How do I treat dandruff?


Dandruff -

 Involving an impairment of the scalp microbiome with the resultant imbalance of bacteria and overgrowth of the fungus Malassezia, 1,2  dandruff results in a flaky, often itchy scalp which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Dandruff affects up to 50% of the population and is slightly commoner in males than females.


Do I have dandruff or dry skin?

While they can both look the same with dry itchy flakes, the cause is quite different. Dry skin can result from dehydration, harsh hair products stripping your hair and scalp of its natural oils or a natural propensity to dry skin. Dandruff however is a type of skin condition linked with seborrheic dermatitis which is unrelated to dry skin. Unlike seborrheic dermatitis however dandruff  does not affect any particular age or ethnicity3.


 Why do I have dandruff?

For the majority of adults there is no obvious underlying cause for their dandruff, but we do know that some people with certain conditions are more prone to dandruff, these include, lowered immunity, poor epidermal barrier, genetic predisposition, stress, neurological conditions (such as Parkinson's disease), poor nutrition, some hair products.


What can I do to help reduce / treat my dandruff and prevent it coming in the first place.

Below are some simple tips and (hopefully) easy lifestyle choices that you can make.


Wash your hair.

Wash your hair enough to keep it clean and keep the sebum under control –the Malassezia fungus uses the sebum as a food source. Choose a gentle shampoo which is pH balanced as well as sulphate and silicone free. If you suffer from allergies, choose an allergen free shampoo. This doesn’t mean that you need to wash your hair every day, indeed there is some evidence that over washing your hair can predispose you to dandruff.


Exercise regularly.

 This helps strengthen your immune system, improve blood circulation to the scalp which in turn feeds the scalp with vital nutrients. Sweating from exercise helps control the scalp sebum.

Exercise also helps reduce overall stress levels – making it harder for the dandruff to take hold.


Eat Well. 

 Can I ‘eat my way out of dandruff?’.  A 2019 study showed that eating lots of fruit helped reduce dandruff and that a Western diet aggravates dandruff (but in women only)4.

Diets rich in zinc and omega 3 are also quoted as helping treat dandruff. I searched and could not find the journal articles backing this up, but the theory works as zinc regulates the levels of androgens in the body which is linked with sebum production, while omega -3 is an anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid which theoretically can again help control sebum production. So, a well-balanced diet high in fruit, vege walnuts, oily fish and chia seeds will optimise your scalp conditions.

What about sugar? - I have searched the medical journals and can’t find one piece of research directly linking sugar with dandruff apart from the piece already motioned above which did link a western diet with a higher incidence of dandruff in women. The article described a Western diet as one high in meat and processed foods, the latter of which I think is reasonable to assume has a higher sugar content.


Be gentle.

A gentle massage of the scalp helps improve circulation so increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the scalp. Avoid harsh and excessive brushing or rubbing of the scalp as that can aggravate already damaged skin. If you want to wear hats or scarfs, choose natural materials which allow the scalp to breath – likewise when drying your hair after a wash wrap your hair up in an old cotton T-shirt to absorb the moisture and minimise direct rubbing on the scalp.


Home Remedies.

A quick google will show you many home remedies claiming to help cure dandruff. I have divided them into the ones where I could find either a journal article proving that they help (or supporting circumstantial evidence) and those where I can find nothing to support its use.


Shown to help:

Tea Tree Oil. 

Tea tree oil containing natural antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties has been proven to help dandruff in a study by Stachell et al 5 in 2003. To use dilute 2-3 drops of essential oil into a carrier oil before applying to the scalp then shampooing off as usual.

Apple Cider Vinegar. 

Although there is no clear research showing that apple cider vinegar helps or cures dandruff, in 2003 it was demonstrated that ACV has antifungal properties and so in theory could help reduce or control the excess Malessezia fungus found in dandruff.6

Mix equal parts ACV with water before applying the mixture to your scalp as a rinse. Leave for 1-2 minutes then rinse off. You can repeat this up to twice a week.

Aloe Vera. 

Aloe vera is well known as a soothing anti-inflammatory substance.  Microscopic analysis of a scalp with dandruff shows mild inflammation accompanied by a build-up of Massazelia so in theory the aloe vera can help soothe the inflamed scalp – however I was unable to find any clear trial proving that aloe vera works.

To use - generously rub it into your scalp before you wash your hair.


 Coconut oil.

No research has been done proving that coconut oil will help dandruff, but there is circumstantial evidence showing that coconut oil did help reduce the bacterial infection often found with atopic dermatitis. 6 It has also been shown to have antifungal activity 7,8 Against that – it is highly comedogenic – so if you do decide to use it – then I would advise you use coconut oil infrequently and make sure you rinse it out thoroughly. 


Use with Caution: 

 Olive oil 

here I can’t find evidence either way, there are however some lines of thought that olive oil may worsen dandruff. The Malassezia fungus that predominates in dandruff has been shown to live off unsaturated and saturated fatty acids –exactly what is in olive oil, indeed when growing fungus in a lab olive oil is often used as a growth medium. Olive oil is also comedogenic – so while I do recommend popping some on your salad, I would advise you to use with caution if you plan to put it on your scalp9.


Baking powder 

This might help with dandruff but is very alkaline (pH. about 9) and will dry your hair and strip it of oil, this will eventually damage your hair, so I am putting this in the ‘use with caution group’.  


If having tried all the dandruff self-help home remedies along with the lifestyle choices, you still have dandruff – what then?  

Traditional dandruff shampoos usually contain treatments of zinc pyrithione, clotrimazole, or piroctone olamine – designed to reduce the fungus Malassezia but not specifically targeting the scalp microbiome. Science has moved on however, with a new emphasis on scalp microbiome health.  


At An’du we have developed an innovative shampoo containing a fermented cleanser called Sophorolipid which contain postbiotics as well as a clinically proven plant based additive propanediol caprylate.  

Our sophorolipids, made via fermentation are known to have a natural compatibility with the skin, improve barrier function, inhibit growth of pathogens, provide nutrients, protect, and moisturize the skin so improving the health of the scalp’s microbiome.10,11,12,13,14,

Supporting the scalp in naturally rebalancing its own microbiome.

In addition to containing postbiotics, sophorolipids have proven to be the mildest of surfactants by a considerable margin. 15


Propanediol Caprylate

This plant-based additive, structurally similar to triglycerides found in scalp sebum, has been clinically proven to reduce the yeast Malassezia, have a positive effect on the skin microbiome, rebalance Cutibacterium and Staphylococcus as well as reducing sebum production which is the ‘food’ that fuels the yeast Malassezia.17


Zero allergens

We know for a lot of people allergens can have a big impact on scalp health and so we are very proud that our Flake Away Bar has zero allergens. It also has a score of 100/100 (excellent) on the Yuka health16and beauty app.


In addition to our incredibly green sophorolipids we are also 100% plastic free, pH balanced, sulphate, paraben, phthalate, silicone and petrochemical free.


We have Cruelty Free International certification (leaping bunny)18.


In summary, An’du Flake Away bar has brought dandruff treatment into the 21st century.


By combining modern research on the scalp microbiome, we have added innovative postbiotic containing sophorolipids as well as clinically proven propanediol caprylate.

 We feel that we are at the cutting edge of dandruff treatment, truly caring for scalp health.


The condition might be flaky, but our treatment isn’t. (Sorry – couldn’t resist that one).


I have tried hard to make this blog as evidenced based as I can* so as not to spread more misinformation. If you have any more evidence from good quality sources that can back up my blog or dispute it please e mail them to me on and I will be very happy to change the blog accordingly. Thankyou.

* See references below.

  1. Sanders Jidonline 2019 Association between diet and seborrheic dermatitis.
  1. J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;47:852-5.) (tea tree research)
  1. Kang 2003, Microbiological Research, volume 158, Issue 4, pages 321-326 ( ACV research)
  1. (coconut vs olive oil) 


10. Lydon HL, et al. Adjuvant antibiotic activity of acidic sophorolipids with potential for facilitating wound healing. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2017;61(5): e02547-16

11. Lang S, et al. antimicrobial effects of biosurfactants. Fat Sci Technol 1989;91(9):363–366.

12. Ashby RD, et al. Biopolymer scaffolds for use in delivering antimicrobial sophorolipids to the acne-causing bacterium Propionibacterium acnes. N Biotechnol 2011;28(1):24–30.

13. Díaz De Rienzo MA, et al. Sophorolipid biosurfactants: Possible uses as antibacterial and antibiofilm agent. N Biotechnol 2015;32(6):720–726

14. Kapjung K, et al. Characteristics of sophorolipid as an antimicrobial agent. J Microbiol Biotechnol 2002;12(2)235–24

  1. F. Genrich, C. Koch, M. Massironi and F. Thomaz (2021) Shifting the Microbiome, Sebum Levels and Classic Approach to Dandruff, Cosmetics and Toiletries 136 (6)







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