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Dandruff is extremely common, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying or embarrassing. Some flaking is considered normal, but about half of all people report excessive flaking — and that number increases during winter. I’m one of these winter dandruff sufferers. I live in Alabama, so I can’t even fool anyone into thinking the flakes on my clothes are snow.
There’s no cure for dandruff, but there are some helpful treatments.
My dermatologist recommended Neutrogena’s T-Gel shampoo. It’s over the counter and a little pricey. But there are lots of other dandruff shampoos on the market including Head and Shoulders and Selsun blue.
But I’m not a big fan of medicated products. Your skin, and that includes your scalp, is a large and porous organ. Anything absorbed through it goes directly into your blood stream, and is a potential threat. This includes soaps, shampoos, moisturizers — really just about all personal care products — which, taken together, contain thousands of different chemicals with varying toxicity.
The Environmental Working Group estimates that about 20 percent of chemicals used in cosmetics could cause cancer. Some of the worst offenders include parabens, which increase the risk of breast cancer in women, and sodium lauryl sulfate, which is toxic to organs and can cause cell mutation that leads to cancer.
So if you prefer the natural route, like me, there are safer effective options. Two of them you may find in your kitchen cupboard…
- Baking soda is a wonder product. It cooks, it cleans and it helps treat dandruff. Once a week you can wet your hair and rub a handful of baking soda directly onto your scalp. Don’t shampoo — just let it sit for about 5 minutes and then rinse it out. You may notice that your hair seems dry when you first start using baking soda, but after a few weeks your scalp will start producing natural oils again and the dryness will subside.
- Apple cider vinegar (APC) is another good option to fight dandruff. Plus it’s cheap, which is always a perk. The apple cider vinegar changes the pH of your scalp which makes it difficult for yeast, one of the main causes of dandruff, to grow. Mix a quarter cup of APC with a quarter cup of water in a spray bottle and spritz your scalp. Wrap your damp hair in a towel and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Then wash your hair as usual. You can do this up to twice a week. You’ll find it also makes your hair very shiny.The most effective APC is the kind that contains ‘mother.’ Not all brands do, so check the label. If it looks cloudy in the bottle, then you know you have the right stuff. Mother is a natural compound formed during the fermentation process and consists of strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give APC it’s natural health benefits.
- Adding tea tree essential oil to standard shampoos is another option. You need to add 10 drops of oil for every 8 ounces of shampoo. You can also put the tea tree oil drops directly on your scalp and then shampoo your hair. You can safely use tea tree oil infused shampoos every time you wash your hair. Tea tree oil will create a cooling sensation on contact. If it’s too intense for you, you can mix it with a carrier oil, like castor oil which penetrates deeply into the skin, but it may take an extra shampoo to get it out of your hair.
Winter can wreak havoc on the scalp, but it can affect the rest of your skin too. Taking care of your skin starts in the bathroom. Because hot water and soaps can be harsh, it’s a good idea to limit your baths or showers to 10 minutes in warm water. Long soaks in very hot water can strip your skin of natural oils that the skin desperately needs, especially in the winter months.
Try mild, fragrance-free soaps to lessen the damage, and oil-based moisturizers to lock in and preserve moisture. Coconut oil is light and naturally antimicrobial, so a great choice. If possible avoid antibacterial soaps which contain a toxin banned in some states.
If you don’t sweat a lot in the wintertime, you may want to cut down on the number of showers you take during a week. If your skin is not excessively oily, you’ll find you can shower just every other day, and your skin and scalp will be much happier.
You’ve probably noticed the air getting much drier as winter creeps in. That affects your skin and scalp greatly. Using a portable humidifier to increase humidity in your house will help with dry, cracked skin. You can also boost your skin’s hydration by drinking water and loading up on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and walnuts.
I never thought medicated shampoo and a humidifier would be on my Christmas wish list, but the older I get, the higher comfort — and safety — rises on my priorities list. Stay warm!