What Types of Creams are Useful for Dealing with Dandruff?

Many people are dealing with dandruff. It is indeed annoying to see little white flakes that show up well on dark clothes, and they are very embarrassing, too. When you go to stores or search online for dandruff remedies, you will be able to see a lot of anti-dandruff products and home remedies. But most of the time, the results are not that satisfying. 

If you are dealing with dandruff, you might think that something is wrong with your hair or that maybe you are washing it often or not washing it enough. However, dandruff is not about your hair but about the skin on your scalp.[1] While it is a common issue, it is not as simple as it seems. In fact, dandruff is quite challenging to define as it overlaps with seborrheic dermatitis and other skin conditions that result in a scaly scalp.[2] 

There are different treatments for dandruff that work well, and these include the use of creams. But what kind of creams should you use in order to treat dandruff? If you have the same question in mind, we are here to help you. In this post, we are going to give more information about the types of creams that are useful for dealing with dandruff.

Signs and Symptoms of Dandruff

person suffering from dandruff

The main sign or symptom that a person may have dandruff is the telltale patches of white flakes on the scalp. These are made up of dead skin that comes loose in your hair. Below are the other signs and symptoms of dandruff:[2] 

  • Itchy scalp
  • Greasy or dry scales on the scalp
  • Yellowish to reddish, scaly raised bumps along the hairline (severe cases)

The signs and symptoms of dandruff can be more severe if the person is stressed. The condition also tends to flare in cold and dry seasons.[3] 

Causes and Risk Factors of Dandruff

Causes and Risk Factors of Dandruff

There are a number of reasons that dandruff may occur. The problem is skin cells that grow and die off too fast. What happens exactly is not clear, but a very common fungus referred to as Malassezia may contribute to dandruff. It lives on the scalp of most healthy adults without causing any problems. But according to one theory, the immune system of someone with dandruff may overreact to that fungus.[1] Below are the different causes and risk factors of dandruff:

Seborrheic Dermatitis

If you have a bad case of dandruff, it is possibly a mild case of seborrheic dermatitis. It is a chronic form of eczema that affects the parts of the body that secrete the most oil or sebum, based on the National Eczema Association.[2] 

Contact Dermatitis

This is a type of skin irritation that can be caused by an allergen or an irritant. It results in an itchy and sometimes painful rash. In the case of dandruff, that kind of reaction is on the scalp. Based on the American Academy of Dermatology, contact dermatitis on the scalp often occurs due to hair-care products or dyes.[2] 

Dry Skin

If cold air dries out the skin, including the scalp, then dry skin may be the cause of dandruff. Dry skin that causes dandruff results in smaller flakes that are less oily.[2] 

Aside from the skin conditions mentioned above, below are other factors that may make an individual more susceptible to dandruff:

  • Shampooing Habits: People who are at risk for dandruff can worsen the condition by washing infrequently. Taking extended breaks from washing can cause an accumulation of oil that can lead to dandruff.[2] 
  • Age: Dandruff often starts at puberty and peaks around age 20. It has become far less prevalent among folks more than 50 years old.[2] 
  • Sex: Androgen hormones like testosterone stimulate activity in the sebaceous glands. More oil means a bigger chance of an inflammatory reaction and dandruff. Men are often affected by dandruff compared to women.[2] 
  • Weakened Immune System: Seborrheic dermatitis is more common in people who have undergone an organ transplant and those who have HIV or AIDS, alcoholic pancreatitis, or hepatitis C. [2] 
  • Neurologic and Psychiatric Conditions: Some of the conditions that are at risk of dandruff include Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury. For instance, people who have Parkinson’s disease have an impaired autonomic nervous system that helps control things such as oil gland secretions, which can result in an overproduction that leads to dandruff.[2] 

Types of Creams For Dandruff

Causes and Risk Factors of Dandruff

Even though dandruff is often a chronic condition, it is treatable. There are a lot of treatments and medication options available for dandruff. Some dermatologists will require you to use gentle shampoos that you can buy over the counter, while some will make you use anti-dandruff shampoos. However, if these do not work after several weeks, dermatologists might prescribe antifungal shampoos or a topical corticosteroid cream or lotion.

putting some cream on the scalp

There are various creams for dandruff that you can find in stores. However, the question is which among them is the best and which is going to work well for you. This is a difficult question as the skin or scalp of people differs. It means that one product might work well for some but not for others. 

When choosing creams for dandruff, it is important to focus on the active ingredients and other ingredients that they contain. To learn more about these, below are the different active ingredients found in anti-dandruff creams and other products: 


Ketoconazole is an antifungal treatment that reaches the root cause of severe dandruff, which is excessive yeast. This active ingredient can slow down the growth of yeast and stop further symptoms of dandruff. Creams and other products that contain ketoconazole are available both over the counter and in prescription strength. In addition to treating dandruff, it also benefits people who are suffering from hair loss, as it can contribute to hair regrowth.[4] 

Salicylic Acid 

Salicylic acid is a common active ingredient found in dandruff creams and shampoos. It can help remove the buildup of yeast that occurs on the scalp. It can also help promote healthier skin sloughing, which is usually out of balance on the scalp with dandruff. However, keep in mind that when salicylic acid is used too often, it may also cause irritation and dry skin.[4] 

Coal Tar

Coal tar is an active ingredient that contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It is among the go-to treatments when it comes to itchy and inflamed scalps. It works by slowing down the rate at which your scalp skin cells die and flake off. However, there are also some drawbacks to using creams that contain coal tar. These include discoloring light-colored hair and increased sensitivity to sunlight. Therefore, it is best to consult a dermatologist first.[4] 

Pyrithione Zinc

This is the most common active ingredient in anti-dandruff products. It is well-tolerated by many people, and it is also inexpensive. It is a powerful treatment for the underlying cause of dandruff as it combats Malassezia, which is the yeast that feeds on oils produced by the scalp and causes dandruff symptoms.[4] 

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide comes from sulfur. It helps control the itching and removes flakes and scales that irritate the scalp. This active ingredient helps break down excessive flakes while using anti-inflammatory effects to lessen the itching on the scalp. Creams and shampoos with selenium sulfide are available over-the-counter, but there are also some in more potent prescription form. It is important to consult a dermatologist first before using products with selenium sulfide, as it can also cause dryness or burning on the scalp.[4]  

Other Remedies for Dandruff

woman checking her scalp

Medicated creams and dandruff shampoos are the most common and effective treatments for dandruff. But aside from those, there are also other home remedies that you can try. But remember that these remedies are not as well studied as the creams and shampoos that dermatologists often require. Below are some of the other remedies for dandruff that you can try:

Stress Management

According to some studies, there is a higher rate of dandruff in people who have depression and emotional stress. It’s because stress may decrease the ability of the body to fight off microbes, such as fungi and bacteria, which makes people more prone to dandruff.[5] 

Essential Oils Like Tea Tree Oil

Essential oils, according to several studies, may benefit people with dandruff and other skin conditions. However, more research is needed to prove this.[5] 

Ultraviolet Light

Being exposed to UV rays, such as sunlight, can decrease skin cell growth and dampen the immune response, possibly helping with dandruff. A specific therapy using UVB light called phototherapy is helpful for those with seborrheic dermatitis. However, while exposing your hair to sunlight may decrease your dandruff, it may increase your risk of skin cancer as well. Therefore, it is important to talk to a dermatologist first to learn if this remedy is appropriate for you.[5]  

Dandruff Prevention

If you do not want to suffer from dandruff, below are some of the things that you can do to decrease your risk of having the annoying white flakes on your clothes:

  • Shampooing regularly is important, especially for those who have oily hair, to reduce oil buildup. But it is also important to not shampoo too much as your scalp may become itchy and flake. Based on the American Academy of Dermatology, if you are Asian or Caucasian and have dandruff, shampooing daily is important, and using dandruff shampoo twice a week may help. African-Americans, on the other hand, should only shampoo once a week and use a dandruff shampoo.[5] Dermatologists may also tell you the right frequency of shampooing and the right products you can use.
  • Limit the products that you put in your hair. Using a lot of products on your hair may cause oil buildup and flaking.
  • Moisturize your dry scalp with creams or conditioner. Scalps that have dandruff are usually drier than those without.[5] 


Choosing creams that may help deal with dandruff can be challenging. There can be some trial and error in finding a cream that will work well for your scalp, but a holistic approach is key to achieving a flake-free scape and healthy-looking hair. If you are still unsure of what creams or dandruff products to use, it is best to book an appointment with a dermatologist. They are able to check your scalp’s condition and recommend the best products that may help in treating the symptoms of dandruff. We hope this post helped you learn more about the types of creams that are useful for dealing with dandruff.


[1] Gardner, S. S. (Ed.). (2021, July 26). Dandruff: What it is & why you get it. WebMD. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dandruff-basics 

[2] Pevzner, H. (2022, October 20). What is Dandruff? symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/dandruff/guide/

[3] Mayo Clinic, E. (2021, September 21). Dandruff. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dandruff/symptoms-causes/syc-20353850

[4] Burch, K. (2022, May 26). 5 of the best ingredients for eliminating the flakes and itchiness from dandruff, according to Dermatologists. Insider. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.insider.com/guides/health/best-shampoo-ingredients-for-dandruff 

[5] Chimene, R. (2021, December 8). Dandruff shampoo- ingredients that attack the problem 7 ways. Ro. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://ro.co/health-guide/anti-dandruff-shampoo/