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Why Zinc Pyrithione Is Used To Treat Dandruff?

Written by Ross Goodhart
Why Zinc Pyrithione Is Used To Treat Dandruff?

It’s really that common. Thankfully, we’ve also done extensive research on dandruff in this day and age and have the tools and science to treat it effectively. For most topical anti-dandruff shampoos, that means including Zinc Pyrithione.

One of the most obvious signs of dandruff are flakes. Nearly anyone can relate to the stress of discovering a flaky fallout, and while flakes can be caused by a number of issues, there are ways to help treat scalp health imbalance.

But what is Zinc Pyrithione? And why is it so effective at combating dandruff? Keep reading for the secret behind this special ingredient’s many powers. 

What is Zinc Pyrithione?

Let’s start with the basics. Zinc Pyrithione is a chemical compound derived from the natural element Zinc. It was first developed in the 1930s, then synthesized by E. Shaw in 1950. So while it does draw from the naturally occurring metal, Zinc Pyrithione is ultimately produced in a lab.

Zinc Pyrithione is an antifungal and antibacterial agent. That’s what makes it so powerful at fighting dandruff — more on that later. Here are some of the highlights when it comes to using Zinc Pyrithione in topical treatments. This can get a little scientific but bear with us.

  • Low Solubility: A key element of Zinc Pyrithione’s power is that it has relatively low solubility, meaning it has staying power on our skin. The chemical compound stays on our scalps, even after we’ve rinsed our hair of shampoo so that it can continue to fight fungus.

  • Safe For Topical Use: Most importantly, Zinc Pyrithione is proven to be a safe agent to introduce to our skin. This is extremely important when asking questions about the safety of ingredients used in personal care products and their impact on our overall health. Thankfully, Zinc Pyrithione has been approved by the FDA as a safe and effective treatment for dandruff for over 60 years. 

You might feel like you’re back in your high school chemistry class. Let’s switch gears now to talk about how Zinc Pyrithione interacts with our natural biology—starting to get the sense that hair care is more a science than a cosmetic treatment? You’re catching on.

What Causes Dandruff?

Next, let’s focus on what contributes to dandruff.

Dandruff is distinct from a dry scalp, though they often result in similar symptoms, flaking being the primary one. In the case of dry scalp, flakes are small, dusty bits of dead skin. In the case of dandruff, flakes are a collection of oily dead skin built up over a period of time. They’re heavier, denser, and tend to be more yellowish in color.

So what exactly is going on when we’re experiencing dandruff? It’s a little complicated, and believe it or not, we’re still discovering all the conditions that contribute to dandruff, but scientists have identified one key indicator.

Usually, a case of dandruff comes down to an overgrowth of a fungus called Malassezia. Before you start worrying, fungus on top of your head is extremely normal. It’s really just the amount of fungus that we’re concerned about here.

The Scalp’s Microbiome

Generally, the microbiome on your scalp is focused on maintaining a healthy balance of naturally occuring bacteria, facilitating the regeneration of your skin, and fostering new hair growth. It’s a community of fungi, bacteria, and your own skin cells in constant communication and trade.

That said, it hinges on a delicate balance that, either due to stress, hair products, or any number of causes, can sometimes be thrown off course.

A Microbiome Out of Whack

When we see dandruff-related flakes on our shoulders, our scalps are typically experiencing an overgrowth of Malassezia. Malassezia, which is actually a type of yeast, naturally occurs on our scalps. Regardless of whether or not you’re experiencing dandruff, you very likely have some of the fungi all over your skin. So what causes the overgrowth?

Scientists have tied it to an immune system response that produces a little too much sebum — your scalp’s natural oils. Sebum is what Malassezia feeds on, and so the fungus essentially has a feast. It eats up all the sebum, proliferates throughout the scalp, and confuses the skin’s natural process of regeneration.

The skin’s existing cycle of producing and shedding new cells gets sped up, and dead skin builds up into flakes, as the body can’t remove it fast enough. The flakes build and build, greased by the overproduction of sebum, as we mentioned, and before long, we’re seeing those yellowish flakes appear on our shoulders. 

By removing the overgrowth of Malassezia, Zinc Pyrithione also restores the balance of oily, fatty cells on the surface of our scalp.

What Else Could it Be?

There are a couple of other known correlative conditions related to dandruff, which we’ll briefly touch on in case you’re experiencing them. These are common in cases of extremely stubborn dandruff.

  • Seborrheic Dermatitis: SD is a skin condition that can lead to scaly patches. These can range from mildly irritating to red, itchy, and painful. This is a more chronic condition than your average case of dandruff, though it is also tied to an overgrowth of fungus. Scientists also believe it is related to an autoimmune issue, in which, either due to allergies or just mixed signals, the skin attacks itself. Learn more about Seborrheic Dermatitis and how you can treat it. 

  • Low Zinc Levels: Science is still evolving here, but there is research to indicate that zinc deficiency within the body is also tied to cases of dandruff. Most people with dandruff don’t often require an appointment with your physician. However, if your condition doesn’t improve with regular use of dandruff shampoo, see your primary healthcare provider. 

How Does Zinc Pyrithione Fight Dandruff?

By now, you’ve probably put together how Zinc Pyrithione treats dandruff. Zinc Pyrithione stops the rapid reproduction of fungus cells. 

After topical treatment, it hangs around on your scalp, depositing copper. This copper, in turn, enters the Malassezia cells, inhibiting their growth, killing the cells. 

By removing the overgrowth of Malassezia, Zinc Pyrithione also restores the balance of oily, fatty cells on the surface of our scalp. 

For the average person, that means less oily build-up, less flakes, and thankfully, less itch and irritation. In short, Zinc Pyrithione restores balance to our scalp’s microbiome. 

Don’t Get Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Without Zinc Pyrithione

For these exact reasons, Zinc Pyrithione is an active ingredient in most dandruff-care shampoos. That said, not all shampoos are made equally. 

While many drug store shampoos include Zinc Pyrithione, they will also contain chemicals that could be potentially harmful to your hair and scalp.

Our recommendation is to steer clear of shampoos that include sulfates, parabens, and phthalates. These chemicals have a variety of complicated effects on your hair and body and can do far more harm than good.

That’s why we’ve left out these harsh chemicals from all Jupiter products. Our Balancing Shampoo includes all of the ingredients you’d like in your dandruff care (Zinc Pyrithione, Coconut Oil, and Squalane to name just a few), and none of the ones that can cause harm to your hair and scalp.

In addition to the powerful flake fighting Zinc Pyrithione, our Balancing Shampoo also includes specially selected essential oils like mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender. 

These mix to create an incredible natural scent. In addition to treating and managing dandruff, our shampoo has also been proven to reduce hair breakage by 30%, and is safe for all hair types.

For dandruff control between washes, check out our Restoring Serum, formulated with Zinc Pyrithione for the same anti-dandruff power of our shampoo along with scalp health ingredients like niacinamide and aloe vera juice. It’s a medicated leave-in product that’s best for those with oily scalps or who wash their hair infrequently.

As you can see, haircare is a science. And while research is still evolving, Zinc Pyrithione is proven time and again as the go-to active ingredient for treating those dandruff flakes. 

Balancing Shampoo
Balancing Shampoo

Meet our medicated head honcho. This soothing cleanser gets to the root of dandruff (flaking, irritation, dry scalp), thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Proven to also reduce hair breakage by 30% - with a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender - it’s bound to elevate your mood and your shower.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.