Can Essential Oils Control Dandruff?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

According to a 2015 review of studies, there are a number of essential oils that can be used to help control dandruff, including:

  • bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
  • garlic (Allium sativum L.)
  • tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
  • thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.)

In a 2015 study, an anti-dandruff hair tonic containing lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) oil significantly reduced dandruff.

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According to a 2009 review, peppermint (mentha x piperita) oil not only provides a cooling effect on your head, but it also helps in removing the dandruff.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a chronic, noninflammatory, scaling scalp condition characterized by flaking skin on your scalp.

Symptoms

The symptoms of dandruff include:

  • scaling scalp skin
  • flakes of dead skin in hair and on shoulders
  • itchy scalp
Causes

Dandruff can be caused by:

  • dry skin
  • malassezia fungus
  • seborrheic dermatitis (irritated, oily skin)
  • contact dermatitis (possible sensitivity to hair care products)
  • poor hygiene

Using essential oils to treat dandruff

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There are a variety of options for using essential oils to treat dandruff, including:

  • Many commercial shampoos include essential oils in their formula. Read the ingredients on the label to see if the product includes the essential oil that you want to try.
  • You can mix a few drops of your preferred essential oil into your current shampoo.
  • Consider making your own shampoo that includes your chosen essential oil and compatible ingredients such as Castile liquid soap.

Avoid applying essential oils directly to your skin, always use a carrier oil to dilute them. Keep out of reach of children.

Traditional treatments

There are many OTC (over-the-counter) dandruff shampoos. You might try any of the following to see which works best for you:

  • pyrithione zinc shampoos, such as Head & Shoulders
  • tar-based shampoos, such as Neutrogena T/Gel
  • selenium sulfide shampoos, such as Selsun Blue
  • shampoos containing salicylic acid, such as Neutrogena T/Sal
  • ketoconazole shampoos, such as Nizoral

If, after a few weeks, there doesn’t seem to be an improvement, you might try switching to a different shampoo.

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As with any treatment, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to the ingredients in one of these shampoos. If you experience stinging, itching, or redness, stop using the product.

If you develop a severe allergic reaction, such as hives or difficulty breathing, get immediate medical attention.

Consult your doctor

Discuss using essential oils for dandruff with your doctor or dermatologist. It’s important to determine the safety of specific essential oils for your current health. Factors to be considered include:

  • your use of medications and supplements
  • any underlying health conditions
  • your age

Other considerations to discuss with your doctor include:

  • purity and chemical composition of the brand of oil available to you
  • method you plan to use for application/treatment
  • planned dosage
  • expected duration of your use
  • protocol to follow if you experience side effects

Takeaway

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Research has shown that certain essential oils — such as bergamot, lemongrass, tea tree, and thyme — can be effective in controlling dandruff.

Even mainstream medical institutions such as Mayo Clinic acknowledge that although more study is needed, essential oils — specifically tea tree oil — can be considered as alternative medicine for dandruff.

Before using an essential oil to treat your dandruff, consider talking with your doctor or dermatologist about the method you plan to use for treatment and the dosage.

Your doctor will also provide instructions on what to do if you experience side effects — such as an allergic reaction — from essential oil use.

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