Dry winter scalp? You aren’t alone — here’s how I fight dandruff

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OK, I totally get it: Talking about scalp health isn’t the sexiest topic. But with temperatures dipping and scalps drying out, it’s a worthy beauty topic to discuss.

Dandruff is one of the primary scalp concerns during this season. A mix of cold air, stress, styling products and even hormonal changes can cause an uptick in those flakes we all hate. But it isn’t hopeless.

To help you deal, I caught up with noted board-certified NYC-based dermatologist and medical director of Ingleton Dermatology, Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, to talk all things dandruff — and what we can actually do about it. 

Okay, what’s the deal with dandruff?

“Dandruff is a common scalp condition that causes dry flakes to form on the scalp,” explains Dr. Ingleton. “If you are wearing dark clothes or if your hair is dark, the white flakes can be very noticeable on the hair and on the shoulders of clothes.”

Dandruff is most common when the scalp is not being cleansed with shampoo often enough. “It is necessary to cleanse the scalp at least once per week to avoid the buildup of the dry scaly cells on the scalp,” Dr. Ingleton says.

“I often recommend Head & Shoulders, Nizoral-AD, Neutrogena T-Sal or L’Oreal Ever Fresh Anti-Dandruff Shampoo,” she adds. “All of these contain ingredients that effectively rid the scalp of the flakes that cause dandruff.”

Not all scalp issues are the same

Before you consult with Dr. Google, consider this: On many occasions, the condition that is commonly referred to as “dandruff” is actually a medical condition called Seborrheic Dermatitis (or Seborrhea). And using the wrong products can actually exacerbate the issue instead of making it better. 

“If over-the-counter dandruff shampoos don’t provide adequate control of the flaking or itching on the scalp, you might be dealing with Seborrheic Dermatitis, which might require medical treatment by a dermatologist,” Dr. Ingleton explains. “Psoriasis is another scalp condition that causes flaking on the scalp, and might require examination by a dermatologist for the correct diagnosis and treatment.”

The bottom line?

The most important thing is to clean the scalp at least once per week to keep your scalp cleansed. “People with chemically-straightened or naturally curly hair might feel challenged to wash their hair and scalp once per week, but it is still necessary to do so,” Dr. Ingleton says. 

“Select a shampoo designed for chemically-treated hair or curly hair, as these products are designed to cleanse without leaving the hair feeling overly dry,” she adds. “And always follow-up after shampooing with the use of a conditioner to soften the feel of the hair.”

Pro tip: “Look for ingredients like pyrithione zinc, coal tar, salicylic acid or ketoconazole to help minimize dryness and flakes,” Dr. Ingleton says.

My product recommendations

Shop: Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, $14.84

Credit: Amazon

ICYMI, this anti-dandruff shampoo has over 25,000 positive reviews on Amazon. The clinical formula kills dandruff-causing bacteria and, yep, it’s totally affordable at only $15 or less. 

Shop: Briogeo Scalp Revival Scrub, $42

Credit: Sephora

As someone who struggles with dandruff occasionally, this scalp scrub is my absolute fave. You really slough off dead skin cells with the charcoal bits (super satisfying), and your scalp gets a minty, cooling feel from the peppermint and tea tree oil. 

Shop: Leonor Greyl Massaging Scalp Brush, $28

Credit: Leonor Greyl

I’m obsessed with this scalp massager that I use during or before I shampoo my hair. Not only does it feel great on my head, but it also loosens and rubs away any dandruff buildup on my scalp ASAP. 

Shop: Living Proof Dry Scalp Treatment, $32

Credit: Sephora

This treatment is meant to hydrate your dry scalp skin. In it, you’ll find ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin B3 to retain moisture and balance out your scalp’s microbiome. 

Shop: Amika Reset Charcoal Cleansing Oil, $25

Credit: Sephora

Use this cleansing treatment before your shampoo. It’ll exfoliate away any flakes, dirt and buildup sitting on your scalp’s surface, giving a smooth, clean feel to your dry head. 

Shop: Playa California Salt Scalp Scrub, $38

Credit: Sephora

This sea salt-based scrub will slough away any dead skin cells, and is great for all hair types. Plus, it’ll alleviate dryness and soothe your scalp, as it contains tea tree oil and glycerin. 

Shop: Briogeo Scalp Revival Tea Tree Serum, $32

Credit: Sephora

Again with the minty feels, this treatment serum is kind of like an itchy scalp’s dream. With a soothing peppermint and tea tree oil blend, you’ll feel like you’re putting cooling ice cubes on all your problem areas. 

Shop: Virtue Labs Scalp Treatment Kit , $90

Credit: Dermstore

This three-in-one kit is the perfect solution to get your scalp (and hair) back on track while you sleep. I love how skin care-focused this product assortment is — think, a topical, lightweight nightly serum followed by a creamy exfoliating treatment. Plus, who doesn’t love a scalp massager tool?!

Shop: OUAI Scalp & Body Scrub, $38

Credit: Sephora

A foaming treatment that works for both your scalp and body, this pre-shampoo scrub unclogs pores, removes product buildup and soothes your dry scalp. With ingredients like coconut oil and sugar crystals, this scrub is the exfoliating-meets-hydrating duo your wash day needs.  

Shop: Biolage Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, $30

Credit: Amazon

Got lots of visible flakes? Biolage’s anti-dandruff shampoo will reduce the appearance of dandruff on your scalp while also relieving bothersome itchy and dryness.

If you enjoyed this story, check out Janell Hickman’s rundown of color-despositing shampoos.

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