You’re combing your hair in the morning, and you notice some tiny white flakes scattered across your scalp. You check your comb for any sort of grime or residue you might be unintentionally raking through your hair, but it’s totally clean.

It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not the comb that’s shedding—it’s your scalp.

Yep, you’re dealing with dandruff. First of all, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 50% of the adult population worldwide is affected by dandruff, with men being especially prone to it.

But while dandruff is common, it’s also incredibly frustrating. Your head constantly itches and you feel tempted to eliminate all dark colors from your wardrobe so people are less likely to notice the flakes shedding onto your shoulders.

Here’s the good news: You aren’t totally powerless here. There are some things you can do to treat your dandruff and get some relief from those annoying symptoms. Here’s what you need to know.

What is dandruff?

Put simply, dandruff is the shedding of the top layer of your skin cells. It’s frequently associated with the scalp but can also occur in other places—including your eyebrows.

This process of shedding skin is totally normal (and even healthy). But dandruff means that your skin is eliminating even larger flakes at a more rapid rate—which results in those white flakes you see throughout your hair.

What are the symptoms of dandruff?

The most obvious symptom of dandruff is those obnoxious white flakes of dead skin that keep showing up in your hair and across your shoulders. But, as the Mayo Clinic explains, that’s not the only telltale sign of dandruff. Many people also experience an itchy and scaly scalp.

How do you get rid of dandruff?

Most people who are struggling with dandruff have one primary concern on their minds: Uhh…how do they get rid of it?

There are several things to try, including some home remedies that people swear by. Many people tout the use of essential oils—such as cedar wood, tea tree, and rosemary oils. But research concludes that more rigorous clinical trials are needed in order to fully support this treatment.

While there are plenty of other similar DIY options and suggested home remedies out there—including coconut oil and baking soda—almost none of them have been medically supported or scientifically proven.

Instead, the American Academy of Dermatology states that the most effective way to treat and control dandruff symptoms is using a dandruff shampoo.

Most dandruff shampoos contain an ingredient called ketoconazole, which is an antifungal medication that’s been proven to control dandruff and the associated itching, flaking, and scaling of the scalp. Some ketoconazole studies suggest it can also help fight hair loss.

Both 1% and 2% ketoconazole shampoos are available. The percentage number refers to the concentration of ketoconazole in the shampoo solution. The 1% solution is generally available over the counter, while the 2% version is obviously stronger and requires a prescription.

What are the best anti-dandruff shampoos?

You’ll see some dandruff shampoos available that contain things like zinc and coal tar. However, the most effective shampoos will indeed contain ketoconazole as their active ingredient. So, look for that as you’re shopping for a new shampoo option.

1% ketoconazole shampoo can be effective, but the 2% solution is better for more severe cases of dandruff.

How long does dandruff shampoo take to work?

Exactly how long it takes to notice any results will depend on a variety of factors—including the type of shampoo you’re using and how severe your case of dandruff is.

However, when used daily and in accordance with the application instructions, you should start to experience some improvement (meaning a reduction in those white scalp flakes) within a week.

When should you see a doctor about dandruff?

While it’s annoying, dandruff isn’t life-threatening. Many people experience relief with an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo and never need to speak with a doctor. With that said, very severe dandruff can be a sign of more serious scalp disorders such as psoriasis or allergic contact dermatitis.

If your dandruff has not improved after using ketoconazole shampoo for a few weeks, it’s important to get in touch with your doctor.

What does dandruff have to do with hair loss?

Dandruff means you’re shedding skin—but does it also mean you’re losing your hair?

Yes, it can. In fact, dandruff is a sign of scalp inflammation, and inflammation can cause hair loss. That’s why treating dandruff is very important to prevent the progression of baldness and to increase the effectiveness of any male pattern baldness treatments you’re using.

Dealing with dandruff isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time. The itchy scalp and the constant flakes are annoying—and even a little embarrassing.

Fortunately, you don’t need to resign yourself to a life spent wearing hats and light colors. There are treatments you can use to relieve your symptoms and move forward with a healthy, flake-free scalp.

Did you know seborrheic dermatitis is more than just dandruff? Click to learn more.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Ketoconazole is an antifungal medicine used to treat certain kinds of fungal or yeast infections. When used as prescribed, ketoconazole is generally safe, but it also can cause side effects. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience allergic reactions like skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, pain, tingling or numbness. For full prescribing information, view the drug label information.

Photo courtesy of Jose Soriano, Unsplash.