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Salicylic Acid for Dandruff

author image M. Gideon Hoyle
M. Gideon Hoyle is a writer living outside of Houston. Previously, he produced brochures and a wide variety of other materials for a nonprofit educational foundation. He now specializes in topics related to health, exercise and nutrition, publishing for various websites.
Salicylic Acid for Dandruff
A woman smiles as she washes her hair in the shower. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Dandruff is a common condition that affects the skin of the scalp, producing white or yellowish flakes, itching and occasional mild redness. The disorder is sometimes also known as seborrheic dermatitis. You can eliminate or diminish the effects of mild or moderate dandruff with shampoos that contain the active ingredient salicylic acid.

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Dandruff has a number of potential causes. In some cases, you may develop the condition as a consequence of excessively dry or oily skin. You may also develop dandruff if you wash your hair infrequently or use hair care products that irritate your scalp. Additional causes include the skin disorders eczema and psoriasis, as well as excessive growth of a common scalp fungus called malessezia.

Salicylic Acid

In the treatment of dandruff, salicylic acid loosens and softens scaly skin, making it easier to remove. To gain sufficient dandruff relief, shampoo your hair every day until you experience a reduction in symptoms. At that point, you can reduce shampoo use to two or three times every seven days.


If you use a salicylic acid shampoo, you should avoid applying products that contain alcohol or harsh cleansers or soaps to the same areas of skin without your doctor’s explicit approval. You should also avoid the use of skin medications that include sulfur, benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin. Failure to heed these precautions may result in significant or severe irritation of your affected skin. Before using a salicylic acid-containing product, tell you doctor if you have kidney or liver disease, blood vessel disease or diabetes. Also tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or plan to get pregnant while using salicylic acid.

Side Effects

Side effects of salicylic acid include skin irritation and stinging that are relatively minor. Tell your doctor if you experience persistent or severe forms of these effects. More serious potential side effects include nausea, dizziness, headaches, confusion, rapid breathing and hearing loss. Tell your doctor immediately if these symptoms occur in any form. Use of a salicylic acid-containing shampoo can also trigger drying of your scalp and a subsequent increase in skin flake production. If this is the case, try using a conditioner after shampooing your hair.


Dandruff shampoos can lose their effectiveness if you use them continuously. If you experience this, try alternating it with a shampoo that contains another active ingredient such as ketoconazole, coal tar, zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide.

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