Start by stepping away from the DIY dandruff concoctions you've read about online (ahem, apple cider vinegar). "Medicated dandruff shampoos are the most effective thing you can use," says Rebecca Kazin, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and associate director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Chevy Chase, Maryland. People turn to at-home ideas when the shampoos don't work, says Kazin, but the actual problem is that they're not using the products correctly. Here's how to get it right and get rid of the flakes.

Rule #1 – Find the Best Shampoo for You
If you've got blonde, gray or white hair, avoid shampoos that contain coal tar, as they can discolor your hair. (Coal tar can also make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight, so grab a hat before you head outside.) Things get a little trickier if you color your hair, because most dandruff shampoos are not sulfate-free. Kazin colors her hair and has dealt with dandruff herself, and she recommends washing your scalp quickly with the medicated shampoo (don't let it sit), then using your regular sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to minimize any fading effect the dandruff product could have.

Rule #2 – Know Your Kind of Dandruff
The ingredients you need depend on what's triggering your flakes. "Dandruff" is a catch-all term that includes a few different skin conditions. Here, the two most likely culprits and, depending on which is affecting you, what to look for on the shampoo bottle.
A yeast-like fungus called malassezia–This fungus irritates the scalp and causes more skin cells to grow, which then fall off your scalp and die with a white, flaky look. (Most adults have malassezia on their heads, but not everyone is irritated by it.) Look for products that include ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione or coal tar (if you're not blonde-, gray- or white-haired, that is), says Kazin.
Dry skin–Flakes caused by dry skin tend to be smaller and less oily than those caused by fungus. You'll probably notice dry skin elsewhere on your body too. Pick products with salicylic acid to clear up the problem. (Your doctor can also prescribe topical steroids if your skin is really dry.)

Rule #3 – Use It Every Time You Wash Your Hair During a Flare-Up
Dandruff shampoos are not a one-and-done fix. "It can take a couple of uses for the product to work," explains Kazin. Once the flakes are gone, you still need to use the shampoo a couple of times a week to keep them at bay. If you're not someone who washes your hair all that frequently (as you know, daily washing can be really drying), aim to use the shampoo every second or third time you wash when you don't have active dandruff. Make sure you're following the instructions on the bottle carefully too, as some shampoos need to be left on the scalp for a few minutes while others should be rinsed off immediately.

Rule #4 – Get Sudsy More Frequently
If you're like us and consider dry shampoo to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, you probably wash your hair less often than you did before you discovered the magical powder and spray. "But when you have active dandruff, you need to wash your hair at least three times per week [with a dandruff product] to really get the flakes off your scalp," says Kazin. So put down the dry shampoo for now and get in the shower.

Rule #5 – Don't Let Damp Hair Sit
"I've noticed that people's dandruff generally worsens if they never dry their hair," says Kazin. "And I believe it's because dampness can facilitate an overgrowth of the yeast-like fungus on the head. Plus, dandruff is often worst on the back of the head and nape of the neck, where hair stays wet longer." Her advice: Dry your hair after each wash, after applying a heat-protectant product to avoid frying it.


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