How to Get Rid of Wet Dandruff

Plus reasons why you have it

The quality of scale in rashes of the scalp can vary from oily (sometimes called “wet dandruff” on the internet) to dry (known as “dry dandruff” outside of the medical world).

Wet dandruff is dandruff that has become wet or oily because of the overproduction of sebum on the scalp. When the oil buildup is mixed with dirt and dead skin cells, that is when wet dandruff forms.

Dry dandruff, on the other hand, is made up of small, white flakes which can fall off of the scalp easily. The yellow flakes of wet dandruff are much larger and can become sticky, causing them to clump together and cling to your hair. If you scratch your scalp with wet dandruff, it will also feel wet.

This article discusses home remedies and prescription treatments for wet dandruff, and which ones to use depending on the cause.

woman with serious problem of dandruff

tzahiV / Getty Images

Common Causes of Wet Dandruff

Since the main cause of wet dandruff is excess sebum on the scalp, not washing your hair properly or enough can lead to the condition. This is especially true if you have oily skin.

Wet dandruff is a trademark feature of seborrheic dermatitis, which causes scaly patches and red skin on oily areas of the body. Seborrheic dermatitis can be the result of an inflammatory reaction to an overabundance of the Malassezia yeast on the scalp, but it can also be brought on by stress, hormonal changes, cold or dry weather, and medications such as lithium.

The effects of seborrheic dermatitis on hair are usually minimal, but research has shown that hair loss can occur.

Although wet dandruff is commonly associated with seborrheic dermatitis, the symptoms can also occur if you have another type of skin disorder like psoriasis or an infection. It can also occur on its own without any underlying condition.

Psoriasis can also cause wet dandruff. An autoimmune skin disorder, psoriasis is driven by the immune system’s inability to tell the difference between healthy cells and pathogens. Hair is not always affected by psoriasis, but it can lead to hair loss in some people with the condition.

Other skin conditions that can lead to wet dandruff include:

  • Atopic dermatitis: A type of eczema, atopic dermatitis causes the skin to become red and itchy. It is a chronic disease that flares sporadically.
  • Tinea capitis: Tinea capitis, also known as ringworm of the scalp, is a fungal infection that causes the skin to become itchy and scaly. It can also lead to hair loss and bald spots.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Find the Right Shampoo

It can be hard to determine if your shampoo is exacerbating your wet dandruff until you discontinue using it. However, research has shown that using the right type of shampoo can help manage scalp conditions that can lead to wet dandruff.

Shampoo More Often

If you have an excessively oily scalp and it’s causing wet dandruff, you may need to wash your scalp and hair more often. This will help prevent sebum from accumulating on your scalp which causes wet dandruff.

Take a Break From Styling

If you are experiencing wet dandruff because of a skin condition, refrain from using styling products. The chemicals used in many styling products are harsh on the scalp. This could make treatment more difficult because these harsh chemicals could worsen the condition of the scalp by causing irritation or contact dermatitis, a skin rash caused by contact with a certain substance.

Eat Healthily

Research has shown that your diet can play a role in skin disease, so if your wet dandruff is caused by seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis, eating a healthy diet may help clear up wet dandruff caused by these conditions. You may want to limit or avoid heavily processed foods and replace them with whole foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins.

Use an Aloe Vera Gel

Research has shown that that the enzymes and vitamins that aloe contains could help reduce inflammation and soothe itchiness on the scalp. It could potentially help with wet dandruff by relieving irritation on the scalp.

To use an aloe vera gel on your scalp, apply three to four tablespoons to your scalp and then wrap a hot and damp towel around your head for 30 minutes. Once the time is up, wash out the aloe vera with a shampoo. You can do this three times a week.

Try Arnica

Arnica is an herbal remedy that can be used for various forms of dermatitis, including seborrheic dermatitis. Derived from the flowers of the arnica plant species, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in many creams and ointments for seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis.

You can use it on a compress dipped into a combination of one tablespoon of arnica extract and a half liter of water. It should be noted that oral ingestion of arnica is extremely dangerous, so it should only be used topically on the scalp and never as an oral medication.

Use Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek is a Mediterranean herb that belongs to the Fabaceae plant family. Research has shown that using the seeds from the fenugreek plant is an effective remedy for wet dandruff.

To use fenugreek seeds, soak them overnight and then make a paste that you can apply to your scalp. Let the paste sit for 30 minutes before rinsing it out with a mild shampoo. This method can be repeated twice per week. 

Use Scalp Scrubs

Although there is no clinical evidence to support the use of scalp scrubs for wet dandruff, scalp exfoliation has become very popular. The idea is that exfoliating the skin can reduce excessive oil buildup and get rid of excess dead skin cells on the scalp.

Since excessive oil production on the scalp is associated with a sensitive scalp, using the most gentle type of scrub is best. Choose scrubs that contain sea salt, zinc, or palm seed powder.

This method may not be ideal for those with a scalp condition, though. Always speak to your doctor prior to using a scalp scrub for wet dandruff.

Home remedies can be effective at managing wet dandruff, but only if it’s not caused by a skin disorder. If you try these home treatments and your wet dandruff doesn’t improve, you should see your doctor to find out if a skin condition is causing your wet dandruff.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Anti-dandruff shampoos can help you manage and reduce wet dandruff. There are different types, so you will want to look for ones that can also help with the excess buildup of oil on your scalp.  

One study found that zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, and ketoconazole are effective agents for treating dandruff, all of which are common ingredients of OTC shampoos. The researchers from the study also discovered that shampoos with rose extract mixed with zinc pyrithione and an antifungal known as climbazole can help reduce scalp oil secretion and inflammation.

Prescriptions

The type of prescription medications given to you for your wet dandruff will depend on the cause. If the cause is seborrheic dermatitis, for example, antifungal shampoos will be prescribed. They can address the overabundance of fungus on the scalp.

Specific antifungal medications that may be used for seborrheic dermatitis include ciclopirox and ketoconazole. These shampoos should be used as directed by your doctor.

For psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe anthralin to slow skin cell growth. They may also recommend medicated shampoos and lotions to be used on your scalp. In severe cases, UV light therapy, also known as phototherapy, will be used in conjunction with these other treatments.

Summary

Wet dandruff is the common name for yellow flakes that result from a buildup of oil on the scalp. Unlike dry dandruff, flakes of wet dandruff are larger and often stick to your hair. Excess oil can accumulate and lead to wet dandruff if you don’t wash your hair often enough or if you have an oily scalp naturally.

Skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can also cause wet dandruff. Treatment depends on the cause and typically involves using anti-dandruff shampoo and gentle hair care products. You will need prescription treatments from your doctor if the cause is a skin condition.

A Word From Verywell

Wet dandruff can be an uncomfortable condition that causes embarrassment and low self-esteem. There are plenty of ways you can manage it to ensure that your wet dandruff goes away and stays away. For example, washing your hair frequently can improve your wet dandruff.

In the event that it’s caused by a chronic skin condition, getting proper treatment is the best way to reduce your wet dandruff and its severity. Chronic skin conditions can be difficult to deal with, but with today’s treatment options of OTC and prescription shampoos, you will be able to manage them effectively. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best treatment for wet dandruff?

The best treatment for wet dandruff depends on the cause. However, since the condition occurs due to oil buildup on the scalp, treatment generally includes more frequent washing of your hair with mild shampoos and taking a break from styling products. If your wet dandruff is tied to a skin disorder, you should visit your doctor to get the best treatment for your condition.

Why is dandruff dry and wet?

Dry dandruff is often flaked off of a dry scalp, while wet dandruff flakes off and blends with oil, dirt, and debris. The excess oil in the hair mixes with the flakes of dandruff, sticks to the hair shaft, and builds up on the scalp.

Is really bad dandruff a sign of psoriasis?

Dandruff can be a sign of psoriasis, but it could also be a sign of another condition. Psoriasis is long lasting, but dandruff tends to come and go sporadically. Psoriasis is also typically more scaly than flaky. While scalp psoriasis can spread to your hairline or other parts of your face and neck, dandruff is limited to your scalp.

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