Glycolic Acid for Dandruff: Why It’s Worth a Try

If you’re one of the millions of people who struggle with dandruff, you know how frustrating it can be. Not only is it unsightly and embarrassing, but it can also be itchy and uncomfortable. While there are plenty of dandruff treatments on the market, glycolic acid is one that you may not have considered. In this article, we’ll explore what glycolic acid is, how it can help with dandruff, and some tips for using it effectively.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that occurs naturally in sugar cane. It’s often used in skincare products because of its exfoliating properties. When applied to the skin, it helps to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover, which can leave your skin looking brighter and smoother.

How Can Glycolic Acid Help with Dandruff?

Dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp, which leads to inflammation and flaking. While there are plenty of shampoos and treatments that can help to control dandruff, glycolic acid offers a unique approach.

When applied to the scalp, glycolic acid can help to exfoliate the skin and remove any buildup of dead skin cells or excess oil. This can create an environment that’s less hospitable to the yeast that causes dandruff, helping to reduce inflammation and flaking and leaving a clean scalp with a well-balanced pH.

How to Use Glycolic Acid for Dandruff

Glycolic acid can help to improve the overall health of the scalp by promoting cell turnover and reducing inflammation. To use glycolic acid for dandruff, you can follow these steps:

  • Wash your hair with a gentle shampoo.
  • Apply a glycolic acid product to your scalp. You can use a glycolic acid toner, serum, or scalp scrub.
  • Massage the product into your scalp for a few minutes.
  • Leave the product on your scalp for 10-15 minutes.
  • Rinse your hair with cool water.

You can use glycolic acid for dandruff once or twice a week. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to start with a lower concentration of glycolic acid and gradually increase it as your scalp adjusts.

For instance, opting for a product with a high glycolic acid concentration like 25% may not be suitable for your scalp and hair health. If you are uncertain about which product to choose, it’s advisable to seek guidance from your dermatologist to identify the right glycolic acid solution for managing dandruff effectively. Generally, the most suitable products for scalp application tend to have a glycolic acid concentration ranging from 5% to 10%.

Products Containing Glycolic Acid for Dandruff

There are a few different types of products that contain glycolic acid and can be used to treat dandruff. Here are a few examples:

  • Shampoos: There are several shampoos on the market that contain glycolic acid as an active ingredient. Look for products that are specifically designed for dandruff, as these will often contain higher concentrations of glycolic acid.
  • Scalp treatments: Some scalp treatments, such as serums or toners, also contain glycolic acid. These can be applied directly to the scalp and left on for a few minutes before rinsing out.
  • DIY remedies: If you’re interested in trying a more natural approach, you can make your own glycolic acid scalp treatment by mixing glycolic acid with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil. Apply the mixture to your scalp and leave it on for 10-15 minutes before rinsing out.

Comparisons with Other Dandruff Treatments

While glycolic acid may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of dandruff treatments, it does have some benefits over other options. Here are a few points of comparison:

  • Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is another common ingredient in dandruff shampoos. While both salicylic and glycolic acid work by exfoliating the skin, glycolic acid is generally considered to be gentler and less likely to cause irritation.
  • Ketoconazole: Ketoconazole is a prescription antifungal medication that’s sometimes used to treat severe dandruff. While ketoconazole may be more effective than glycolic acid for some people, it can also have more side effects.
  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is a popular natural remedy for dandruff. While tea tree oil can be effective for mild cases of dandruff, glycolic acid may be more effective for more severe cases.

best glycolic acid products for dandruff

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution: This affordable option, widely available in drugstores, contains 7% glycolic acid—an effective concentration for dandruff. It’s fragrance-free and suitable for vegans.

The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub: Another budget-friendly choice, this product is gentle on the scalp and features 7% glycolic acid along with salicylic acid. These ingredients work to exfoliate the scalp and remove dandruff flakes.

Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub: While pricier, this luxurious option boasts 10% glycolic acid and a blend of botanical extracts. This formula not only exfoliates but also soothes and nourishes the scalp for a more indulgent experience.


  1. Is glycolic acid safe for use on the scalp? Yes, glycolic acid is generally safe for use on the scalp when used as directed.
  2. Can glycolic acid make dandruff worse? In some cases, glycolic acid can initially cause mild flaking or irritation. However, this should improve over time as your scalp adjusts to the treatment.
  3. How long does it take to see results from gly colic acid for dandruff? Results can vary from person to person, but you may start to see some improvement after a few weeks of consistent use.
  4. Can I use glycolic acid on color-treated hair? It’s generally safe to use glycolic acid on color-treated hair, but be sure to check with your stylist or the manufacturer of your hair dye to be sure.
  5. Are there any side effects of using glycolic acid for dandruff? Glycolic acid is generally considered safe, but some people may experience mild irritation or redness. If you experience any discomfort, discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional.

Final Takeaway

While there are plenty of dandruff treatments available, glycolic acid offers a unique approach that can be effective for many people. By exfoliating the scalp and creating an environment that’s less hospitable to yeast, glycolic acid can help to reduce inflammation and flaking.

If you’re interested in trying glycolic acid for dandruff, be sure to start with a low concentration and use it consistently for best results. And as always, if you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional.