TikTok Says Dandruff Shampoo Can Help Get Rid of Acne. It's Not Totally Wrong

bottle of head and shoulder dandruff shampoo

Verywell / Head and Shoulders

Key Takeaways

  • A viral video on TikTok suggests swapping out your facial wash for a dandruff shampoo like Head & Shoulders can help clear acne.
  • Dermatologists say dandruff shampoo can be effective as a facial cleanser for people who have fungal acne because it contains zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide, which are ingredients known to fight fungal overgrowth.
  • This beauty hack is not recommended for all people, especially those with sensitive, dry, and eczema-prone skin and those who have bacterial acne.

Face washes, pimple patches, even tooth paste as a spot treatment—many of us have tried it all when it comes to attempting to get rid of pimples.

However, a recent beauty hack on TikTok suggests there’s a cheaper and simpler way to clear up acne: swapping out your facial wash for dandruff shampoo. 

The newest skincare theory was started by Elyse Myers, a popular TikToker with over 5.6 million followers on the app. Myers shared a video last month explaining how using dandruff shampoo helped clear up her skin. 

“I have been using the Walmart version of the Head & Shoulders on my face since I was in middle school because I had a dermatologist tell me that zinc in dandruff shampoo is incredible for your face,” she said.

However, Myers claimed when she stopped using the dandruff shampoo, she started to get several breakouts on her chin.

“I started trying to use fancy stuff because people were sending it to me for free—never had worse skin in my entire life,” Myers said. “Three days ago, I threw everything away and started using my dandruff shampoo again…skin is already clearer.”

The video has been watched over 12 million times and has received 1.6 million likes. But is this beauty hack safe, does it really clear up acne, and do dermatologists recommend trying it? 

Is Dandruff Shampoo Safe To Use On The Face? 

Dandruff-eliminating shampoo like Head & Shoulders is typically used to wash the hair or hair-bearing areas, like the face for those who are able to grow beards.

While it’s generally safe to use on the face, it is not meant to be used as a daily facial wash, according to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York. 

Experts say that’s because some brands and formulations of shampoos may contain active ingredients such as fragrances and other chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate that can be irritating to the skin and disrupt lipids in the skin barrier. 

This is especially true for people who have dry, sensitive, or eczema-prone skin, Lauren Penzi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York, told Verywell. 

“Those with dry or sensitive skin should be cautious” about trying anti-dandruff shampoos on their face, especially without speaking to a specialist first, Penzi said.

Which Skin Types Could Benefit From Using Dandruff Shampoo? 

Using dandruff shampoo on the face may be beneficial and effective for some people, including individuals who have fungal acne, a type of acne caused by fungal overgrowth, Melanie Palm, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD in San Diego, CA, told Verywell via email. 

Penzi added this type of acne often appears as fine pustules on the face and can feel itchy. It also tends to be unresponsive to traditional acne therapies and can worsen in humidity and heat. 

“Patients with a specific fungal type of acne, known as pityrosporum folliculitis, can benefit from anti-dandruff shampoos due to their antifungal effects,” Penzi said.

The secret’s in the ingredients. Dandruff shampoos often contain zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide, which combat fungal overgrowth.

“When the breakouts are related to a yeast, those ingredients can help to reduce the yeast,” Garshick said.

What Do Dermatologists Recommend?

Despite its benefits for fungal acne, experts do not recommend using dandruff shampoo for traditional breakouts or people with bacterial acne.

“Dandruff shampoos would only be effective as a facial cleanser if used to treat fungal acne. If you’re experiencing bacterial acne—which is more likely to occur than fungal acne—you won’t see much benefit from using dandruff shampoo as a cleanser or a treatment,” Palm said.

She added it’s possible that the use of dandruff shampoos, especially if used on a daily basis, can irritate and dry out the skin, resulting in a compromised skin barrier, redness, bumps, an allergic reaction and possibly even infection.

Instead, experts like Garshick and Penzi recommend sticking with tried-and-true treatments with key acne-fighting ingredients, like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids.

“Although they [dandruff shampoos] have shown some mild improvement in acne, there are other acne-fighting ingredients that appear to be more effective,” Penzi said. “I do not recommend trying this hack [especially with] dry or sensitive skin at baseline.”

If You Want to Use Dandruff Shampoo, Know Your Acne Type 

People who are interested in using dandruff shampoo at home on their face should first consult with a dermatologist to determine whether they have fungal acne, Palm said. In many cases, your dermatologist may recommend other topical antifungal treatments that are more effective and/or less irritating for your skin.

Once you receive a proper diagnosis confirming if you have fungal acne, Palm said she recommends patch-testing the shampoo on a small section of your face before applying it all over to determine whether your skin can tolerate it.

“Assuming you don’t experience any negative reactions from the patch test, I would start using it every other day as a face wash and don’t leave it on the skin for more than 60 seconds,” she added.

Others say using an anti-dandruff shampoo two to three times per week, once a day is sufficient enough and should be followed up with a gentle and hydrating moisturizer to minimize the potential for dryness or irritation.

Other Tips to Clear Up Acne 

Unwilling to pursue this TikTok hack? You have other options.

Susan Massick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, ran Verywell through a few specific tips:

  • Use a gentle facial cleanser twice daily.
  • Consider a retinoid that can help with blackheads, whiteheads and comedones.
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet.
  • Cut out smoking.
  • Wear a daily sunscreen, especially on the face.
  • Avoid picking, scratching, and squeezing blemishes or pimples—it makes them worse and can cause scarring.

If you are not seeing an improvement from certain over-the-counter products or medications after a few months of consistent use, you may want to schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a diagnosis and other treatment recommendations.

“TikTok can be a fun platform to peruse, but be careful in following every recommendation that gets a bunch of likes,” Massick said. “There may be a kernel of truth behind them, but there may be better, safer, and more effective options for you to try with help from your dermatologist.”

What This Means For You

Dandruff shampoo like Head & Shoulders is safe to use and may help clear up acne for specific skin types including those with fungal acne, however, dermatologists do not recommend using it if you have bacterial acne or traditional acne breakouts. People who are interested in trying the dandruff shampoo hack should consult with a dermatologist first.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.