Head and Shoulders, Nizorelle, Selsun, Revlon ZP11, Versel, Glo-sel, Pert Plus, Derma-Zinc... the list of anti-dandruff shampoos goes on and on. And no wonder- at least 50% of Americans suffer from dandruff at some stage during their life 1, so the field is a financial goldmine. So what exactly are these magical products all about?

What is dandruff?

Firstly, a quick lesson in dandruff. The flaky scalp condition is caused by a fungus called Malassezia. Malassezia feeds on the naturally occurring oils on your scalp, and the by-products of this process make the head irritated. The scalp then makes a lot of new skin cells to get rid of the irritated skin, producing the white flaking dead skin cells we all know as dandruff. Stress, climate, hormones and diet are thought to affect dandruff. Dandruff shouldn't be confused with a dry scalp, which is typified by smaller flakes and more itching.

The shampoo

The active ingredients in commercial anti-dandruff shampoos are often based around these treatments:
Anti-fungal
Pyrithione zinc (or ZPT) is an anti-fungal treatment which directly attacks that darn Malassezia fungus. Revlon ZP11 has an active ingredient listing of 2.5% for pyrithione zinc, which is usual. Other anti-fungals used in anti-dandruff shampoos are selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, climbazole and octopirox. Many of these ingredients are used in the treatment of dermatitis and tinea.
Anti-proliferative and keratolytic
Coal tar is often used in such shampoos as it slows down the production and shedding of skin cells. This ingredient doesn't fight the cause of dandruff, merely the symptoms. Keratolytic ingredients such as sulfur and salicylic acid work to separate the skin cells on the scalp, which means that when the skin is shed there will be much smaller clumps than the usual dandruff. This also only treats the symptoms and is not a preventative measure.

Side effects

There are few side effects when using anti-dandruff shampoos. The most common is unusual dryness or oiliness of the scalp, which endeavours to balance the natural pH. Skin irritation can also occur. Less common is the loss of hair. It is safe to use anti-dandruff shampoos when pregnant and children can also use the products safely. As always with shampoos, if you get the product in your eye rinse it out immediately as it may cause pain.

Alternative products

Garlic and oil of oregano are reportedly excellent for controlling and treating dandruff. They can be purchased in capsule or tablet form and can be taken internally or externally.
1 Information from "Internal P & G study", www.headandshoulders.com Other source:www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo

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