Ugh, dandruff. If you’re the victim of a flaky scalp, you know that struggle is real. While flakes of any sort can arise, it's actually an excess of oil that causes true dandruff. A yeast called malassezia lives on the scalp and feeds off of the oil produced, creating yellow-ish flakes that are hard to stop. Flakes from product buildup and a dry scalp, while difficult to nix, actually aren't the same thing. The more you know!
The most common thing to do if you’re in any kind of flake predicament is swing by your local drugstore and pick up a bottle of dandruff shampoo, which tend to contain the active ingredients known as selenium sulfide or zinc pyrithone. However, if dandruff shampoos aren't for you, or you want to go a more natural route, essential oils could be worth a try. They’re said to help with a long-list of ailments including dandruff, PMS, headaches, and low energy.
However, it's very important to note that essential oils should always be diluted into another substance, as they can cause irritation if applied directly to skin (or scalp, for that matter). In general, it's always smart to consult with your dermatologist before starting a regimen with them, because the scalp is a sensitive area to treat and you want to make sure EOs are the best option for you.
Next up: “Choose a therapeutic grade oil,” says Rochelle Ludovisi, essential oil educator. “Many that say 'natural' still have fillers and synthetics added in.” Here, we asked a few experts to share their top essential oil recommendations for getting rid of dandruff.
Essential oils to help with dandruff
Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is one of the most commonly recommended essential oils for dandruff and with good reason. “It is a powerful antibacterial and antifungal that both nixes and wards off any foreign invaders attacking your scalp,” says Mariza Snyder, DC, a functional practitioner and author of The Essential Oils Hormone Solution.
Diane Brown, essential oil expert at Spa Pechanga, recommends starting with one drop of tea tree oil mixed with four ounces of olive oil (or another carrier oil such as caster or coconut). You can warm up the carrier oil a bit over a double broiler before you add in the tea tree oil.
The heating up isn’t essential, Brown says, but it will help the oil spread more effectively. Next, massage the oils onto your scalp and cover your head with a shower cap. Leave it in for 30 minutes then shampoo as usual. Once your scalp gets used to the essential oil, you can work your way up to a one-to-one ratio.
The frequency of use depends on your hair. “You may need to apply it every few days or even once a week to avoid oil build up,” Brown says. “With thin hair, less is more. With curly hair, you can try it every day at the beginning.” It's worth noting that Paul Mitchell Systems has an entire tea tree range that has been formulated by cosmetic chemists to help you get the scalp benefits in your everyday routine.
Frankincense: If you're not dealing with dandruff, but instead a dry scalp, this EO might be your ticket. “Applying frankincense regularly will regulate the scalp’s moisture,” says Brown. She recommends applying frankincense oil post hair wash so your scalp is squeaky clean, which will help the oils absorb into your skin. Start with one drop of frankincense to four ounces of castor oil and then adjust, depending on your needs. Put on a shower cap for 15 minutes and shampoo again. Repeat as often as needed to keep the flakes under control.
Geranium: Another key ingredient if you're looking to clean a dry scalp, rather than dandruff, geranium is a nice addition to your shampoo game. "Geranium will help the health of your scalp and protect your hair shaft’s equilibrium, strengthening and healing damaged hair from root to tip,” Snyder says.
Peppermint: “Peppermint oil has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, Ludovisi says. "It soothes an itchy scalp and helps to absorb excess oils on the scalp.” You'll find it in sophisticated formulas, like Malin and Goetz Peppermint Shampoo ($22) and Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Peppermint Oil Cooling Jelly Conditioner ($36). While peppermint hasn't shown great evidence as an anti-fungal, these formulas tend to be clarifying, scalp-forward treatments that nix oil, which feeds the dandruff problem.
If you want to concoct your own 'poo with peppermint oil, just add one to two drops to your natural, fragrance-free shampoo. Repeat whenever your scalp feels like it needs some love and refreshment.
Rosemary: “Rosemary oil has antifungal, astringent, and decongesting qualities to reduce excess oils, build-up, and flakes that can be part of the dandruff experience,” says Love White, founder of Love & Snow. “Anti-fungal qualities help to address overactive fungal activity in the scalp, which is the origin of dandruff.” You'll find it in Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo ($28).
White recommends mixing one part rosemary oil with three parts carrier oil in a dark bottle so it maintains its potency. The carrier oil can be grapeseed, apricot kernel, or jojoba oil. Place a few drops of the mix in your hand, rub together, and then massage onto your scalp. Your hair can be wet or dry. She suggests doing this ritual daily until the dandruff goes away. Then you can do it two to three times a week for maintenance.
Cedarwood: “Cedarwood essential oil is derived from the wood and has a smoky, woodsy essence that reminds you of camping,” White says. “Antiinflammatory and cleansing qualities help reduce inflammation that occurs when dealing with dandruff. Benefits include reduced itchiness, irritation, and redness."
White suggests using cedarwood in the same manner as rosemary oil. Mix it with a carrier oil, rub onto your scalp, and repeat as often as needed.
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