/hot water which stressing your system. A win-win!
I noticed, that for me it is best not to use any soap/shampoo, just very warm distilled water and then rinse with herbal infusion or decoction, also made with distilled water. City water irritates my scalp just as much as soap does.