Dandruff (flaky scalp) is defined as excessive scaling of the dead skin on the scalp. It is characterised by flakes of skin that range from small and white to large, greasy and yellow. Itchy flaking may appear on the scalp or eyebrows, or around the hairline, ears or nose. Dandruff occurs when skin cells grow and die off too fast. The exact cause is unknown. Some people may have overactive sebaceous glands while others have an elevated level of fungus which is present in most people but to excess in dandruff sufferers. Other things that may cause dandruff include hereditary factors, food allergies, excessive sweating, use of strong shampoos, yeast infections, stress, or the time of the year.
Traditional treatments centre around medicated shampoos that help to regulate the dandruff. However, there are some natural therapies that may help. These include:
• Herbal Medicine – tea tree oil may prevent flaking and prevent against infection. Aloe vera may also be rubbed into the scalp before shampooing, along with nettle tea and rosemary oil. If you have a dry scalp use olive oil as a carrier oil. If your scalp is oily, use diluted lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
• Exercise – helps to relieve stress, and stress can aggravate dandruff.
• Aromatherapy – if you have an oily scalp, use cedarwood in a carrier oil and massage it into your scalp daily. You could also opt to blend 4 drops of lavender oil, 4 drops of geranium oil, and 2 drops of sandalwood oil into a carrier oil and massage it into the scalp a few times a week. If you have greasy dandruff, blend 3 drops of tea tree oil, 1 drop rosemary oil, 2 drops juniper oil, 2 drops cedarwood oil, and 2 drops lemon oil into a carrier oil and massage it into the scalp.
• Diet – dandruff is a common symptom of food allergies so if other treatments are not working for you, try cutting out fatty foods, dairy products, excessive sugar, spicy foods, and seafood. Reintroduce them slowly in order to find the culprit. Vitamin supplements may help, such as biotin, thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), evening primrose oil, dandelion extract, and vitamin B12. These help to eliminate dandruff by improving the body’s ability to break down fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are important as they are necessary for the oil balance of the scalp. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Get lots of vitamin B, and eat foods that are high in zinc.
Psoriasis in the hair may look similar to a severe case of dandruff but it is actually different. There may be severe scaling or itching but discomfort such as dryness, tightness, or soreness is more common. Hair may thin around the affected site. The characteristics of psoriasis are multiple red patches with sharp margins and prominent silvery scales. It is important not to scratch the scalp or pick the scabs as this can cause damage to the hair follicles and cause permanent hair loss. Avoid hair dyes and chemical treatments. While there are medications for psoriasis, there are some natural remedies that can help. These include:
• Diet - cod liver oil, lecithin, linseed oil, vitamin E, and zinc can help to aid the healing process. It is important to give up alcohol, and avoid eating foods from the nightshade family (such as tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant, white potatoes, and paprika). Psoriasis can be caused by acidity in the body so it is important to eat alkaline foods and drink plenty of pure water. Low fat dairy products, fish, lamb, and poultry should be eaten regularly. Fish contains omega 3 fatty acids that are necessary for skin and scalp health. Lamb is the only red meat recommended for psoriasis as it is easy to digest and a good source of protein. Lean poultry is excellent for psoriasis.
• Neem oil – contains over 140 active ingredients. It softens and moisturises dry, cracked skin, eliminating a lot of irritation and itchiness. The steroid-like effect of some of its ingredients soothes redness and irritation directly. It enhances skin health and the natural immunity of your skin. It is also strongly antibacterial and can help to clear up or prevent infections. Neem oil supports and stimulates the immune system. Neem oil can be used as neem soap, neem shampoo or neem lotion.
• Homoeopathy – the following homoeopathic remedies can be helpful:
o Arsenicum album – for psoriasis with itching and burning, and is worse for cold and scratching.
o Arsenicum iodatum – for dry, scaly, itchy skin with scales that peel off easily.
o Berberis aquifolium – for pimply, rough, and scaly skin with eruptions appearing on the scalp extending to the face and neck.
o Borax – for unhealthy skin and psoriasis that is not as bad in the cold weather.
o Chrysarobimum – for dry scaly eruptions, especially around the eyes and ears.
o Petroleum – for rough, thickened skin which may crack, and for psoriasis that is much worse in winter.
* Herbal medicine – uses blood-cleansing remedies and diuretics such as figwort, cleavers, nettles, burdock, red clover, and yellow dock. Liver herbs such as Oregon grape root may be used to improve detoxification. Other remedies such as chickweed can be used to reduce itching while others act as antiseptics and anti-inflammatories.