A Dermatologist Weighs in on How Long to Use That Dandruff Shampoo

Photo: GettyImages/Eugenio Marongiu
Dandruff is the boogeyman of all hair problems. When you least expect it, it can sneak up on you and cause a flaky mess between your hair follicles (and we've all been there). Truth be told, thanks to all of the efficacious anti-dandruff shampoos out there, it's actually a pretty easy problem to solve, but considering these shampoos' main goal is to squelch the dandruff-forming yeast known as malassezia, I wondered whether or not these options were okay to use year-round (or if they'd dry out hair and make it brittle).

"Dandruff shampoos typically contain one of two ingredients: either selenium sulfide or zinc pyrithione," explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. Both ingredients combat dandruff by fighting the inflammation caused by yeast build up on the scalp, which, in turn, becomes flakes. "Generally speaking, I recommend religious use when dandruff flares up," Dr. Zeichner says. After that, he recommends using it as needed, which can be anywhere from every day to every few days to every couple of months.

Essentially, you might do you well to rotate between an anti-dandruff formula when you notice a flare-up and your regular old shampoo the rest of the time. That said, it's not totally necessary if you're using a gentler dandruff shampoo that focuses on scalp health as a primary benefit. While first-gen dandruff shampoos would often cause dryness, Dr. Zeichner says that the newer products such as Dove Dermacare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($5) are gentle enough that you can use daily without worrying about potential irritation.

The other piece of information that you should keep in mind when using a dandruff shampoo is in the different methods of application. When you are actually experiencing a bout of dandruff, Dr. Zeichner says these shampoos need to be rubbed into the scalp to be effective. "Apply, and lather while you sing the alphabet, then rinse off," he says. Otherwise, you're free to rinse and lather with the products of your choice at your sudsing leisure.

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