If you’re experiencing dandruff, the search for relief can be almost as irritating as the condition itself. Many people leap from one supposed solution to another, but never seem to find a hair and scalp care routine that works for them.
How is it possible that pesky white flakes end up feeling like one of life’s great challenges? There are many ways dandruff treatments can go awry, but the good news is that it isn’t rocket science. We know what works and what doesn’t in dandruff treatments - and where people tend to go off the rails.
Here are the top 10 mistakes most people make when it comes to treating dandruff (and how to avoid making them yourself):
1. Using products with harsh & unsafe ingredients
Conventional grocery store and pharmacy brand shampoos almost all contain ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and phthalates. These ingredients are widespread in all kinds of mainstream shampoos, and the common anti-dandruff products are no different.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with dandruff, everyone should avoid these ingredients because of the risks they pose to your long-term health. Parabens and phthalates are both known endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive harm.
Sulfates are cheap foaming agents that make many cleansers sudsy but they tend to be too harsh, stripping away the natural oil your body produces to moisturize your hair follicles (called sebum). This can leave you with dry scalp and hair.
While sulfates can be too harsh for people without scalp health issues, they’re even more important to avoid if you’re dealing with dandruff or any skin condition that can cause scalp irritation and flaking, like eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and scalp psoriasis. These chemicals have over-drying effects that can actually increase scalp irritation, making flaking and itching worse.
2. Using a conventional shampoo after a dandruff shampoo
Some people use a regular shampoo right after their anti-dandruff medicated shampoo, often because they like the fragrance and hair care results better. This is totally understandable, you don’t just want to lose the flakes - you want luscious-looking locks and a beautiful shower experience and most dandruff shampoos just don't deliver on those points.
However, following your dandruff shampoo with a regular shampoo may cancel out the benefits. Regular shampoos wash away the traces of active ingredients in your anti-dandruff product that studies show are needed to continue fighting a flaky scalp between showers. Conventional shampoos and conditioners can also leave behind residues that irritate your skin, clog hair follicles, and contribute to unhealthy scalp buildup that makes dandruff more likely.
3. Trying to stick with a dandruff shampoo you hate
Dandruff is easily manageable, but it can’t be cured. That means you can achieve relief from an itchy scalp and eliminate flakes - but only if you stick to a regular treatment routine that continually treats dandruff before it starts.
In other words, you need a dandruff treatment regimen that you like enough to use regularly. If you can’t stand a shampoo’s fragrance, consistency, or the way it leaves your hair looking, you probably won’t keep using it. Don’t blame yourself here! No one wants to make a habit of something they find really unpleasant (especially as part of a morning wake-up routine).
Instead, take the time to find a product you actually like and you’ll be much more likely to kick those flakes to the curb with regular use - and a lot happier every time you shower.
4. Using a shampoo without Zinc Pyrithione
If you want to avoid harsh chemicals in your personal care products, you might turn to scalp care shampoos marketed as gentler, safer, and made from natural ingredients. All that’s great - but it doesn’t mean they’ll actually treat your dandruff.
Scores of scientific studies back up an effective and safe ingredient for treating dandruff: Zinc Pyrithione (also called Pyrithione Zinc). People with dandruff tend to have an imbalance in the microbiome of their scalps - too much of a naturally occurring fungus called Malassezia. Zinc Pyrithione works by inhibiting the growth of Malassezia so it stays at healthier levels, calming the scalp irritation that leads to the itchiness and flaking of dandruff.
Other ingredients can help with dandruff too - like salicylic acid. However, because of Malassezia's central role in dandruff, an antifungal shampoo is really essential. Any treatment shampoo that doesn’t include Zinc Pyrithione is just not likely to work as well.
5. Using styling products that irritate your scalp
Consider the other products you’re using in your hair and scalp and how they might be impacting your skin. Many people have sensitivities to ingredients in mainstream hair care products, whose ingredients can clog the hair follicle, impede natural healing and skin regeneration, and cause allergic reactions like contact dermatitis.
If your scalp is already irritated, this can add fuel to the fire. So take a close look at your styling products’ ingredient labels, and try to reduce your use or stick to skin-friendly, gentle options without harsh chemical ingredients
...you can achieve relief from an itchy scalp and eliminate flakes - but only if you stick to a regular treatment routine that continually treats dandruff before it starts.
6. Trying to wait it out
Dandruff is a chronic condition for many people, linked to genetics, skin sensitivities, stress, and hormone levels, among many other factors. Any of these underlying causes can make your scalp irritated, resulting in the familiar symptoms of dandruff: itching and flaking.
Because many of the root causes involved in dandruff are beyond our control, the wait-and-see approach is simply doomed to fail. Dandruff symptoms may fluctuate at times - stress and dry skin caused by cold weather are common causes of flare-ups, for example. But even with occasional relief, dandruff just won’t go away on its own. You need to treat it.
7. Going DIY on your scalp
There are lots of purported do-it-yourself remedies touted as miracle cures for dandruff. And it’s understandable that people are attracted to solutions that seem especially gentle, natural, safe, or cheap. But going DIY is risky. Not every natural remedy or familiar ingredient is actually safe, especially when used in a DIY method rather than a professional formulation.
For instance, baking soda - which is often promoted as a great natural cleanser - is actually harsher on your skin than the harmful sulfates mentioned earlier, which so many people are trying to avoid. Essential oils - a common ingredient in DIY shampoo formulas - are potent and known to cause skin irritation when not diluted properly. Even coconut oil, which can be a great skin moisturizer, has serious side effects if used improperly, leading to clogged pores and even hair loss!
The other big risk of going DIY? It just won’t work.
8. Scrubbing too aggressively
It can be tempting to take a combative approach to your scalp and try harsh exfoliation techniques to remove dead skin cells before they become flakes, like aggressive scrubbing in the shower. However, any approach that causes discomfort or pain is definitely the wrong move. Instead, it’s very likely to make the irritation worse.
Since calming irritation and soothing your skin are key to effective dandruff treatments, it’s crucial to treat your delicate scalp with care. Gently massaging your scalp in the shower can help your dandruff shampoo deliver results. It can also help soften, loosen, and wash away dead skin buildup. But the key word above is gently. Using too much force will only make things worse.
9. Not using a scalp brush
A scalp brush is an essential secret weapon in scalp care. Using a scalp brush to gently massage away old skin cells will help remove and prevent unhealthy buildup, helping to make your treatment shampoo more effective. There is evidence that it may even help stimulate blood flow which promotes healthy skin and hair growth.
10. Trying the “no poo” experiment
“No poo” (i.e. “no shampoo”) is the cheeky nickname for an internet trend that claims hair is healthiest when washed least. Proponents of the no-poo idea claim that after a transitional period (when your hair and scalp are noticeably greasy) they eventually adjust to fewer washes by producing less oil. Then you’re in a world of bliss, with gorgeous natural hair and skin that requires little maintenance.
This sounds too good to be true, and for most people it is. Read closely about the no-poo experience and you’ll often find people using occasional DIY methods to try to cleanse and condition their hair (baking soda and apple cider vinegar are common treatments). As discussed above, the DIY approach always carries some risks. And many aspiring no-poo adherents complain that the “adjustment period” never seems to end.
All of this aside, a no-shampoo approach is definitely not a healthy hair and scalp care regimen for anyone with dandruff. To eliminate flaking and itching, you need a safe, gentle, lab-formulated dandruff shampoo as part of your daily hair care routine. It’s essential to clear unhealthy scalp buildup, soothe irritation, fight Malassezia, and rebalance your skin’s microbiome.
The Bottom Line
Dandruff might seem like an impossible problem. It’s not! You just need to follow a proven treatment regimen while avoiding the most common mistakes. Above all, that means finding a dandruff and scalp care brand you trust with safe, effective ingredients - and using it consistently.
That’s why we created Jupiter, a dandruff and scalp care brand made with clean, effective, luxe ingredients. Our dandruff care products are formulated with Zinc Pyrithione to effectively fight flakes and itching, and our scalp and hair care products leave your hair and scalp moisturized, soothed, and feeling nourished. Learn more about picking the right regimen for your scalp and hair by taking our quiz.
Meet our medicated head honcho. This soothing multi-tasking cleanser gets to the root of flaking and irritation every time you wash, thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Backed by a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, rosemary, sage, tangerine, 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.