Take a Natural Approach to Dandruff and Dry Scalp

Wooden spoon full of chia seeds

Dandruff affects about 3 percent of the U.S. population, ranging from infants and teenagers to adults with oilier skin.

Also known as seborrheic dermatitis, the relapsing, chronic and usually mild inflammatory skin condition can flare with stress or cold weather, and can be caused by fungal organisms  such as those in the genus Malassezia.

Dandruff can manifest as dry or greasy, slightly itchy patches of skin with some white or yellow flaking. It occurs often on the scalp, eyebrows, forehead, the nose and lip areas, behind the ears, on the chest or in other folds of the body.

Although the cause for dandruff is not always obvious, naturopathic medicine often finds that problems in the skin are related to problems with digestion. For instance, in a 1971 study of 187 infants with the version of seborrheic dermatitis called cradle cap, 157 had symptoms clear completely within a week after allergenic foods were removed from their diet. All of these infants had recurrence of cradle cap lesions after the allergenic foods were reintroduced. To treat cradle cap today, breast-feeding mothers often are advised to avoid eating foods their babies are allergic to.

Dry scalp can also be related to food sensitivities, such as gluten intolerance, essential fatty deficiency or inadequate hydration. It can also be an early sign of dermatological conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

Conventional treatment includes the use of topical corticosteroids and over-the-counter shampoos and gels, such as those with 2 percent ketoconazole or 1 percent metronidazole. However, if you're looking for natural ways to avoid or treat dandruff or dry scap, vitamins A, D, B and zinc can help, along with the following tips:

  • Drink Water: Ensure you're drinking adequate water throughout the day. A 145-pound person needs at least 6 to 8 cups of water a day, or more with intake of caffeinated drinks or rigorous exercise.
  • Food Sensitivities: If you have seborrheic dermatitis, work with your health care provider to determine possible food sensitivities. Some of these sensitivities can be overcome, but while undetected, can silently interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients, including those that replenish the skin.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Make sure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet and that your digestion is robust enough to absorb what you are eating. Omega-3s are available in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp milk, some dark green leafy vegetables, butter and meats from organic grass-fed animals, fish oil supplements and deep cold water fish like wild Pacific salmon. Most adults need 2 to 3 grams of omega-3 fats per day, but please use the supervision of a licensed health care provider if you are taking blood-thinning medications like Coumadin or Plavix before starting to increase your omega-3 intake. If you choose marine sources of omega-3 fats, please speak with a physician, pharmacist or other health care professional to ensure that the supplements you choose have been tested to be free of heavy metals and other toxicants. Also refer to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch pocket guides or mobile apps for a reference on sustainable consumption of low-mercury seafood.
  • Get Professional Help: If you don't see improvement in scalp dryness or dandruff with the above tips, visit an acupuncturist  or naturopathic physician to explore other avenues for creating a dandruff-free life.

— Eva Kozura, ND, RD, LAc, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.

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