Anyone with dandruff knows it's more than just a minor inconvenience — it's a total pain in the you-know-what. Unfortunately, the stigma around a flaky scalp is still very real (which is surprising, considering nearly 20% of the population has one). And, because it's kept so quiet, chances are you haven't branched out from the same products that were recommended to you years ago, even if they're not working well.
"Dandruff is very common," says Stephen Pullan, trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York. "In its mildest form, it can be thought of simply as dead skin cells shedding off the top layer of the scalp, [which] happens all over the body. The process can speed up, however, creating visual dandruff, or even worse, [symptoms] such as a bothersome form of flakes that adhere to the hair shaft and can create hair loss."
There are countless ways you can both soothe an itchy scalp or actually treat visible dandruff — and it all starts with finding a product that your scalp responds to. Sometimes this takes some trial and error, not only with products, but also the frequency with which you use them. And a dry scalp isn't always the issue, which means that you can't just slap an oil on to make it go away.
"A lot of people think [having flakes] is a dry-scalp problem, but it's normally actually an oil problem," says David Kingsley, PhD, a trichologist in New York. "It's caused by a lipophilic yeast, which means that it eats oil." But don't stress, because "everybody has it on the scalp, but some people seem to be more affected," he says. No matter what the cause, the solution is finding a product that strikes a balance.
Finding balance can be as simple as opting for a spray to calm itchy skin, doing a monthly exfoliating mask (which often pack both exfoliating AHAs or BHAs), or smoothing on a refreshing oil like tea tree or peppermint. To treat visible flakes, however, Pullan recommends bringing in the big guns: "selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, [coal] tar, or anti-fungal agents such as fluconazole or ketoconazole," he says.
Fortunately, hair care brands are well aware of how important reinvention is in the market, and there are tons of new products that can help remedy an itchy scalp or treat full-blown flaking. Ahead, you'll find dandruff products you probably haven't considered, including masks and sprays, to help turn this annoying scalp issue into a distant memory.
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