Herbal Remedies for Dandruff

There are many chemical-based flake-fighter shampoos on the market. Most of these can actually irritate the scalp further, or strip hair of much-needed natural oils. Luckily, there are several Essential Oils (EO's) that experts recommend to treat dandruff and itchy scalp. These include Basil, Birch, Carrot, Clary Sage, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Lavendar, Lemon, Lime, Myrrh, Patchouli, Rose, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Thyme, and Ylang-Ylang. Remember that EO's are concentrated, and most need to be diluted before applying them to the skin or scalp. You can look for herbal or organic shampoos that include these EO's, or make your own.

The Herbal Daily Cleansing Shampoo from Nature's Gate is one of my favorites. It contains: Sage, lavender, yarrow, rosemary, thyme, nettle, chamomile, and wild cherry. This is just one example, so start in the organic section of your local grocery or co-op, and start reading labels.

One thing that most of us don't consider is how our diet and food choices affect our skin- including our scalp and hair. A healthy balanced diet is essential not only to our physical health and well-being, but to the health of our skin, our arteries, and even our brain function. The same diet of refined sugars, and extra caffeine-- the one that doesn't include enough water, fruits, and vegetables-- will often contribute to dry and flaky skin, acne, overproduction of body oils, and dandruff.

Another important tip to remember is that we need to vary our diet, and our shampoo. Any shampoo used continuously for too long loses effectiveness. Pick two or three favorites, and rotate your use. It is also important to wash your hairbrush, comb, and other tools  used for good grooming. You should be using hot water, mild soap, and an old sterilized toothbrush to remove residues and dirt/dust from your comb and brush at least once weekly. Otherwise, you may simply be spreading a germ factory back onto your hair after you wash it, and irritating your scalp in the process.

Rosemary Gladstar recommends this herbal shampoo for improving the balance of your scalp and hair:

  • 8 ounces distilled water
  • 1 ounce herbs (combinations given below)
  • 3 ounces liquid castile soap
  • 1/4 tsp jojoba oil (replace with rosemary EO for very oily hair)
  • 25 drops of pure essential oil (pick one or two from the list at the top of the page)

Bring the water to a boil, add the herbs, cover, and let simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain and cool.

Slowly add the castile soap to the "tea" water and then mix in the jojoba oil and essential oil.

Store in a plastic container with a flip-top lid, and shake before using.

A word of warning: I once stored my own soap mixture in a beautiful blue glass pump-bottle in the shower. One morning it fell onto the tiled shower floor, and I spent two hours locating and picking out every tiny blue sliver of glass before I could safely finish my shower. Plastic does have its uses.

For dry hair, the herbal mixture would include:

  • 1 part calendula flower
  • 1 part marsh mallow root
  • 1 part nettle leaf (this is particularly soothing for allergy-induced dandruff

For oily hair, the herbal mixture would include:

  • 1 part rosemary leaf
  • 1 part witch hazel bark (not extract)
  • 1 part yarrow leaf and flower

For golden highlights, Gladstar suggests the following:

  • 2 parts calendula flower
  • 1 part chamomile flower
  • 1 part comfrey leaf

This mixture is also particularly soothing for skin irritations.

If you prefer to create a simple rinse, consisting of EO's and a diluting oil, recommended vegetable oils include Evening Primrose, Borage, and Jojoba. A home-made shampoo to loosen the crusty layer of dead skin cells that flake off as dandruff, and stimulate the healing mechanisms of the skin includes these ingredients:

  • 4 ounces Soap Stew*
  • 18 drops Rosemary EO
  • 10 drops Thyme EO
  • 8 drops Sage EO

Blend together well. Do not use in combination with harsh chemical shampoos from the supermarket. Instead, alternate with the following home-made shampoo that stimulates healthy scalp and hair:

  • 4 ounces Soap Stew*
  • 10 drops Sage EO
  • 10 drops Lemon EO
  • 5 drops Basil EO
  • 15 drops Eucalyptus peppermint

Blend together well.

*Soap Stew can be made with a variety of simple ingredients, depending on availability. The easiest way to make this basic soap or shampoo starter is to use unscented liquid Castile Soap. If you have access to pure white blocks of Castile, grate 4 ounces finely, and add to 1 quart of simmering spring water until the soap has dissolved.

Additionally, a simple Cider Vinegar Rinse-- focusing on the scalp, and not on the hair-- is said to be an excellent treatment for dandruff. Avoid distilled vinegar. Add 2 to 5 drops of your chosen Essential Oil per tablespoon of vinegar. Two teaspoons of the mixed cider vinegar added to an ounce of water gives you a final rinse to use just before leaving the shower.


-Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal. Storey Publishing, 2001.

-Valerie Ann Worwood's The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. New World Library, 1991.


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