How to decode and deal with dandruff (the way a dermatologist would want you to)

Scalp school is in session

Editor / September 27 2023

Dandruff is a common concern for a lot of people. And yet despite the fact that a ton of us deal with it, there’s a limited amount of information out there on how to deal with it in a way that’s actually tailored to you.

Dandruff occurs somewhere in the midst of the complex relationship between skin and hair, and it can seem near impossible to figure out a solution that keeps flaking skin at bay without sacrificing the health of your hair.

The solution? Science-backed hair products with a ‘dermatologist-approved’ stamp. And furthermore, formulas that cater to different types of hair, rather than just ‘any human dealing with dandruff’.

A product and/or routine that works a treat for those with oily hair dealing with dandruff may not be the best course of action for someone with dry hair. And we think it’s about time the dandruff care department got a little more nuanced!

So in the name of building out your personal dandruff plan, and addressing it the way a dermatologist would want you to, we turned to the trusty Dr. Samantha Eisman for all the answers. Here’s BEAUTYcrew’s guide to decoding and dealing with dandruff…

Step 1: Assess the symptoms

The first step in your journey? Assessing what you’re working with (and if it is in fact, dandruff). “Dandruff presents with dry white-grey flaking skin on the scalp and can be itchy,” Dr. Eisman explains. “Shedding of scale is not contagious, but can be socially embarrassing and inconvenient especially when wearing dark clothes.” Amen. Ever experienced a flurry of flakes while in a meeting/at a lunch/wearing anything but white? A tad on the ‘humiliating’ side.

Winter can worsen the condition, but the sun isn’t a friend to it, either. Long story short, no season is completely flake-free. “The severity of dandruff can fluctuate with the seasons and is generally worse in dry winters with lower humidity, but excessive sunlight can [also] worsen dandruff,” Dr. Eisman clarifies.

Step 2: Understand the issue

Let’s get one thing out of the way early: having dandruff doesn’t mean you’re ‘dirty’, we promise you. “Contrary to belief, dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene,” Dr. Eisman confirms, though she does note that it “is more obvious with infrequent hair washing” as excess buildup only makes things worse.

“The cause of dandruff is not entirely known but many believe that dysregulation of the scalp microbiome is an integral contributor,” Dr. Eisman explains. “It has been shown that an overgrowth in a naturally occurring yeast called Malassezia is present, and the metabolites of this yeast cause itchiness and flaking. Problems with the skin’s natural barrier, which may be genetically predetermined, may cause the skin to become dry and can contribute to dandruff. Insufficient hair brushing may also contribute as brushing regularly can decrease the scale build up.”

Okay, so now we know some potential causes, is there a quick cure?! “Unfortunately, there is no cure for dandruff but the condition can be controlled when adopting the correct measures,” Dr. Eisman shares. “Maintenance measures will likely be required indefinitely,” she adds, as dandruff is generally an ongoing issue that your scalp and hair care routine has to keep up with. But fear not, there are options that can help right around the corner.

Step 3: Build your hair and scalp’s bespoke routine

“Regular washing with an anti-dandruff or medicated shampoo may be all that is required to relieve the itch and decrease the scale,” Dr. Eisman confirms. An anti-dandruff brand that she believes in as a dermatologist? DERCOS.

While hair health is still at the root of this range (in fact, the two standout shampoo formulas were literally created to cater to different hair types’ needs), it’s the dermatologist-approved stamp that means the most when dealing with dandruff care. And boy, does DERCOS have it. In fact, Dr. Eisman confirms that “a study conducted among the dermocosmetic market between January and May 2022 involving dermatologists in 32 countries, found that DERCOS is recommended by 50,000 dermatologists worldwide”. Um, wow, that says a lot.

You can chalk the dermatologist-approved status up to the lengthy research conducted to ensure incredible results. “DERCOS has more than five years of scalp research and experience behind the brand, allowing them to create products that feature a unique dermatological formula that is highly efficacious and dermatologically-developed, with scientifically-proven results,” Dr. Eisman explains. As for those results, “DERCOS has been designed to provide a solution to dandruff that rebalances the scalp microbiome after just four weeks of use, [with] 100 per cent of visible dandruff eliminated after the first use,” Dr. Eisman notes.

How does it work this anti-dandruff wizardry, you may be wondering? “DERCOS has a unique formula of concentrated dermatological actives,” Dr. Eisman tells us. Let’s get science- y for a sec, shall we? The formula features “1 per cent selenium disulphide [which] works to help maintain the scalp microbiome and rebalance sebum composition” as well as “1 per cent salicylic acid, known for its exfoliating properties to help remove dandruff flakes on the scalp”. That’s not all, though; Vitamin E (an antioxidant) is the soothing star of the blend, backed up by ceramide R to “support the scalp moisture barrier and protect the hair fibres.”

That’s the secret: the synergy between scalp and hair health baked into the formula. Though the cause of dandruff usually lies in the scalp’s health rather than the hair’s condition, the way you should go about treating it does depend on what your hair can deal with. “DERCOS Anti-Dandruff DS Shampoo products provide one for normal to oily hair and one for dry hair which helps ensure correct shampoo choice is made for hair type,” Dr. Eisman elaborates. “This can therefore keep the hair soft, shiny and comb-able which can be problematic [and difficult to achieve] with conventional anti-dandruff shampoos.”

Yes, securing ‘comb-able’ and ‘flake-free’ hair all at once just became possible, and Dr. Eisman has some suggestions to help you get there. Ready to find the routine that’ll work for you? Let’s go…

A derm-approved dandruff routine if you have…dry hair

There are a few things dry hair types need to keep top of mind to keep hair healthy while also dealing with dandruff. “Wash with anti-dandruff shampoo two to three times per week, or [even once] weekly if hair is very dry,” Dr. Eisman advises. “If dealing with dryness, anti-dandruff shampoo can be alternated with existing shampoo, and you can use existing conditioners post-dandruff shampoo.” Your perfect fit? The DERCOS Anti-Dandruff DS Shampoo for Dry Hair ($26.99 at Chemist Warehouse).

You’ll want to go easy on heavier haircare products, too, at least around the scalp area. Your hydrating favourites are still fair game (we know you need them), but it’s best to limit the amount and placement of your applications. “Avoid regular deep conditioning as it will worsen the greasiness of the scalp,” says Dr. Eisman. “[For this reason, stick to] maximum once weekly and don’t apply directly to the scalp.”

Try swapping in lighter hydrators for more frequent use. “Anti- dandruff shampoos can make hair more difficult to comb, so a light leave-in conditioner may be needed, [but again], don’t apply directly to the scalp.”

A derm-approved dandruff routine if you have…normal/oily hair

Those with an oily hair type have a bit more freedom when it comes to dandruff care, as their hair can afford to go through a clarifying cleanse more often.

“[If your hair is oily, you] can wash daily,” Dr. Eisman confirms, explaining that oilier hair can “tolerate most substances used in anti-dandruff shampoo.” In fact, your hair can even “benefit from the high cleansing properties/surfactants/detergents in [these scalp-refreshing formulas].”

Lucky you; you can lather up as often as your hair demands. Your top formula to try? The DERCOS Anti-Dandruff DS Shampoo for Normal to Oily ($26.99 at Chemist Warehouse).

Main image credit: Getty Images

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Delaney began her career in the Australian beauty media industry in 2015, landing amidst the glossy world of women’s lifestyle magazines (or more literally, in their beauty cupboards). Since then, she has gone on to write across a multitude of beloved Australian media brands, including OK!, NW, InStyle, and Harper’s BAZAAR. She’s covered every side of beauty content, from directing beauty editorial shoots to rounding up the best glossy serums for golden hour skin. Having spent nearly a decade immersed in the beauty realm, Delaney’s knowledge of beauty is as extensive as her collection of tinted lip oils (read: extremely extensive). Delaney is currently the Digital Managing Editor of BEAUTYcrew, and her beauty wisdom also appears across beautyheaven, ELLE and Marie Claire. She enjoys channelling her personal hobby (testing beauty products) into her professional work (talking about testing beauty products), and considers perfecting the art of a cat eye in a moving car her life’s greatest accomplishment.