By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Various treatments are available to treat dandruff, depending on the severity of the condition. Dandruff can often be treated by using a shampoo that contains certain chemicals but sometimes an antifungal or steroid treatment may be required.
A doctor usually diagnoses dandruff based on redness and scaling of the scalp. In order to diagnose dandruff, a doctor needs to rule out other conditions that present with similar symptoms such as eczema and psoriasis. In order to test for fungal infection, a sample of flaky skin from the scalp may be sent to the laboratory for analysis, although this is rarely required.
Treatment of dandruff
Some self-care measures can be taken to help keep mild cases of dandruff under control. Washing the hair daily with a mild shampoo, especially those containing tea tree oil, can help correct mild cases. Although a scalp that is affected by dandruff can be itchy, scratching should be avoided and shampoo should only ever be gently applied to the scalp. Until the dandruff has cleared, the use of hair products such as hairspray and gel should be avoided. Exposure to sunlight can also help correct dandruff to a certain extent.
The main treatment approach to dandruff involves the use of anti-dandruff shampoo. Various shampoos are available over-the-counter that have different mechanisms of action. Shampoos containing zinc pyrithione kill Malassezia fungi; salicylic acid helps to soften and shed dead skin cells; and selenium sulfide slows the production of skin cells as well as killing the fungi.
Some of the most effective shampoos contains an antifungal agent called ketoconazole. Coal tar is another effective ingredient used to treat dandruff, psoriasis and dermatitis of the scalp. The substance relieves itching and also normalizes the skin structure by slowing down skin cell production
Many anti-dandruff shampoos need to be applied daily or every other day, while ketoconazole shampoos should be used twice a week. Once symptoms improve, the shampoos may be used less often.
In cases where the shampoo fails to resolve the dandruff, a steroid cream or ointment may be prescribed. The patient may also be prescribed an antifungal agent to use in combination with the steroid cream.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Mar 31, 2014