A Few Words About Dandruff


I wish I had the dandruff they talk about in commercials – the kind where tea tree oil or minty shampoos clear it instantly. Instead I have persistent dandruff; ugly dandruff; dandruff that unfairly resurfaces again and again like a talentless starlet with a really good public relations team.

My dandruff is caused by sebborheic dermatitis, a common skin condition where excess oil produces irritated, flakey skin. Doctors don’t know why a person develops sebborheic dermatitis, but family history and the body’s overproduction of yeast are strong factors. Unlike dry scalp, which is relieved with conditioner or a gentler shampoo, sebborheic dermatitis requires treatment that kills dandruff-causing yeast and washes away dead skin cells.

Salicylic acid is one of the few ingredients that keeps dandruff at bay. As a teenager (and following the advice of a dermatologist) I frequently washed my face and scalp with Neutrogena’s T-Sal shampoo. The formula’s 3% salicylic acid is an agile opponent against dandruff and acne. Prescription-strength ketaconazole also relieves flakey scalps.

However salicylic acid and ketaconazole welcome other problems.

For one, salon appointments can sway to the side of embarrassment. In my case a typical salon visit begins as I pass my dandruff shampoo to the assistant at the sink. This is done quickly and covertly; so much that it borders tones of a nefarious transaction. This assistant, of course, is always confused. After all, who would choose an inexpensive medicated shampoo over the salon’s luxurious cleanser made from unicorns’ tears? As I start to offer an explanation, the hairstylist usually saunters over with a recommendation of his or her own. What follows is the awkward silence that arrives whenever a client disagrees with an experienced stylist.

It doesn’t help that the shampoos emit malodorous odors that hover somewhere in between spoiled produce and decaying flesh. Conditioners mask some of the smell, but it’s still unpleasant to rub funky goo on your scalp every week.

Another issue is that the ketaconazole and salicylic acid shampoos are incredibly drying. For a while I had to choose between dry hair or dandruff, and what kind of options are those?

After a trial-and-error period that was longer than I would like to admit, I developed a system that delivers both soft hair and a dandruff-free scalp. When I first enter the shower, I apply conditioner two inches away from my roots to the ends. I then massage my scalp with dandruff shampoo. Neutrogena T-Sal and Phyto are my current salicylic acid favorites; ketaconazole must be prescribed by a physician.

It takes several minutes for the shampoo to treat the scalp. After about six minutes, I rinse and condition my hair (save for the roots) once more. I then mix the dandruff shampoo with a moisturizing shampoo and allow several minutes for it to penetrate my scalp again. Following a third rinse, I coat my hair with a thick conditioner that I rinse after a few minutes more.

Although it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to experience the latest and greatest in hair care like co-washes and apple cider vinegar rinses, it is a satisfying feeling to outsmart the dandruff that is determined to accompany me through life. Perhaps you have a case of dandruff that you can’t shake. Give my little method a try.

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