Unraveling the Mystery: Why Do I Still Have Dandruff After Washing My Hair?

Dandruff is a common scalp condition affecting half of all adults globally. Considered to be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff is chronic, waxing and waning over time. In its most obvious form, dandruff presents as noticeable white flakes. It also brings an itchy scalp, redness and irritation. It isn't contagious or serious. But it can be embarrassing and difficult to treat. And although dandruff isn’t the result of poor hygiene (it happens in spite of regular hair washing) it can cause social anxiety and affect your self esteem. If you’ve been avoiding going out or wearing dark colors because of your persistent flakes, struggling with an itchy scalp or asking yourself why do I still have dandruff after washing my hair?- we’ve got your back! Because we’re telling you how to deal with dandruff ahead- plus, the best hair care routine, tips and products for healthy hair and a flake-free scalp.

Understanding the Relationship Between Scalp Conditions and Hair Washing

The first thing to understand when talking about dandruff is that it’s not the result of poor hygiene. Dandruff doesn't mean you have dirty hair. Dandruff occurs when the microbiome of the scalp becomes imbalanced, manifesting as unsightly flakes. Yeasts live naturally on the scalp and usually don’t cause any problems. But an overgrowth of a certain species of yeast called Malassezia can lead to the acceleration of skin cell turnover, resulting in the accumulation of dead skin cells and sebum (the natural oil produced) on the scalp. If you already have dandruff, not washing your hair enough can make your dandruff look worse because dead skin cells build up. And if you are washing enough, It could be that you don't use enough shampoo, or that the shampoo you use isn't strong enough to break down the oil barrier that is contributing to your dandruff. 

A few different skin conditions can create an environment conducive to Malassezia growth and persistent dandruff. The first is a dry scalp which causes tightness, itching, and small, white flakes. The second is an oily scalp, with excessive sebum production, greasiness, and larger, yellowish flakes. Then there’s psoriasis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system sends out faulty messages, and the body responds by growing skin cells too quickly. Next is contact dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the scalp or seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammation of the sebaceous, or oil glands in the scalp. And finally eczema, an inflammation that causes dry, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections. These common scalp conditions are multifaceted, with different factors contributing to their development. Understanding your scalp type and the specific conditions at play is essential for effectively treating your dandruff. We recommend seeing a dermatologist for severe cases of scalp conditions. 

Causes of Persistent Dandruff

The main cause of persistent dandruff is the overgrowth of a yeast population that naturally lives on the scalp called Malassezia. But in addition to the skin conditions we discussed above, a few other things can trigger a bout of dandruff. Over-the-counter styling products can leave product buildup on the scalp that contributes to persistent dandruff, as well as using certain product ingredients. This is especially true for individuals with sensitive skin. Allergic reactions to hair care products are also a potential cause of ongoing dandruff. And finally, certain healthcare practices, medications, or medical conditions like, hormonal changes, immune system disorders, or nutritional deficiencies can play a role in influencing dandruff too. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common causes of dandruff.

Hair Care Practices and Products

Not following a proper hair care routine is an often overlooked cause of persistent dandruff. Things like excess use of styling products, hair washing too frequently, or aggressive styling and brushing on the scalp can all negatively affect your hair follicles and their health. Your hair care practices dictate your hair growth cycles and the potential impact of hair loss, as well as contribute to dandruff. 

Buildup and Allergic Reactions 

A product buildup on your scalp can create an environment conducive to dandruff. Residue from hair care products can trap dead skin cells and encourage the growth of Malassezia.And so can allergic reactions to certain ingredients in hair care products. If you’re prone to dandruff, it’s important to patch-test and choose products suitable for your scalp type.

 Overgrowth of Malassezia

An overgrowth of Malassezia is the most common cause of persistent dandruff. Malassezia feeds on sebum and dead skin cells, leading to an accelerated skin cell turnover. Factors like humidity, temperature, and personal hygiene can influence the growth of Malassezia, contributing to dandruff.


Dandruff usually begins in young adulthood and continues through middle age. That doesn't mean older adults don't get dandruff. For some people, the problem can be lifelong.

 Being Male

Dandruff is more prevalent in males than in females

Certain Illnesses 

Parkinson's disease and other diseases that affect the nervous system also seem to increase risk of dandruff. So does having HIV or a weakened immune system.

Improperly Shampooing

Not shampooing often enough, not using enough shampoo or using a shampoo that isn’t strong enough to break down the oil residue in your scalp can contribute to dandruff. 

Dandruff Treatment Options

Regular washing to remove product buildup, excess oils and skin cells, prevent the overgrowth of the Malassezia and balance the scalp’s microbiome is a must. A scalp condition needs consistent and daily treatment to bring it under control, and anything leftover on the scalp can hinder the effectiveness of your dandruff treatment. Wash regularly with specialized dandruff shampoos including antifungal ingredients like ketoconazole, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, and zinc pyrithione. And swap in a clarifying shampoo occasionally to prevent residue accumulation, remove buildup and reset the scalp environment. Always choose sulfate-free shampoos, but in this case especially, for their effectiveness in combating dandruff. Always follow product usage instructions and avoid excessive application. In addition, below are some more things to note about each dandruff treatment option.

Antifungal Ingredients in Specialized Shampoos

So does conditioner help with dandruff? It’s more about the shampoos when it comes to treating dandruff. Shampoos with antifungal ingredients like ketoconazole are effective in combating Malassezia, the yeast associated with dandruff. Similarly, shampoos containing salicylic acid work to exfoliate the scalp, removing dead skin cells and promoting a healthier skin turnover process. And shampoos with selenium sulfide and zinc pyrithione help control the growth of Malassezia and reduce inflammation on the scalp. 

Sulfate-Free Shampoos and Medical Interventions

Choose sulfate-free shampoos as a dandruff treatment, as they’re gentler on the scalp and less likely to cause irritation. Medical interventions are also available for severe cases, including prescription-strength antifungal shampoos, corticosteroids, and oral medications. Consult a dermatologist for personalized treatment plans tailored to your specific scalp condition.

Home Remedies and Natural Approaches for Dandruff

There are also several home remedies used to treat dandruff, and while these approaches may not be as scientifically proven as some medical treatments, they have been embraced by many for their potential benefits and minimal side effects. While home remedies can be beneficial for some individuals, they may not work for everyone. Discontinue any remedy that causes irritation and consult with a dermatologist if problems persist. Here are a few of our favorite natural ingredients for treating dandruff.

Exploring Tea Tree Oil

The antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil make it a popular natural remedy for dandruff. With proper usage, diluting the tea tree oil before applying it to avoid skin irritation, the efficacy of tea tree oil in improving scalp conditions is unmatched.

Aloe Vera for Soothing the Scalp

The symptoms of an itchy scalp and flaking skin can also be treated with aloe vera. The soothing properties of aloe vera are perfect for alleviating scalp irritation and itchiness. Aloe vera helps resolve the scalp inflammation that dandruff causes. The fatty acids found in the aloe plant have anti-inflammatory properties.

 Hydration in Hard Water

Washing your hair in hard water can lead to product build-up. Shampoo bars with hydrating ingredients like aloe vera or chamomile counteract the effects of hard water. If you have hard water, add a vinegar rinse occasionally to maintain pH balance and remove mineral deposits.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Wondering, does apple cider vinegar help with dandruff? The answer is a resounding yes. The benefits of apple cider vinegar for dandruff include balancing the scalp's pH, reducing itchiness, and removing excess oil. But because of the potential skin sensitivities, it’s important to dilute the apple cider vinegar and patch test before incorporating it into your hair care routine. 

DIY Hair Masks and Scalp Treatments

There are lots of DIY recipes for hair masks or scalp treatments using ingredients like honey, coconut oil, or yogurt. Does coconut oil help with dandruff? Coconut oil can help maintain a healthy fungal scalp microbiome and significantly reduce the presence of dandruff. Slather some on your scalp and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rinsing.

Eat a Hair-Healthy Diet

Eating plenty of foods rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, seaweed and chia seeds can help you reduce dandruff. As well as avoiding food and drinks that commonly trigger the condition. These include full-fat dairy products like cheese, as well as champagne, white wine, and very spicy and sugary food. 

So Why Do I Still Have Dandruff After Washing My Hair?

Dandruff is often a sign of an imbalanced scalp. It's influenced by oily skin, using the wrong hair products, and cold weather. If you already have dandruff, not washing your hair enough can make your dandruff look worse because dead skin cells build up. And if you are washing enough, It could be that you don't use enough shampoo, or that the shampoo you use isn't strong enough to break down the oil barrier that is contributing to your dandruff. Most people with dandruff don't require a doctor's care, but if your scalp condition doesn't improve with regular use of the dandruff treatments above, consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. And remember to use only the highest quality dandruff hair products, like the ones from Davines. Not sure where to start? Take this hair quiz to see which products work best for your hair. Still have questions about your hair? Talk to a hair stylistin your area for personalized advice.

by Morgan Hanson, featured contributor

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