This should be fun to read…


I focus on which combination of oils and washing work best for the fight against dandruff in African American hair. I go about doing this by trying home remedies, recommendations from my hair dress, and products marketed towards African Americans. After three separate washes, I concluded that a mixture of coconut oil, argon oil, and olive oil infused shampoo and conditioner, when applied in a certain order, was the best option for my hair.

Oils, Oils, and more Oils

It’s often a common question, “Is African American hair actually different from Caucasian or Hispanic hair? Can they even be treated the same?” While all hair has basically the same chemical make-up, the distribution of lipids – specifically Keratin,  is thought to be different. (Berardesca, E., Leveque, J., Maibach, H. I. (2007)  On average African hair has about one-hundred and ninety hairs per square centimeter while their Caucasian counterparts have around two-hundred and twenty-seven hair per square centimeter. It should also be noted that, in the same set of research, African hair was found to grow on the daily average of two-hundred fifty-six micrometers as Caucasian grew three-hundred ninety-six micrometers. (Loussouarn, G., 2001, pages 294-297) Knowing these differences now, it is more than plausible to say that the two types at hand are very different and should be treated using various methods. From personal experience, I’ve had special shampoo prescribed by a doctor, oils, home remedies, and concoctions of different shampoos and conditioners applied to my scalp. Most, however, did barely a small indefinite amount to combat the ever encroaching dryness. So what combination of washing and oils would actually curb the amount of dandruff that occurs between washing?

Literature Review

When Dandruff isn’t Really Dandruff (2013), author by the screen name of sophie, is the most common place yet still factual telling of Malassezia. This article is for those that just want a short and simple answer to what could possibly cause dandruff. It doesn’t go as deep into detail about which scientist studied what and when. However, sophie does go to say that mainstream shampoos and conditioners are “loaded with chemicals [that] are often to blame for dandruff like symptoms.”(para 18)  Much like the actual fungus Malassezia, the chemicals “dry out” the hair and scalp.

In the excerpt of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Dawson, DeAngelis, Kaczvinsky), dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are just two of the main scalp conditions caused by the rapid growth of new cells. As we all know, the outer layer epidermis is composed solely dead skin cells. These cells flake off naturally and the cells underneath rise up to take their place. Now when the yeast-like fungus Malassezia is present, the natural oils and lipids that are in the scalp and hair are “eaten” by Malassezia. When these oils are stolen, that leaves the scalp dry and more prone to dandruff as there is an overabundance of cells ready to flake off.

Malassezia is researched thoroughly in Hay’s article in the British Journal of Dermatology. Malassezia, previously named Pityrosporum, is a genus of fungi -meaning it is collection of fungus, not just one- associated with dandruff and seborrhic dermatitis. When fungus is high in number on a subject, the symptoms are more visible. There are also various diseases caused by this fungus such as Pityriasis versicolor and Malassezia Folliculitis. The former is the most common of skin infections. The pigmentation is “displaced”, similar in appearance to Vitiligo. Malassezia Folliculitis is a more serious infection that causes inflamation of the skin often leaving red blotchy areas on the skin.(2007)

The short article from the McClatchy – Tribune Business News demonstrates how others are looking to cope with the problem. More and more African Americans go to dermatologists because of scalp issues. What Dr. Jeaneen Chappell  noticed was that they would not wash their hair as much as she had prescribed. What she didn’t understand was that African American hair cannot be washed so frequently, as it will become very brittle. With the introduction of the [in the article] unidentified foam, dandruff could possibly be taken care of without excessive washing. While this sounds too good to be true, it’s only in the trail stage as the writing of the article.(Jackson H. (2011)

Lastly in the second of the two excerpts of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Vol. 66), the combination of authors comment on a survey conducted on African American girls and their knowledge of dandruff and dandruff-like symptoms. Their findings show that most think they are dealing with dry scalp rather than dandruff and without daily oiling, flakes appear. To support their findings, they mention that most hair oil and grease marketed for African hair contain sulfur in them, which combats seborrheic dermatitis. Regardless of whether they have seborrheic dermatitis or not, daily oiling helps. However, they conclude their argument with how they want to conduct research on how scalp conditions as well as daily routines change with the addition to the frequency of hair washing, hair extensions or “weave”, as well the actual presence of seborrhiec dermatitis.


While wash two and three are very similar, the time gap in between sets them apart, thus making all three washes antithetical. Before starting, I already decided to leave all heated styling tools (blow dryers, curling irons, etc.) alone during this experiment if I could. Heat is the enemy of all types hair.

The first wash was with Silk Elements with Olive Oil and Silk Protein shampoo and conditioning set as the woman at Sally’s Beauty Supply told me it would help with dry hair. After the rinsing the conditioner, a minimal amount of Coconut Oil was applied to my scalp and hair. After combing, I tied my hair into a bun at the top of my head.

The second wash I decided to add a bit more oil. I used the same shampoo and conditioner. The conditioner was applied to my scalp, however instead of rinsing out the conditioner before continuing, coconut oil was added to the shafts of the hair. An Argon oil hydrating hair mask applied to the ends of my hair. After four or so hours, the mixture was rinsed lightly from my hair, as to not rinse the oils completely from my hair. I combed my hair, wrapped, and let it air dry. After the interview with Ms. Fox, I decided to wait just a bit before washing again the third and final wash of the experiment. The same steps were repeated from wash two save for the mixture of Coconut Oil, Argon Oil, and Conditioner was left on a bit longer than wash two.


The first results were a bit depressing. Sadly, I had not realized that if my hair was in a bun, it would not dry completely. When it finally did dry, the flakes were more than apparent. It was so bad that they were sitting on the top of the hair. The hair itself was also dry. Not only dry but brittle.

After the second washing, I could tell that the oils really helped. My hair was shinier and healthier than before. Since I didn’t wash my hair for at least a week after that, it was a complete improvement. I knew that it was a major improvement. My scalp didn’t show any signs of flaking for some time.

Then, I broke my no heat promise. On Thursday, roughly three days after washing, I flat ironed my hair. It was then exactly another week before washing. Flakes hadn’t appeared until about five days after wash 2. Although the flakes were already present, I still kept to my decision of holding out on washing. At the end of wash three, my hair was extremely shiny and healthy looking. Flakes were not present as of March 24th, 2014.


From the data collected, the positive trend of the results suggests that the mixture of coconut oil, argon oil, and conditioner helps the most. Not only with the scalp itself but the hair looked and felt healthier. Even after the six days between washing, the dandruff had not gotten worse than it was before the first wash.

The first wash resulted in much more dandruff sitting at the front of the scalp and on top of the hair. The second wash added in the oils that my hair needed in order to grow. Since most of those who have African hair and deal with dandruff believe that the flakes they see are due to dry scalp, oil is often thought of as necessary. Thus I believe that oiling my hair is an important aspect of keeping my hair dandruff free.


Although my topic was fairly easy, it was easier said than done. Time is a variable and, generally, in experiments should have a very set time frame. Out of the three washes, there was a one day gap and then a week long gap. While this does demonstrate and emphasize that the second wash was much better, the flaw of a different time frame is brought up. Yes, while wash one was a complete failure and wash two proved to be the better combination, time is an important factor.

Also the fact that I was only able to conduct three washes in the same time vicinity. A study like this should be done over a longer amount of time and with multiple people as seen in the McClatchy – Tribune Business News article.



Appendix A

Below are the notes taken during the phone interview of Ms. Angela Fox, a professional hair beautician. The original prompts or questions are flesh against the left margin. He answers are indented. Further explanations/context help in brackets.

How many years have you doing hair?

“30, I started young.”

How often do you work on someone who has a significant amount of dandruff?

“Not often, most of my clients are regulars.” [She washes her clients hair before styling it]

Do you know the causes of dandruff?

“Each person is different, dryness, over use of products, hereditary, etc.”

What are your remedies?

“I take of her clients who are regulars, but a few [non regulars] I highly recommend a hot oil treatment. Do not to use dandruff shampoo. They can irritate and create more and dry out the hair. You need to drink lots of water. If it gets too bad, I refer them to a doctor.”

[Coconut Oil, Olive Shampoo and Conditioner, Argon Oil hydrating Hair Mask] With what I have, is this enough to see a difference?

“Simply put, Yes. Your hairs needs the extra oils.” [She’s also my hair dresser, so she knows how my hair is.]

As of this moment, I’ve been washing my hair every other day for this experiment. No heat is added. Should I change?

“You’re shampooing too often! Once a week, twice in the summer. If you wash too frequently there are hardly any natural oils left. [in hair]”

Appendix B

When Wash 1 (Mar. 8) Wash 2 (Mar. 10) Wash 3 (Mar. 20)
With what Only used Shampoo Shampoo and Conditioner Shampoo and Conditioner
Extra Oils Coconut Oil Coconut and Argon Coconut and Argon
Extra Rinse No Yes Yes
Dryness Yes No No
Dandruff (Scale 1 – 5)

1 = Barely

5 = Severe

4.5 2.3 1.4

Wash 1, March 8th

I washed my hair using Silk Elements with Olive Oil and Silk Protein shampoo and conditioner. The 100% organic, virgin, and unrefined coconut oil was applied to my scalp.

Washed with only Olive shampoo and conditioner. Applied coconut oil to scalp, did not rinse. Let air dry.

Results: noticeably flaky

Wash 2, March 10th

Olive oil shampoo. Applied coconut oil, argon oil,  and conditioner to hair. Left in for four  hours. Rinse. Let air dry.

Results: hair soft, flakes (though present) did not arise until several days after

Wash 3 March 20th

Repeat Wash 2. Waited on washing for so long because of interview. She was very livid that I was washing my hair so often. It worked out better in the end.


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