TikTok Says Dandruff Shampoo Can Help Clear Up Acne—Do Dermatologists Agree?

woman washing face looking in mirror

woman washing face looking in mirror

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Fast Facts

  • A viral TikTok video shows that using a dandruff shampoo, like Head & Shoulders, may help clear up acne on skin, but the hack may only work for certain people with a specific type of acne.
  • The active ingredient in dandruff shampoo, zinc pyrithione, may help clear up pityrosporum folliculitis, or fungal acne.
  • Dermatologists say that though dandruff shampoo may help, there are better, gentler options to help clear up fungal acne.

What if the cure to your annoying acne could be found in the shampoo aisle? 

That’s the newest skincare claim to hit TikTok, courtesy of Elyse Myers, a creator on the platform who’s gathered 5.6 million followers on the app. On September 29, Myers uploaded a video sharing her experience using Head & Shoulders—a popular dandruff shampoo—for clear skin. 

“Before you spend a lot of money on skincare products, just hold on,” Myers told her viewers. “Just go buy Head & Shoulders and wash your face with it and see what happens.”

Myers went on to explain that she had been using the “Walmart version” of the shampoo since her middle school days. “I had a dermatologist tell me the zinc in dandruff shampoo is incredible for your face,” she said. 

Even after trying some higher-end face products, Myers said she still prefers her knockoff Head & Shoulders.

“I started trying to use fancy stuff because people were sending it to me for free—never had worse skin in my entire life,” she said. “Three days ago, I threw everything away and started using my dandruff shampoo again. [My] skin is already…clearer.”

And Myers isn’t the only one singing dandruff shampoo’s praises. So far, her video has been viewed 11.7 million times, has gotten 1.6 million likes, and a slew of other TikTokers—including user Alexi McKinley—have also made their own videos to test out the hack.

So what’s going on here? Can dandruff shampoo really help with acne—and if so, should you try it?

Acne

A Helpful Treatment for a Specific Type of Acne

Though it seems strange, there are some cases in which dandruff shampoo might be able to help with acne—but likely only for a small number of people with a certain kind of breakout. 

It seems zinc pyrithione—the active dandruff-fighting ingredient in Head & Shoulders—can help clear up pityrosporum folliculitis, sometimes known as Malassezia folliculitis, or fungal acne, according to Julia Mhlaba, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The issue? This is not the kind of acne most people have. 

“[Pityrosporum folliculitis] is really the main condition in which using the Head & Shoulders, or something with zinc is helpful, because it’s treating that yeast that’s causing those bumps,” Dr. Mhlaba told Health. “That’s where some of the confusion I think lies, because some people think, ‘Oh, why has my dermatologist never suggested this?’ but most people don't have Pityrosporum folliculitis, most people have just regular acne vulgaris.” 

Acne vulgaris, or just acne, is the most common inflammatory skin condition in the world, and the red, inflamed pimples associated with it are usually caused by hair follicles that are clogged with oil or dead skin. 

Fungal acne, on the other hand, is caused by the overgrowth of a type of yeast known as Malassezia furfur, which lives on the skin. It’s understandable, then, that the treatments for these two different conditions would be very different, even though they may appear similar. 

“If it’s true acne…doing the Head & Shoulders on your face isn’t really going to do much of anything,” Mathew Avram, MD, JD, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatology Laser & Cosmetic Center and associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, told Health. “It’s not going to be effective. It’s not the right treatment.” 

How to Know if Your Acne Is Actually Caused by a Fungal Infection

Testing Out Head & Shoulders on Your Own Acne

If you feel compelled to test the Head & Shoulders TikTok hack on your own acne—and if you don’t know your exact acne diagnosis—there isn’t much harm in trying it out, aside from potential dryness or irritation. (Health reached out to Procter & Gamble, the makers of Head & Shoulders, but has not received a response as of press time.)

“It’s not dangerous,” said Dr. Mhlaba. “It's not a serious side effect, but some people who may be predisposed to things like eczema or skin sensitivity, they may want to avoid trying it without seeking help from the dermatologist first because it may be unnecessary and it could cause irritation.” 

If a person does want to try using dandruff shampoo as a face wash to see if the zinc pyrithione might help, the best way to use it would be to leave it on the skin for a few minutes, wash it off,  and then use a good moisturizer after, Dr. Mhlaba added. 

But using Head & Shoulders as a face wash isn’t your only option if you deal with fungal acne—and gentler options certainly exist. 

“One of these medications, something like Head & Shoulders, would actually be helpful, but it wouldn't be the ideal topical to use,” said Dr. Avram. “There are other formulations that we could use…that would work better and agree with the skin more.”

Dr. Avram suggested that topical antifungals may do a better job while also being less harsh. 

Oral medication may also be prescribed if antifungal creams or gels aren’t clearing up the fungal acne, said Dr. Mhlaba. 

And, as with most types of acne, fungal acne won’t go away overnight, regardless of treatment—despite what some TikTok users may say. 

“That’s a bit of an unfair claim to expect things to get better immediately. It’s not an immediate response, that’s not the goal of it. It’s not an overnight pimple cream,” Dr. Mhlaba said. “I would say it should take a few weeks.” 

Though there’s no real danger in trying the skincare hack, it’s always best to check in with your dermatologist to see if a zinc pyrithione product could help with your pimples, Dr. Mhlaba added. If not, you’ll be washing your face with shampoo for nothing.

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