Do Anti-Dandruff Shampoos Really Work?
These are the kinds of flakes that no one wants. It’s only logical to turn to anti-dandruff shampoo whenever we see dandruff. There are plenty of anti-dandruff shampoos out there. And who can forget ads by Pantene or Head & Shoulders during primetime TV slots? Popular as they are, but do anti-dandruff shampoos really work?
Table of Contents
First Thing’s First. What is Dandruff?
Simply put, dandruff is the condition where the skin on your scalp flakes. There is a myriad of factors that causes dandruff. It could be one or a combination of the following causes:
- Dry skin
- Irritated, oily skin
- Sensitivity to hair care products (contact dermatitis)
- Other skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema
Other risk factors can make one more susceptible to dandruff too. Most of the time, age plays a big part. Dandruff often occurs during young adulthood and continues through middle age. That said, older adults do get dandruff too. For some, it can even be a lifelong condition.
On the more severe spectrum of the condition, dandruff could be caused by seborrheic dermatitis: a chronic inflammatory skin condition that could be partially caused by yeast and hormone changes.
The yeast—called Malassezia furfur—naturally exists on the scalp. For most of us, the fungus is harmless and consumes the oil on the skin. But if it overgrows, it can cause an inflammatory response, leading to a buildup of skin cells that then flake off.
Do Anti-Dandruff Shampoos Work?
Yes, but only with the right ingredients. Like any hair care product, the active ingredients do the brunt work. Most of the time, they target the condition of excess yeast on your scalp. And different ingredients go about it in different ways.
One of the most effective active ingredients so far is Pyrithione zinc. It’s inexpensive, easy to produce, and most scalps can tolerate this ingredient. The ingredient targets the yeast that we mentioned, the Malassezia yeast. Pyrithione zinc has the most evidence supporting its effectiveness too. That’s why it’s popular in medicated anti-dandruff shampoos.
Other active ingredients are commonly used too:
Ketoconazole: This antifungal treatment also targets excessive yeast. It prevents further symptoms of dandruff by slowing the growth of yeast. Ketoconazole has another benefit: it can contribute to hair regrowth too. You can find ketoconazole over the counter or in prescription strength.
Selenium sulfide: Don’t worry. While it might be a product derived from sulphur, this ingredient has none of the rotten-egg smell associated with sulphur. This ingredient breaks down excessive flakes on your scalp and can also provide anti-inflammatory effects that decrease itching on the scalp. While you can find it over the counter or in the prescription form, do talk to your doctor before you get it. A product containing selenium sulfide might cause dryness or burns on your scalp.
Salicylic acid: While you might associate salicylic acid with skincare serums, you can find it in anti-dandruff shampoos too. Salicylic acid removes the buildup of dead skin caused by excess yeast. It’s unlike pyrithione zinc, where it targets the yeast itself. While salicylic acid can promote healthier skin sloughing, it could cause irritation and dry skin if it’s used too often.
Coal tar: This 100-year-old ingredient actually has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Coal tar slows down the rate at which your scalp skin cells die and flake off.
But this isn’t the most elegant of ingredients. It discolours hair with lighter colours and increases your scalp’s sensitivity to sunlight. In some cases, it could cause rashes too. But if you still want to try using coal tar to combat your dandruff woes, talk to your doctor beforehand.
Treating Dandruff: Prevention is Better Than Cure
Most of us would think that anti-dandruff shampoo has a direct effect on the yeast on your scalp, that the effect will wane if you stop using it. But experts say it’s actually about controlling the condition rather than curing it. The key to keeping your dandruff woes in check is to prevent the buildup of yeast. So wash your hair regularly, and you’ll be good to go.
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