The best cure for dandruff is...?

Monday, August 7, 2006
Did you know 15 to 20 percent of Aussies are plagued by those little white flakes that show up so well on dark clothes — but what causes dandruff and once you've got it can it be cured?

Checked out your own shoulders yet? Bet you do, because those little white flakes are something even your best friend won't tell you about. For some reason, we think dandruff, means dirty.

Turns out, dandruff's not a hygiene issue.

"What dandruff is, it's your own body's reaction to yeast that's normally present in the scalp. It's not infectious and it's not contagious," says dermatologist, Dr Natasha Cook.

There are different types of dandruff, but the most common happens because nearly all us have yeast fungus living on our skin — sorry, we do. Some people are sensitive to that yeast, and it irritates their skin, which tries to get rid of the fungus by flaking, then hey presto, dandruff.

It happens on the head because that yeast likes the oil-secreting glands around hair follicles and according to Dr Cook, some things make it worse.

"Stress, when you're physically rundown and ill and also when your immune system's had enough," she says.

So those are the causes — now what we need is a cure.

Since dandruff's been around forever, there are a stack of good old home remedies to try out: lime juice, aloe vera gel, tea tree oil — it's all a bit hair raising.

We've enlisted the help of a couple of volunteers in order to run an experiment — they've agreed to put to the test two favourite and old-fashioned dandruff cures.

They're beauties, both of them: apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Mums have tortured kids with these for years, but do they work?

Our first volunteer is Natalie Hanna, who's struggled with dandruff for 10 years.

Why does dandruff worry Natalie so much?

"The flaking is quite unsightly, especially on darker clothes and the itching gets quite annoying," says Natalie.

Natalie's going to test out the apple cider vinegar, it's supposed to act as a fungicide and also rinse away flakes. Sounds fair, so we've asked Natalie to rinse her hair in it every day for two weeks.

She's getting of lightly, but don't tell our other volunteer…

Volunteer number two, Peter, has suffered from dandruff since he was in his early 20s.

He gets the olive oil cure. All he needs to do is put a couple of drops in his hair and massage it in, then put on a shower cap every night for two weeks.

The idea is the oil lifts and dissolves the skin flakes.

After two weeks of trial, have these cures led to a lifetime of freedom from flakes?

Natalie's been rinsing her hair in apple cider vinegar while Peter's scared the neighbours with a nightly dose of olive oil and a shower cap.

Has it been worth it? Dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook will be the judge.

Natalie still seems to have quite a lot of scaling going on — so much for the vinegar.

What about Peter? He too hasn't seen much improvement at all and is still really flaky.

So what's Dr Cook's verdict?

"I can confidently say that olive oil's not going to cure your dandruff and likewise apple cider vinegar is not going to cure your dandruff."

So what is going to cure their dandruff?

"Well, fortunately for this pair, I have a remedy — medicated shampoos that have ingredients that are anti-yeast substances — reducing the yeast in the scalp and also acting as an anti-inflammatory, and so they're treating the cause of the dandruff and as a result patients get better," says Dr Cook.

Well there you go, to treat your dandruff, forget the old folk remedies. Instead, splash out on a modern medicated shampoo. There are a bunch of brands, so keep trying until you find one that works for you.

But if nothing works, it's possible you don't have common dandruff, it might be another condition like eczema or psoriasis.

"People with psoriasis tend to have thicker scale on the scalp and they'll also have involvement on other parts of their body, classically their elbows and knees and the main reason to differentiate between all these conditions is so you get the right treatment because the treatments do vary and they change," says Dr Cook.

Find the right treatment, and soon enough, you'll be footloose and flake free.

So shampoo ended up being the best way to control dandruff after all … and it's a lot less messy than vinegar or oil. But remember, there are lots of different types of dandruff and we only looked at one for our story, so if you're having a hard time getting on top of your dandruff, go and see a dermatologist and get an expert's opinion.

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