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What's behind the claim that Head & Shoulders causes dandruff?

There are a lot of anecdotal claims that Head & Shoulders actually causes dandruff. To explore those claims, let’s discuss how dandruff shampoos work and what causes dandruff.

The opinion that Head & Shoulders – and other anti-dandruff shampoos – cause dandruff is commonplace online.

There’s not much science behind the idea, so we thought we’d explore the science of what dandruff is, as well as how dandruff shampoos fight the problem.

We’ll also discuss why Head & Shoulders could seem like it might be the culprit, and what could actually be happening.


Malassezia globosa is a fungus that lives on all of our scalps. It survives by consuming the natural oils produced by our scalps. It is effectively harmless to most people.

Unfortunately, many people are sensitive to one of the main by-products of Malassezia globosa: oleic acid. For those who are sensitive, Malassezia globosa will lead to symptoms that include:

  • Itchiness

  • White flakes in the hair

  • Red scalp

This is dandruff, and it’s worth noting that Malassezia globosa is the only true cause of dandruff.

There is no known cure for dandruff – the best treatment is to control the problem to keep flakes away.

So how does Head & Shoulders go about that?


Like all shampoos, Head & Shoulders washes away accumulated dirt and sweat. It goes further by adding an active ingredient, that works in-between washes to protect your scalp from the cause of dandruff: Malassezia globosa.

Head & Shoulders is highly effective at controlling dandruff flaking, as has been proven in hundreds of clinical studies.

But the problem is that Malassezia globosa is an inescapable part of our environment, so it won’t just go away – it’s with you for life.


There are many reasons that Head & Shoulders might seem to be ineffective. The first, and most obvious, is not using it in the best way.

To get the best out of your dandruff shampoo, you should wash with it regularly – even when you don’t see or feel symptoms. The amount of active ingredient protecting your scalp decreases over time, because it’s used up fighting dandruff.

Regular washing replenishes the amount of dandruff-fighting active on your scalp, so you always have enough.

Anything less, and you risk dandruff coming back.

This is probably the most common reason why people don’t get the results they expect from dandruff shampoo.

Many people use a dandruff shampoo only until the symptoms disappear, and then go back to their regular shampoo.

Unfortunately, going back to a regular shampoo just leaves your scalp unprotected, giving Malassezia globosa ample time to aggravate scalp, leading to a new flare-up of dandruff.

Another factor that can have an impact is following up your dandruff shampoo with either:

  • a regular hair conditioner

  • a regular cosmetic shampoo

Both of these can actually wash away the active ingredients left behind by your dandruff shampoo.

So, they can make your dandruff shampoo less effective.

And there’s really no need to use them either. When it comes to conditioner, try using an anti-dandruff conditioner.

They’re designed to work with your dandruff shampoo to preserve the dandruff-fighting actives, while leaving your hair feeling soft and moisturized.

As for following up with a beauty shampoo, we sometimes hear people worry that Head & Shoulders won’t be as good as their favorite shampoo.

Rest assured, we believe a great dandruff shampoo should do more than remove flakes. Head & Shoulders can be effective against dandruff, but also gentle and nourishing for hair.

Finally, another common problem could be misdiagnosis.

There are many conditions that have similar symptoms to dandruff. If your symptoms persist after two weeks of exclusively using Head & Shoulders, go to see a doctor or dermatologist – chances are, you’re dealing with a different problem entirely.


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