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Can Oil Treatments Make Dandruff Worse?

By HERWriter
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is dandruff worse after oil treatment? MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Dandruff is considered to be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis. It affects skin areas that have an abundance of oil-producing glands. Dandruff is commonly caused by a fungus called malassezia or pityrosporum. Other factors such as stress, hormones and certain illnesses may also contribute.

Dandruff typically develops on the scalp or face but it can occur on the ears, eyebrows and creases around the nose. Redness, scaly patches, greasiness and itching further irritate the affected skin.

Treatment for dandruff usually involves washing the hair or skin with special anti- dandruff shampoos such as Head and Shoulders ®, Selsun blue® or ketoconazole.

In infants, an outbreak of seborrheic dermatitis is called cradle cap. Milder shampoos are used for babies. However, both dandruff and cradle cap are also treated by rubbing small amounts of oil to loosen scaly patches before shampooing.

The choice of oil is where a misstep can occur, as not all oils are the same.

It is recommended that mineral oil be used to treat dandruff, not olive oil or vegetable oil. According to Beauty Brains, other natural oils such as coconut or shea butter are also on the “best not to use” list. The reason is that natural oils contain saturated fat while mineral oil is petroleum based.

The fungus in dandruff can feed off of the saturated fats in natural oil, leaving behind unsaturated fat, which can penetrate the outermost layer of the skin and cause further irritation, a Proctor and Gamble study found. (4)

The fungus cannot digest mineral oil so it may be a better choice, stated FoxNews, based on research by Dr. Elaine Siegfried and Dr. Erica Glenn, of St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri.

Some people have found that tea tree oil helps treat dandruff. I was unable to find a source that stated whether it is a saturated-fat-based oil or not.

Tea tree oil has been used as an antiseptic and antifungal agent. There are many shampoos on the market that contain tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is not suggested for use in infants and children and is not to be used in full concentration, because it can cause irritation.

Neem oil is another oil people have reported helps with dandruff. Like tea tree oil, Neem oil is thought to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and has been reported to be useful in dandruff treatment, but my research shows it has saturated fat so it isn’t clear whether it is a good option or not.

Neem oil should not be used on children.

Overall, when treating dandruff or cradle cap, it is probably best to stick with mineral oil. Alternatively, be aware that if further skin irritation occurs with other oils, it could be due to the type of oil being used.


1. Patient information: Seborrheic dermatitis (including dandruff and cradle cap) (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate: Wolters Kluwer Health. Retrieved April 21, 2013.

2. Can natural oils make dandruff worse? Beauty Brains. Retrieved April 21, 2013.

3. Popular dandruff treatment may worsen condition, researchers say. FoxNews.com. Retrieved April 21, 2013.

4. ROLE OF LIPID METABOLISM IN SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS (DANDRUFF) Yvonne DeAngelis, CVT, Erin MacDonald, BA, and Thomas L. Dawson, Jr. , Ph.D. The Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, OH. Retrieved April 21, 2013.

5. Natural Remedies for Dandruff. About.com. Retrieved April 21, 2013.

6. Scalp matters: Treating dandruff and scalp eczema. The Natural Haven Science and Natural Hair. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
Neem - an effective oil for scalp problems

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Tea tree is an essential oil and contains no unsaturated fat like a true plant oil does. Adding a 2% to 5% dilution (2 to 5 drops per teaspoon of plant oil like olive, coconut, or jojoba) to your scalp as needed will kill the fungus as tea tree oil is anti-fungal. Be sure to use a pure, undiluted tea tree oil for this purpose. Plant oils are better for skin and hair than petroleum products. Know better. Do better.

August 28, 2018 - 3:05pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I am experiencing what is called face dandruff and I believe my use of plant oils on over exfoliated skin triggered the problem. Surprisingly petroleum based products including mineral oil have calmed my skin. Some plant oils like sunflower oil seemed to help initially but the fungi came back even more after the initial relief. If you have dandruff in any form stay away from plant oils which will only worsen the problem. There is a popular blog post about this on simpleskincare science website. Please read it to understand more.

September 13, 2018 - 11:09am
EmpowHER Guest

Huh...Proctor and Gamble own Head and Shoulders, so that should give you some skepticism toward their "study." This may be anecdotal, but I suffered from terrible dandruff for many years and tried everything, including Head and Shoulders. Nothing worked until I finally tried a weekly scalp and hair treatment of coconut oil with a few drops of tea tree oil. I don't, however, leave it on my scalp. I leave it on for an hour and rinse it out with a conditioning shampoo. That said, I'm now %100 dandruff free. My scalp is no longer itchy, irritated, and raw. It is no longer shedding.
Don't take Proctor and Gamble's word for it. Try the coconut treatment for yourself.

April 4, 2017 - 10:50am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I also did the Coconut/Tea tree oil thing along iwith many other "natural" remedies. The shit doesn't work. Go buy some Monistat and put it on your scalp.

July 26, 2017 - 3:30pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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