To Beat Dandruff, First You Have to Beat Yeast

Is it snowing in here, or is that just my scalp?

To Beat Dandruff, First You Have to Beat Yeast

Here’s a sticky—or should I say, flaky—situation: Your scalp is incredibly itchy, but scratching will undoubtedly prompt a downpour of dandruff. The itch grows stronger, but so does your desire to maintain the integrity of your unfortunately-chosen black T-shirt.

You’re in a dandruff-induced purgatory. But don’t be afraid: There’s a way out.

While dandruff can sometimes be attributed to dry skin from overwashing, dermatologist Rajani Katta says that’s not typically the issue. “For many people who experience dandruff, shampooing more frequently is better,” she says. That’s because dandruff is more often the result of a skin irritation like seborrheic dermatitis or a type of yeast known as Malassezia. Though Malassezia is found on pretty much everyone’s head, it’s unclear why some people end up with too much of it (which results in dandruff). “As skin becomes inflamed due to the yeast overgrowth, itching may occur and prompt scratching, which in itself produces more inflammation,” explains dermatologist Robert Brodell.

As such, most cases of dandruff can be addressed by specially formulated over-the-counter shampoos, which work in a couple of ways: Those with antifungal agents reduce the amount of irritating yeast on the scalp, while those with tar, salicylic acid, or selenium sulfide reduce the amount of skin that your scalp sheds. “I recommend  lathering up with the dandruff shampoo, then leaving it on for at least five or 10 minutes before rinsing,” Katta explains. “Depending on the severity of your case, you may be able to alternate a dandruff shampoo with your regular shampoo.”

If over-the-counter treatments prove ineffective, your best bet is to visit a dermatologist. But until then, expect to make it rain whenever you scratch that itch—and prepare your all-white wardrobe accordingly.