How Natural Oils and Butters Can Irritate Dandruff



Duchess Gummy Buns says…

I saw on this hair blog that if you have dandruff you should avoid putting natural oils on your scalp because it would make it worse. If this is true I am so sad because I really loved massaging oil into my scalp but i wonder if that’s why my dandruff is still in a certain spot on my scalp and won’t be relieved by any dandruff shampoo’s that I have been trying?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Natural oils like coconut, shea butter, and others contain a chemical known as oleic acid. To understand the effect of oleic acid on your scalp we have to talk a little bit about the causes of dandruff.

Causes of dandruff

We know from the technical literature there are three key factors that determine if you’ll have dandruff: the activity of Malassezia fungi, the presence of sebaceous secretions, and your own individual sensitivity.

These fungi (see picture above) break down the triglycerides (fatty oils) from your scalp and release fatty acids. Recent research by P&G has shown that the fungi prefer saturated fatty acids which means they leave behind the unsaturated fatty acids, like oleic acid. The structure of these unsaturated fatty acids allow them to penetrate the skin’s natural barrier where they trigger an irritation response that leads to flaking and itching.

Oleic acid can exacerbate dandruff

Ok so we know the fungi won’t feed on oleic acid but the oleic acid itself can be irritating, right? It depends! The key is the third piece of the puzzle: the “individual sensitivity.” If you’re not prone to dandruff and you’re using coconut oil to strengthen your hair, it may not matter how much of the oleic acid containing oils you use. You may experience more benefit than risk. However, the situation could be reversed if you are prone to itchy, flaky scalp. Additional oleic acid could make things worse, based on what we’ve read. We realize that this may not be a fully satisfactory explanation but it did allow us to use the word “exacerbate.”

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Natural oils may not be for everyone because they contain oleic acid which can worsen dandruff symptoms.

Ladies, have you ever experienced this?

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Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast.

  • Stephanie

    Coconut oil is a natural antifungal, which would make it perfect for this usage.

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  • Daleisa

    Well recently ive been using olive oil to oil / massage my scalp… Since then ive seen more dandruff than before using the olive oil… So for me olive oil increases my dandruff :(

    • Regina

      The oil is probably lifting the dandruff from your scalp…may not be contributing to the creation of more dandruff.

  • amy

    This was helpful! That is my problem excatly. I get dry itchy scalp, when i put oil and creams it on my scalp it make it even worse so im like thinking what to do?!. I am trying ACV with water see how that gos.

  • curlydrytangly

    If I cant put on natural oils what is the substitute? I have naturally dry and curly hair, which gets puffed up into a ball. Dandruff also increases after I wash my hair with shampoo and conditioner, with or without oil. SO I wash almost every alternate day as it looks dull. Even considered going pixie though I adore long hair:(. Are there any good products/tricks you know which can help me out.

    • DivaNicole

      You can use the oils on your hair, it’s just not recommended to use it on your scalp.

  • Vista

    Same happens with me. Was googling to know if it was only me to experience such a weird thing. Coconut oil was worsening my dandruff. And no shampoo helps to get rid of it completely. It gets little better with some though. Nothing big..


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  • Mel Stevens

    The pro naturals argan oil completely eliminated any dandruff I had in my hair!

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    Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you
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  • Cynthia

    I used coconut oil for a long time hoping it would get rid of my dandruff. The more dandruff I got, the more oil I used. It wasn’t until my sister suggested it that I considered coconut oil as the culprit. My dandruff had spread and was much worse. Did some research and found out about oleic acid. So now I know my scalp is sensitive to it. I only use oil as a pre-poo treatment now.

  • Daniel

    I have never had any problems with dandruff, ever. I decided that I want to try and grow my hair out and I read online about the many benefits that would come from massaging coconut oil onto your scalp such as strengthening hair and increased hair growth through stimulation to the scalp and providing necessary and helpful nutrients. About 24 hours after the oil treatment my scalp became very tender. Within about 24 more hours my scalp started to break out. Who knew you could get zits all over your head? it was very painful and irritating. Now here we are about a week and a half later, zits are gone but I now have dandruff. I’m hoping that once that layer of dead skin is clear that the dandruff will be gone.

  • Vishakha

    I have been using Amla oil for my hairs.I have a very bad dandruff due to which my hairs are falling. I have observed that coconut oil does not suit me. So what should I do?

  • harriett

    I am not prone to dandruff, but recently I started using coconut oil on my hair because it just leaves it so nice since I naturaly have super frizzy hair. Point being, ever since I started using coconut oil, I have began to have dandruff. Is there anyway to balance this out? :( I feel like I’m stuck between having shiny, smooth hair or clean looking hair…

  • thatzlife

    A couple years ago there used to be a product called Skin Zinc. They had a liquid spray that could be sprayed on your scalp and it worked like magic! I have bad dandruff and I promise u, THIS product truly works!! But as they say, all good things soon come to an end. Suddenly Skin Zinc was no longer available . Without any explanation whatsoever, the ordering number was out of service, and no one was selling it online!– except someone on ebay who tried to take advantage of the sudden lack of supply and rise in demand, so he overpriced it to $200. (A bottle was supposed to be about $30 not $200.)
    Had I known Skin Zinc would 1 day not be around I would’ve bought a life time supply. It’s the only thing that truly worked. No flakes after using it every few days. Somebody,
    Please bring Skin Zinc back!
    Yes these natural oils make my scalp worse it seems. Thanks for the article that explains why.

  • Kelly Doe

    But I don’t understand.. I’ve found a lot of sites where it says that coconut oil is a treatment for dandruff. Coconut oil is the only thing I’ve changed in my hair care routine, and now I have dandruff. I have no idea what to think or what to do..