This week a great question arrived via Facebook email, from someone I went to school with. Here's her plea for advice:
I have a REALLY bad case of dandruff (and I apologize here for the TMI). I can't use dandruff shampoos because as a curly-haired girl they dry my hair. My dermatologist gave me something which works great BUT (and here's the problem) I'm trying to get pregnant and you're not supposed to use it if you are pregnant, and I don't want to risk it.
So ... as the organic pregnancy guru and a fellow curly-haired girl, any suggestions? I tried apple cider vinegar but it doesn't work.
I feel her pain. As someone who wages war with eczema and had tried every possible remedy - organic and otherwise - I know these itchy, flaky skin issues can be excruciating because they're impossible to figure out how to cure, uncomfortable, and ugly. I'm no expert on dandruff but from my research, it sounds like it can be as difficult to "fix" as eczema.
Here's my checklist to go through to try to figure out what's causing the dandruff, and how to find an effective treatment for it. Again, I am not an expert. Anyone who has battled dandruff with natural cures and is winning the battle, please post your secrets to success in comments.
* What kind of dandruff is it (I gather some is waxy, some dry, some fungal)?
* When do you get it? Is it triggered by stress or hormonal changes?
* Are you allergic to anything in your environment? Or any foods? Wheat sensitivity (not even a full blown allergy) seems to be a common skin flake trigger.
* Can you do a patch test or blood work to rule out allergies? Blood work could also show if there is a vitamin deficiency (I read some discussions of adequate zinc levels being crucial to getting rid of dandruff).
* Are there certain environments (a stuffy, mildew-y weekend house, for example) where it flares up worse than when you're home? Or gets better?
* Is it worse in one type of weather?
* Is your home too dry? Would a humidifier help?
* Do you drink enough water?
* How is your diet? A balanced, whole foods diet can help.
* Do you take fish oil and/or probiotics?
* What kind of products are you using? Even non-dandruff shampoos can contain foaming agents (SLS and SLES) that can irritate your skin/scalp. Try using a less harsh product that doesn't contain them.
* Do you blow dry? Try letting it dry naturally instead - the hot air can hurt the scalp.
* Do you sleep enough?
Keep in mind (based on my own experience with natural remedies over prescription creams for my eczema) that the dandruff may come and go. It's rarely 100 percent gone.
When it comes to hair care products, my current curly hair suggestions include a combination of Dr. Hauschka (apricot and sea buckthorn shampoo), John Masters (deep conditioner, but he also has products specifically for dandruff that might be worth a splurge), Aubrey (daily conditioner, honeysuckle/rose) and Weleda (leave in rosemary oil).
For dandruff-specific treatments, warm oil treatments sound helpful - you rub the warm oil into your wet hair and scalp, then wrap a hot damp towel over your head and sit and let it all steam-soak in. The only problem here is that your hair will be quite oily/weighed down (even for curly hair). Getting it out the might involve the apple cider vinegar many dandruff sufferers swear by, and that you say doesn't work for you. Lemon juice might also help get the oil out. Do it weekly. Any oil you try should be just the oil with no added ingredients, preferably organic. Try neem, or olive, almond, and coconut instead.
While you're waiting for the oil to soak in, poke around online. There are all sorts of sites filled with random ideas for helping - ground fennel seeds? lemon peels soaked in coconut oil and made into a paste? - that are absolutely a better idea than something contraindicated for pregnancy while you're trying to get pregnant. Some of the suggestions sound a little quirky but so what. What have you got to lose?
My final suggestion is to treat battling your dandruff like your full time job for a week or so. Really make it your focus. All too often I forget to moisturize my hands and then wind up so uncomfortable after making dinner and washing them a bunch of times. Set yourself up for success - I now have almond oil next to my sinks so I'll put it on pre- and post-washing, sensitive skin prep gloves in the kitchen and by the bath (so I can wash my daughter without trouble), and many pairs of white cotton gloves - fingers cut off - to wear around the house. Maybe the apple cider vinegar thing would work if you devoted extra time to it, playing with the dilution?
When the time comes to shop and/or borrow maternity clothes, lighter color sweaters and tops might be just what the doctor ordered!
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