Recent years have witnessed an explosion in natural shampoo alternatives.
This explosion, largely spearheaded by the No Poo movement, is something that has really resonated with us.
Nobody really wants to smear their hair in harsh chemicals if they don't have to. Do they?
But treating dandruff is different isn't it? Can natural treatments help control dandruff? Is there any scientific evidence that suggests these home treatments will work?
Well it turns out there is.
And there's a lot of it.
I have to admit I was sceptical. But after speaking to board certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD and conducting this research, I am now a believer.
Natural remedies have been used for many thousands of years. It wasn’t until the explosion in pharmaceutical medicine that the western world largely stopped using them.
However natural treatments are back:
The World Health organisation estimates that 80% of the world relies on herbal medicines as part of their primary health care . The herbal supplements market is forecast to reach $107 billion by the year 2017 globally. In Germany alone approx. 1 billion Euros were spent on herbal medicine. This corresponds to ~20% of the total expenditure on OTC drugs.
Consumer habits are changing as we become more aware of what we are putting on our bodies. The demand is very real.
Regular readers of this site will know that we normally concentrate our efforts on finding the best medicated dandruff shampoos. However, we watched the no-poo movement with a great deal of interest. The no-poo treatments don't contain the contact allergens and other harsh chemicals we know the manufacturers frequently add to shampoos.
This appealed a great deal and fitted well with our philosophy of recommending only the gentlest but effective shampoos.
A couple of months ago I came upon an article on the medicinal power of honey. Further research revealed there is a whole movement of clinical research into herbal and natural alternatives to traditional medicine; much of it of great interest to us dandruff sufferers. We decided to bring it all together.
Read through this article as we introduce natural remedies, deconstructing them as we would a medicated shampoo, showing the scientific basis for the treatment while outlining the conditions they are best suited for.
Honey is a wonder substance.
Did you know that it’s the only food that includes all the enzymes, vitamins, minerals and water necessary to sustain life?
It’s also never spoils - honey vats found in King Tut’s tomb still contained edible honey despite the honey being over 2000 years old.
Of most interest to us dandruff sufferers is a study published in 2001 which concluded that crude honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis and associated hair loss and prevent relapse when applied weekly. Through the study they found, Skin lesions were healed and disappeared completely within 2 weeks... None of the 15 patients treated with honey application once weekly for six months showed relapse while the 12/15 patients who had no prophylactic treatment with honey experienced a relapse of the lesions 2-4 months after stopping treatment.
2 to 3 tablespoons of raw crude honey diluted with approx 10% warm water
Coconut Oil and Honey can be combined to take advantage of the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties of coconut oil and honey to help combat seb derm. The combination will also help moisturize your hair and scalp too.
1-2 tablespoons of raw liquid honey and 1-2 tablespoons of warmed unrefined (virgin) coconut oil
Dairy products have been used as in skin care since the Egyptian and Roman empires. Cleopatra was perhaps the most famous proponent of dairy care with her milk baths. Other civilizations such as the ancient Chinese have been using milk, eggs and other dairy products in skincare for over 2000 years.
The reason dairy has been so universally used in skin care is primarilly because of the high amounts of fatty acids present in dairy products. These fatty acids offer numerous nutritional benefits to the skin and scalp - almost all your cosmetic skin creams and moisturizers include similar fats and oils.
Yogurt has been used for centuries as both a food and skin care product. It’s long been known to moisturize the skin and it’s still commonly used in India to treat acne.
The reason it’s so beneficial to our skin is that it is highly rich in many nutrients:
It contains Zinc which helps regrowth of skin cells, helps regulate oil production in the sebaceous glands and is an anti-inflammatory agent which helps reduce red swellings and rashes.
It also contains Lactic Acid; an exfoliator which can help removing the crust of dandruff on the scalp.
There are a number of yogurt treatments that will help dandruff.
NB You shouldn't use any sweetened or flavoured yogurts. Flavoured yogurts may actually irritate your skin or aggravate existing rashes. Buy the yogurt that contains fat and live cultures to see true beautiful results. Yogurt cream and Greek yogurt are options that have a thicker consistency.
½ a cup to 1 cup of plain live yogurt
To help combat seb derm combine a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar with the yogurt and follow the directions given above.
Eggs are protein rich which is commonly used to treat a dry scalp if applied correctly.
Egg Yolks and Oil is essentially mayonnaise. Master this technique and you could get yourself on Masterchef! As well as being a delicious sandwich filler, it is also a potent blend of ingredients that will help treat a dry scalp while naturally conditioning your hair. Theoretically you could use any carrier oil for this treatment.
Our skin is covered in oil. These oils keep our skin soft and youthful while protecting against the environment and bacteria.
Shampoos often contain harsh chemicals that can strip these oils from the scalp leading to dry scalp and a flaky scalp. It’s long been a noted irony on this site that our dandruff shampoos can actually be causing dandruff.
We have been using oils to protect, moisturise and heal our skin for thousands of years and many of these oils have been and are still used to combat various forms of dandruff.
The first section will deal with essential oils. These are concentrated liquids normally containing plant extracts. The oils are very potent and, if applied undiluted to the skin, will cause severe reactions in some people. You can use Carrier oils (we'll deal with them next) to dilute the essential oil to safe levels before application on the skin.
The carrier oils themselves have medical properties themselves including anti fungal and/or moisturizing properties. Some of the oils will even help regulate skin cells production on your scalp.
Combining essential oils with carrier oils can create your own personalized, individual anti-dandruff treatment that is highly personalized for your own individual needs.
Read on to find your killer combination:
Essential oils have been used for centuries for both medicinal and cosmetic purposes. The use of essential oils died down with the boon of pharmaceutical medicines but their popularity is rising again as we learn more about them using modern scientific clinical techniques.
The oils are typically distilled from plants and some of these oils contain a number of properties that can help control your dandruff.
It’s worth noting that the quality of essential oils varies wildly by manufacturer. There is no quality control on the oils so do your homework before buying.
To apply essential oils:
Warning: Essential Oils are potent. Always follow the directions on the bottle. Do not ingest or use while pregnant - there is a lack of published evidence to demonstrate their safety.
There are many different types of cedar conifer tree grown all over the world. The oil is derived from both the bark and foliage of the tree and has been used since the biblical times as a medicinal aid. Today the oil still has had many uses; particularly in medicine, in industry and in fragrances. The reason cedarwood oil is used to combat seb derm is that the cedarwood oil has proven antifungal properties and is often used industrially as a fungicide.
The Tea Tree is an entire family of plants that grow natively in Australia and New Zealand. The name is of unknown origin but is reportedly from the days of Captain cook when they used the shrubbery to make a tea. Don't try this at home - the leaves are highly poisonous!
The shrubs have been used medicinally for many centuries. Ancient aboriginals would use the leaves as a topical treatment for burns, bites and other skin ailments and in recent decades usage of the oil has increased sharply.
The increased usage may be attributed to our increased awareness of the oil's capabilities. For example, there have been a number of clinical trials on successfully treating acne with tea tree. One of these trials went as far as to suggest that teat tree oil is as effective as benzoylperoxide at treating dandruff.
In addition, other clinical trials have shown that the oil extracted from the plant has antifungal properties which are effective at controlling dandruff caused by seb derm.
One of the downsides to tea tree oil is the risk of contact dermatitis so use it with care.
Sage, like many common herbs, has been used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes for centuries stretching back to the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires.
In modern European herbal medicine a gargle of sage tea is commonly recommended to treat a wide variety of ailments such as sore throats, inflammations in the mouth, and gingivitis. This is because Sage has recognised astringent, anti inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
In one clinical study, an extract of Sage was as effective as 1% hydrocortisone in treating the inflammation of erythma (an itchy rash).
Lavender is a common garden herb that belongs to the mint family. There are almost 40 species that grow natively in countries from Europe to South East Asia. Medicinally it has been used for centuries and even now people use it to help with sleep and anxiety.
The oil of lavender is also an effective skin treatment as it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which help heal minor burns and bug bites.
It’s anti-fungal properties have been measured by the University of Coimbra in Portugal who tested Lavender oil against a range of fungi. They reported, Lavandula oil shows wide-spectrum antifungal activity and is highly potent. This is a good starting point for developing this oil for clinical use to manage fungal infections.
Before writing this guide I assumed peppermint was a flavoring for gum and candy. I didn’t actually know that it had medicinal uses too. Of most interest to us is that it contains menthol which can help soothe dry or irritated scalps while reducing the redness and itchiness associated with the condition.
The Eucalyptus is native to Australasia and the oil is used medicinally for a wide variety of purposes. The oil has has proven anti-inflammatory and painkilling qualities. The oil contains a high concentration of cineole, an antiseptic agent that kills bacteria and is sometimes found in mouthwashes.
This is an excellent choice if you have a dry itchy scalp.
Rosemary is a beautiful scented herb that grows in abundance in many climates. Its has been used topically to treat dandruff and other ailments for centuries. The oil is high in antioxidants[18 which can heal dry skin as well as regulate the renewal of skin cells. In addition the oil also has an anti-inflammatory effect on swellings and the presences of camphor gives the oil antibacterial properties.
With this in mind, rosemary an excellent soothing remedy for dry skin.
Thyme is a herb rich in an ingredient called thymol. Thymol is an antiseptic ingredient that is used in hand sanitizers and mouthwashes. Thymol is also an antifungal agent that has been shown to be effective against toenail fungal infections, acne and eczema.
Neem is a tree found in the Indian subcontinent and has been literally thousands of years to treat a wide variety of skin conditions. The neem leaf has been shown to demonstrate immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycaemic, antiulcer, antimalarial, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties.
Lemongrass is a plant widespread in tropical/subtropical regions such as South East Asia, China, and Guatemala. It’s an incredibly popular food additive in many Asian cuisines and is also an ancient medicine for a wide variety of conditions. More recently it’s anti-fungal capabilities have been tested with extremely positive results. A 2% solution of lemongrass was shown to be a commercially viable treatment for seb derm. In addition the oil is an antioxidant and astringent which will help tighten the skin, reduce the size of our pores, regulate skin cell production and regulate the amount of oil the skin produces.
Sandalwood is a class of woods found in India, Nepal, Bangladesh,Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands. It’s oil has been used as a fragrance in religious festivals for centuries in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths. The oil is an antiseptic agent that also has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Although it’s an effective treatment in itself, it’s often combined with other essential oils for a fuller effect.
Carrier Oils are so named because they are typically used to dilute or carry an essential oil before application on the skin/scalp. In isolation, these carrier oils have properties that can be beneficial for different skin conditions including dandruff.
To apply a carrier oil in isolation
The coconut tree is grown throughout the tropics and has an almost religious mythology attached to it. It is celebrated internationally for an unbelievable number of reasons - isn't called "the tree of a thousand uses” in Malay for nothing. The "tree of life", as it is also known, has been used for centuries to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, dry skin, seb derm, eczema and acne. Modern science has found that the majority of clinical properties attributed to the oil are predominantly the result of the high fatty acid content; namely lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid. These acids have proven antifungal and antibacterial properties as well as providing effective moisturizer properties too.
Use only virgin unrefined coconut oil to treat dandruff. It’s actually solid at room temperature so will need warming slightly to use it in liquid form.
As well as being a vitamin rich moisturizer, Sesame Seed Oil also has clinically proven anti-fungal properties. It has been used for centuries to help heal wounds and fungal infections and is known as the Queen Of Oils no less! It can be used to help those of us who suffer from a dry scalp, psoriasis and/or seb derm.
Olive Oil is a classic natural treatment for skin conditions. It is a carrier oil for so many of the treatments listed on this very site but, in its own right, is an excellent means to treat a dry scalp. The reasons for this are many; its full of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin E and fatty acids that will moisturize and revitalise both your hair and scalp. It is often reported that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties too. While this is true, it is less effective than Coconut Oil as this study demonstrates.
Jojoba oil is extracted from the seeds of the Jojoba plant, a plant native to south western parts of the USA and north west Mexico. It’s actually not an oil at all, but a waxy substance similar in consistency to sebum. It actually helps dissolve excessive sebum so can help regulate over oily hair. Jojoba oil is also a moisturizer and anti-inflammatory agent.
Jojoba oil is an excellent carrier oil for some of the other remedies in this guide but is an good treatment in its own right, particularly for dry scalp sufferers.
Almond Oil is high in antioxidants, vitamins E, D, B1, B2, B6 and A, fat and protein content and contains many other nutrients. This high nutrition content will condition your hair and scalp while promoting healthy hair growth.
Avocado oil is known as a miracle fruit to ingest but not many know how rich it is for the hair and scalp. The oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and phtosterols which will help nourish and protect hair and skin. It is also a light oil which is easily absorbed into the scalp. It makes for an excellent carrier oil for other treatments and, unlike coconut oil, no heating is needed. Simply apply and it will be quickly absorbed.
Argan Oil, like Avocado Oil, is a light oil easily absorbed into the scalp. It is also rich in fatty acids, and contains almost twice as much vitamin E as olive oil. It is rich in saponins, which restore the skin’s water lipid layer so skin becomes instantly hydrated without clogging pores. You’ve likely heard about argan oil for revitalizing hair, but I bet you didn’t know that it can be used to strengthen brittle nails, dry scalp, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and more.
Use to treat
As you would probably imagine, there are a number of other oils which can help treat various forms of dandruff.
Dry skin is the number one cause of dandruff. If you suffer from dry skin then baby oil makes for a gentle cheap moisturizer.
Egg oil has been used for many centuries as a means for treating the hair and scalp. Jewish, Chinese, Latin and Arab cultures have all used egg oil in their traditional cosmetics. It has been and continues to be used to treat eczema, scabies, dandruff, ulcers, wounds and other injuries. The reason egg oil has been such a historically popular treatment is fundamentally because egg oil is rich in cholesterol. Cholesterol is an essential component in healthy skin and hair. Egg oil is particularly beneficial as it contains a similar lipid profile (essentially a cholesterol profile) as the human skin. Cholesterol with this profile is easily absorbed in the skin and hair. The high protein content will help keep your skin smooth and elastic too. Hence it is an effective natural treatment for dandruff caused by an over dry scalp. In addition, it also contains other fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 that help regulate cell regeneration which is of particular interest to scalp psorasis or seb derm sufferers.
Vitamin E Oil is rich in antioxidants. This is important as they can help heal dry skin as well as regulate skin cell regeneration. There have been many studies demonstrating the anti-inflammatory properties of Vitamin E on the skin. Vitamin E can also help wounds to heal quicker and there is some research suggesting that it may have moisturising properties too.
Lemons and limes are high in citric acid. This is true for almost all fruit and veg but it is most concentrated in lemon and lime juice (~8%). Citric acid is widely used as an anti-dandruff agent as it is an exfoliant that helps regulate the production of skin cells.
Seb derm and scalp psoriasis are both conditions that cause the scalp to produce too many skin cells. Hence lemon and lime juice are can be used as a natural remedy for both conditions. In addition the low ph of the juice makes it anti-bacterial too.
Yogurt is nutrient rich and a natural conditioner for a dry scalp. Lemon juice in isolation can dry the hair and scalp so they make a good combination.
Coconut oil has its own anti fungal properties as well as being a highly effective natural moisturizer and conditioner. Combined with the exfoliating antioxidant properties of lemon juice they make a potent anti-dandruff agent.
Did you know that herbs and plants have been used for medicinal purposes for at least 60,000 years? Even today the WHO estimates that 80% of the world uses herbs and plants as their primary health care.
It’s perhaps not surprising that there are now a number of clinically proven herbal dandruff treatments out there.
Fenugreek is known for its unique flavor as well as an oral medicine for an almost endless list of ailments. In the Arab world in particular it has been used and is still used to treat skin disorders. It does appear there is medical basis for these assertions as fenugreek has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties making it a potential treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. In addition the seed also contains Lecithin which will help moisturize and condition your hair and scalp making it a good candidate to help combat your dry itchy scalp.
Olive Oil is a great moisturizer in itself and is an excellent carrier oil for fenugreek seeds.
Yogurt helps regrowth of skin cells, helps regulate oil production in the sebaceous glands and is an anti-inflammatory agent which helps reduce red swellings and rashes.
In addition, yogurt is an an exfoliator which can help remove existing dandruff from your scalp.
Thyme is a herb known to all of us but did you know that it was an effective oral and topical medicine? Thyme contains thymol. Thymol is an antiseptic ingredient that is one of the main active ingredient in hand sanitizers and various mouthwashes including Listerine. Thymol is also an antifungal agent that has been shown to be effective against toenail fungal infections. One study by Leeds Metropolitan University even found that thyme may be more powerful than modern prescription drugs in treating acne. As if that wasn’t enough, thyme is also proven to be effective at controlling eczema. 66.5% of those treated with a thyme essential oil based fungal cream were completely healed of eczema symptoms, compared to 28.5% of those using a placebo.
Sage has long been used as a medicinal aid to treat a wide variety of ailments such as wounds, ulcers, sores and sore throats. Of particular interest for sufferers of both scalp psoriasis and seb derm are Sage’s astringent, anti inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. It is also a mild anti fungal agent which could help those of us with the mildest forms of seb derm - there are other more powerful natural anti fungal agents for more severe forms.
Neem is a tree native to the Indian subcontinent and has been used for over 2000 years as a medicine for a wide range of skin conditions. It has gained prominence in recent years due to it’s remarkably wide range of medicinal applications. The neem leaf and its constituents have been demonstrated to exhibit (deep breath) immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycaemic, antiulcer, antimalarial, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties. The anti-fungal properties in particular are of interest to seb derm sufferers. In the Indian subcontinent it is also used to treat scalp psoriasis.
Witch Hazel is a plant that grows in China, Japan and North America and has been used medicinally for centuries. The extract of Witch Hazel used commonly today is an astringent, meaning it shrinks the body tissues it comes into contact with. This is why we use it on wounds - it will help control the bruising and swelling. Its also extremely high in antioxidants which help repair and prevent damage to skin cells. For these reasons it’s a relatively popular home remedy for dandruff caused by seb derm and psoriasis. As well as this, it’s also an effective moisturizer, locking in moisture on the scalp, while relieving the itching caused by a dry scalp. Clinical studies have also shown that it has antimicrobial properties.
Dr Jaliman advocates its use in dandruff control,
Witch hazel comes from the leaves and bark of Hamamelis virginiana shrub. It is native to North America. It’s a natural astringent and can help reduce inflammation and decrease oil and redness. In addition, witch hazel contains tannins. The antimicrobial properties of tannins fight against bacterial infections.
Witch hazel is a great way to remove excess skin and oil from your scalp before shampooing. It helps inhibit bacteria growth while reducing oil and inflammation.
No wonder it’s called “nature’s power plant.”
Aloe Vera is a known conditioner for hair but it will also help moisturize your scalp. It also has very mild antifungal properties so it may help alleviate very mild outbreaks of Seborrheic Dermatitis. If you can’t find an aloe vera plant (I couldn’t!) try using a natural bottled product
A small study proved the effectiveness of Solanum Chrysotrichum, a mexican herb, in combatting seb derm. Unfortunately we can’t find anywhere that stocks the herb...
Apple Cider Vinegar is a one of the most popular natural cures for dandruff. One of the reasons for this is the high content of malic acid in the vinegar. Malic Acid is commonly found in anti-aging creams as it will naturally exfoliate dead skin cells. Meaning it’ll help get rid of existing dandruff from the scalp while helping to regulate skin regeneration. In addition it has anti-fungal properties that can help control future breakouts. Some find that it can naturally condition your hair as it will help close the cuticles in your hair follicles.
Apple Cider Vinegar is perhaps the most famous natural remedy for dandruff, primarily because it is an anti-fungal agent.
Dr Jaliman is a fan,
Apple cider vinegar is great for dandruff. It’s an alpha hydroxy acid so it helps to exfoliate the skin. It also has a pH similar to our skin’s pH. Having a pH similar to our skin’s pH helps to maintain a good pH balance and helps prevent dandruff and hair loss. It also has anti-bacterial and antifungal properties which can help dandruff.
A healthy scalp is key to keeping hair healthy and preventing hair loss. ACV will help keep your scalp healthy by warding off bacteria and keeping a balanced pH level.
Baking Soda is natural cleanser and exfoliator and is a good compliment to the conditioning anti fungal apple cider vinegar as a means to control dandruff. These two ingredients form an integral part of the entire no poo method with some exceptional results.
The research exists. The demand is tangible. It’s time for you to take the reins and try these treatments for yourselves. Some will doubtless work better than others. But that’s fine - we know only too well that medicated shampoos hardly come with a 100% guarantee. One size does not fit all. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that consumer habits are changing and natural treatments are here and they are here to stay.
We’re witnessing an entire movement here. All that’s missing is you.
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