I've had psoriasis & eczema since I was a kid. High school was horrid, because being a swimmer, the chlorine really irritated my skin. Frankly I didn't know anything else and I liked swimming enough that it didn't bother me too much, I just went through a lot of lotion. After high school, I still have kept the habit of having a bottle of lotion next to the bed for my hands and feet, and my worst spots are my upper arms. And my scalp. Oh, my scalp.
My scalp has been the bane of my existence for as long as I can remember. No amount of dandruff shampoo has ever helped. Quite the opposite, it's always made my scalp worse. Since HS I've known that showering more than every 2-3 days irritates my skin horribly, but I can keep the patches on my arms down to splotchy-hive-looking things (not too scaly and gross) if I don't shower too often. My scalp has also seemed to like this arrangement best, up until about two years ago.
Two years ago my scalp suddenly erupted. I didn't even have to scratch my head to have a blizzard fall every time I bent over. Gross! I saw two dermatologists, two allergists, had a bunch of tests done, and all anyone could tell me was, you have dandruff. THANKS A LOT, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS! No but really, I've done so much for this in the last two years, and nothing has ever helped. I had three different kinds of shampoo, and it's not like they worked for a while and then stopped so I could just rotate through them. They never helped. Steroid and anti fungal ointments to go on my scalp that made it look greasy and attract dirt like you wouldn't believe, but still didn't help.
Then about 6 months ago it suddenly got even worse. Besides just flakey patches, now I suddenly had the plaquey chunks that I hadn't had since my last swim season of high school. And they smell like brewing bread or beer or something. So, pretty solidly a fungus, and pretty clearly growing out of control, and now it is IN MY FREAKING EARS. Along the way the last two years,
- I started shaving my head pretty radically and regularly to be able to clean my scalp better, with mixed results.
- I went back to the anti fungal prescription shampoos. Still no luck.
- I tried coconut & olive oil hair masks. Nothing, now the plaque chunks were just greasy.
- I tried scrubbing with baking soda, but I can't get it into my scalp unless I've JUST shaved and even then I have a mohawk so the center portion is still bad and I refuse to shave my head entirely.
- I tried rinsing with apple cider vinegar with no results.
- I started scrubbing my head with a sugar & olive oil scrub (with peppermint and tangerine oils) occasionally but it makes my hair greasy so I can't do it too often.
Finally this week I decided enough was enough. I'd scratched my ears so hard they bled. My scalp had bloody scratch marks from scratching in my sleep. I've ditched the pharmaceuticals. They haven't ever done a thing for me and the dermatologists never even looked at what was wrong before they prescribed them so I just don't care about them anymore. It's back to home remedies.
First I searched home remedies for dandruff. I'm pretty skilled at dealing with fungal infections, being prone to them for a lifetime, so I focused on the most commonly recurring themes and anything that looked good for fungus. As you may or may not remember, I'm allergic to tea tree oil so that's a common one I have to avoid.
Common elements seemed to be baking soda and vinegar, tea tree oil, lavender oil, peppermint oil, and detox baths.
- No 'poo is baking soda as an abrasive agent and to absorb oil deposits, then a vinegar rinse to remoisturize and rebalance pH levels on the scalp. But I knew that didn't work for me. I saw some dandruff remedies say to use just baking soda, or mix it with shampoo, or even dissolve it in warm water, so I figured the baking soda chemical reaction was probably more important than its abrasive qualities.
- Vinegar ratios were anywhere from 1:9 (1/10th vinegar) to 1:1 (half vinegar) and used either apple cider or white vinegar. No 'poo methods recommend white vinegar for light hair, and apple cider vinegar for dark hair, stating that white vinegar on dark hair can lighten hair and ACV on blond hair can make it brassy. Interesting. Apple cider vinegar it is.
- Lavender oil, peppermint, lemon, grapefruit, orange, and rosemary all have anti fungal properties and are all ones I own.
Other remedies that came up less often but still repeatedly included:
- Aloe vera gel on the scalp for 15 minutes, then shampoo as normal.
- Warm oil scalp treatments for 15 minutes to overnight.
- Sugar scrubs with coconut or olive oil or both.
- Honey scrubs with coconut/olive oil.
- Honey on a lemon & scrub.
- Green tea as bath water, hair rinse water, and hydrator.
Once I'd done my research I came up with a plan. Everything said to use them every day or two for two weeks and then once a week or so thereafter, which is right up my alley as a treatment plan.
The first night, Thursday, I took a detox bath. Epsom salts and lavender oil. I put a ton of peppermint oil into my aloe shampoo, and believe it or not I'm going to put more in because it's not as tingly as I want it. Once I had the shampoo on my hand I sprinkled on some baking soda, and scrubbed that in. Let it sit for a minute or so, then rinsed it off. Lather, rinse, repeat--yes, I did the shampoo & baking soda again. I made sure to get it in my ears, and I let that sit. Just soaked in the water with epsom salts and soothing, relaxing lavender for about 5 minutes, and then rinsed that off. I filled a dollar store ketchup bottle half full with apple cider vinegar, and half full of lukewarm water. Squirted that through my hair, making sure to rub every inch of my scalp with it and get it into my ears. Of course, it drained down my face, so I rinsed that off with cool water. By the time I'd saturated my head twice over, I'd used... 1/4 of the bottle. Phooey. So I drained the bath (which let me tell you looked digesting by now so I was grateful) and rinsed my entire body with the vinegar wash.
Results: HIVEY HIVEY HIVES all over my face, neck, and chest. Angry angry skin. Head not too itchy, ears still itchy. I think the vinegar was too strong for my poor sensitive skin to handle. But there were no chunky plaque deposits on my scalp anymore, even if there were still a lot of flakes. Improvement in one shot, that's what I like to see. I woke up the next morning THIRSTY AS YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE. Standard practice with detox baths, though, so that was a nice way of my body telling me I'd done something do it and having it respond as expected.
Second night, Friday, I took a spill and bonked my head on the floor. I was sore, I was tired, and Mr. Moon got off work late. But "every night for two weeks" was my game plan, and if I can at least do every night for a week I'm doing good. Besides, after twisting myself and falling down, an epsom salt bath is really good for me anyway. Repeated the shampooing, again twice, making sure to get into my ears and behind them. Reduced the ration on the vinegar rinse a bit--I intended to do about 1:3 vinegar:water, but it ended up being more like 1:2. Still, 1/3 vinegar as opposed to 1/2 vinegar was better, and it didn't sting as much. Also got some rosemary in the bath this time; rosemary oil is supposed to boost other oils for one, and is an anti fungal agent itself.
Results: Face still mildly hivey, everything else fairly happy. But dry. So, so dry. I felt like my skin was going to crack open and I couldn't even get a wide-tooth comb through my hair. So I put on some coconut oil, on my scaly arms and my face and even rubbed it into my hair and scalp. Let that sit overnight. Woke up still feeling thirsty but able to move my mouth this time so that's an improvement. Also not as sore I expected to be after such a fall. Next morning, no cruddy deposits behind my ears, hair still greasy and coconuty, ears miraculously not itchy, but scalp is slightly. Ears have very mild flaky deposits, scalp... too greasy to tell thanks to the coconut oil, but no plaquey deposits is nice.
So the plan for the next two weeks is to
- Continue epsom salt baths every night.
- Keep lather-rinse-repeating with the shampoo & baking soda scrub every night
- Rinse with vinegar solutions of decreasing strength from 1:3 down to 1:9 over the next few days then sticking with 1:9 for the remainder of the two weeks.
- Increase the amount of peppermint in the shampoo, because I like it better when it's nice and cool & tingly, but I'm thinking about also adding some orange oil to it because for one I like the way it smells and for another it's nicely antimicrobial as well as moisturizing.
- Use coconut oil on my skin every night, and on my scalp/ears/hair as necessary.
- Get better about increasing my water intake since dehydration helps fungus take hold and it will help a lot of my issues anyway.
I don't want to add too much more to the process because I want to see how it works as a rehabilitative plan. However, I do enjoy using my sugar scrub on my scalp and skin, and I enjoy green tea baths, so after the first two weeks is up I'm definitely varying the routine a little for the weekly maintenance stuff. I will keep the baking soda shampoo & vinegar (or green tea) rinses pretty constant as an every shower/bath" kind of thing though.
Sorry, this post is not fun or glamorous but it's the realities of life. I am so grateful for all that I've learned so far with home remedies, and I'm looking forward to learning so much more. I'm also pretty grateful for my parents and schools teaching me the value of the scientific method; I tried doing one variable at a time to see what helped, and now I'm combining a bunch of things that sort of helped on their own to see how they do all together. And of course, writing and sharing the results in case they might help someone else!