It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable — an itchy scalp that leaves your shoulders dusted with flakes. Dandruff affects an estimated 50 percent of the population, according to research, and stores and pharmacies are filled with products that promise relief.

The good news is that you may not need a prescription shampoo or a trip to the dermatologist to treat mild forms of dandruff. You may even find worthwhile solutions in your grocery store or in your own home.

What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff is characterized by flakes and can be caused by a number of things. Dry skin is commonly blamed for skin flakes, but some forms of dandruff come from overactive oil glands. Eczema, psoriasis, allergic reactions, and a fungus called malassezia are also credited with causing dandruff.

The best treatment for your condition depends largely on the cause. Once you’ve determined why you have flakes, you can look at possible solutions.

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Possible Solutions

1. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a widely accepted dandruff treatment, particularly when the flakes are caused by fungus. It's an essential oil that you can purchase online, at pharmacies, or at health food stores, and mix into an unscented shampoo. Or you can find commercially prepared shampoos with tea tree oil already in them. In one Australian study, mixing a 5 percent tea tree oil solution into shampoo was found to effectively treat dandruff in almost half the participants.

2. Eucalyptus Oil

Another tree oil, eucalyptus oil, also has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Like tea tree oil, it can be found online and at health food stores, and diluted in shampoos or rinses. A study conducted in India found that a solution containing eucalyptus oil and coconut oil had significant antidandruff effects, and recommended its future inclusion in cosmetic and pharmaceutical dandruff products.

3. Limit Use of Products

Shampoos, gels, hairsprays, and other hair care products can leave residue that build up overtime. These can not only leave flakes on the scalp, but can also irritate the scalp and cause dry skin or allergic reactions. Some people can reduce their dandruff symptoms by simply using fewer of these products. If the irritation is due to an allergic reaction, switching products may also be helpful.

4. Daily Washing and Brushing

It’s a common misconception that dandruff affects those who don’t take care of their skin and scalp, though a regular grooming routine can often reduce symptoms. Daily brushing can stimulate blood flow to the scalp, and daily washing can wash away the flakes. However, make sure your shampoo doesn’t aggravate the scalp. Choose a moisturizing formula for a dry scalp and a clarifying formula for an oily scalp.

5. Neem Oil

Neem oil is derived from the seed of the Azadirachta indica tree, native to India and parts of Asia. It's said to be good for dry and flaky scalps, so you can often find it in prepared shampoos sold for the treatment of dandruff. Like tea tree oil, it can also be diluted in shampoos, rinses, or carrier oils, and applied directly to the scalp.

Final Thoughts

Dandruff can be embarrassing, but you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to treat it. You can often find simple solutions in your home or at a nearby neighborhood store, without having to see a doctor.