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Dermatitis - What treatments work for dermatitis and dandruff?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

There are lots of treatments that can help get rid of seborrhoeic dermatitis and dandruff.

However, dermatitis and dandruff often come back. You may need to use your treatment again from time to time.

Key points about treating dermatitis and dandruff

  • Medicated shampoos that kill or control fungi can help get rid of dandruff. You can buy many of them from pharmacies and supermarkets. Your doctor can prescribe stronger antifungal shampoos if you need them.

  • An antifungal cream called ketoconazole can help clear dermatitis on your face or body. You need a prescription for ketoconazole when it's used for dermatitis.

  • Steroid creams, ointments, and shampoos can help with more severe dermatitis or dandruff. Your doctor may suggest combining an antifungal treatment with a steroid.

  • If your dermatitis is widespread and creams don’t work, your doctor may prescribe antifungal tablets. These are usually prescribed by a specialist. They can have side effects and they're not suitable for everyone. Talk to your doctor about whether they're suitable for you.

  • Babies often get dermatitis on their scalp. When this happens, it's called cradle cap. To read more, see Cradle cap.

What treatments work?

We've looked separately at treatments for dandruff and treatments for dermatitis on your face or body.

  • What treatments work for dandruff? Dandruff can be treated with medicated shampoos. Some are widely available from pharmacies and shops. There are also stronger treatments that your doctor can prescribe. More...

  • What treatments work for dermatitis on your face or body? If you have dermatitis on your body or face, it's a good idea to see your doctor. He or she can prescribe treatments to help, such as creams to kill the fungi that may cause dermatitis. More...

What treatments work for dandruff?

Most people get a few flakes of dandruff. This happens because your top layer of skin flakes away as it's replaced by new skin cells. But seborrhoeic dermatitis that affects your scalp can cause severe dandruff. The flakes are likely to be larger and oilier than other kinds of dandruff.

Lots of shampoos are available to help with dandruff. Just washing your hair will help to remove flakes, but anti-dandruff shampoos also contain chemicals to kill fungi or reduce the inflammation on your scalp.

Key points about treating dandruff

  • Fungi that grow on your scalp can play a part in causing flaky skin. Medicated shampoos that kill these fungi, or slow down how quickly they spread, can help clear up your dandruff.

  • Most people start off by using an anti-dandruff shampoo containing zinc or coal tar. Brands include Head and Shoulders and T-Gel.

  • For more severe dandruff, you can try shampoos containing ketoconazole or selenium sulphide. Research shows these treatments can help clear up dandruff.

  • Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid lotion or shampoo, often along with an antifungal treatment. This is used to reduce inflammation on your scalp. There's not much research on this treatment, but doctors think that it works. To avoid side effects, doctors usually only prescribe steroids for a short period.

  • You may need to get rid of crusts or scales on your scalp before treatment. Some doctors advise applying warm olive oil, or using a salicylic acid shampoo.

  • Whatever treatment you use, dandruff can come back. You may need to use your anti-dandruff shampoo again from time to time.

We've looked closely at the research and ranked the treatments into categories, according to whether they work.

Last Updated: May 21, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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