Natural Remedies: Homemade Dandruff Shampoo and Poison Ivy Remedy

The Natural Remedies column shows you how to make your own dandruff shampoos using nettle and apple cider and garden parsley, and a natural remedy for poison ivy.
By Charles Dickson, Ph.D.
February/March 1996
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Nettle and apple cider vinegar will come to the rescue by creating a natural dandruff shampoo.

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The Natural Remedies column shares information on how to create your own household remedies. 

Natural Remedies for Health

Homemade Dandruff Shampoo 

The process that causes dandruff, the shedding of dead skin, is a natural one that goes on all over our bodies. In fact, we get a whole new suit of skin about once a month. While the dead cells that flake off most of the body go unnoticed, the ones coming from our scalp and hair are trapped by oil from the hair resulting in those unsightly clumps—dandruff.

Commercial dandruff shampoos contain some ingredients that are helpful in removing dandruff, including zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, sulfur and salicylic acid. While sulfur is easily obtainable at a local pharmacy, the other ingredients present a much greater problem for the home remedy formulator.

Forget about those products. Make your own. They will be just as effective and much cheaper. Nettle is an herb of choice here. Nettle, known botanically as Urtica dioica, is sometimes called stinging nettle because the hairs of the plant cause a burning sensation when they penetrate the skin. One of the chemicals released is formic acid, which is the same chemical causing the stinging effect of the bee or ant sting. But don't let that deter you since you will not be working with the stinging hairs, but rather the dried leaves, which can be purchased at a local herb store. Add two tablespoons of the dried leaves to a small cup of boiling water. Allow the mixture to steep overnight. Strain through a cheesecloth and add a few ounces of apple cider vinegar. Apply this to hair and scalp. You have a super cleaner.

The lowly garden parsley, while being an excellent health food, is also a good external dandruff remover. Four a cup of hot water over a quarter-cup of chopped parsley. Let the mixture steep for half an hour, then strain off the parsley residue. Apply to scalp and hair following your shampoo treatment.

You've read much in newspapers about the beneficial effects of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) in the body. Some research points to its powers as an anticoagulant (blood thinner) for circulatory problems and as antioxidant for body cells, which deters development of cancer. But the flair and scalp? Absolutely. This compound, first isolated in nature from the willow tree for its analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer) properties, is also fair game for use on the hair and scalp.

Dissolve six tablets in a small cup of warm water. Massage this into the scalp for about 10 minutes. Now rinse thoroughly with water and then add a vinegar rinse as an extra help after you have rinsed out the aspirin completely. Remember, this is not a shampoo, but a conditioner to be used after you have shampooed thoroughly.

One footnote oil dandruff removers: whatever shampoo treatment you use, commercial or homemade, top it off with a vinegar rinse. This serves to remove any alkaline residue left over by shampoo and restores the pH of the scalp to its normal acidity.

Natural Poison Ivy Remedy 

The manufacturer of a popular poison ivy remedy told me once that the tonic was made of a blend of acetic acid and isopropanol. Wow! That sounds pretty impressive. Not exactly. Translated from the chemist's jargon, it meant a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol. So when the supply was exhausted in our home, I mixed a half vinegar/rubbing alcohol solution, which of course continues to be effective.

What drives people crazy when they get poison ivy, oak, or sumac? It's an allergic reaction to the sap inside the plant. This clear to slightly yellow oil is called Urushiol. It oozes from any cut or crushed part of the plant. Oil content runs highest in spring and summer, but cases have been reported in winter, according to Dr. William Epstein, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco.

The three poison weeds are unfortunately very hardy. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac grow over a wide area of the United States and all produce similar reactions. So if you're allergic to one, you'll probably react to the others as well.

Cases of poisoning from these plants can affect as many as 10 million American each year. A lucky 10-15 percent of us are at least tolerant of these plants. If you know you are one of them, stop reading this column right now and go oil to a more interesting topic. But if you're in the other 85-90 percent or have a friend who is-keep reading.

Now that you already know that a 50-50 mix of vinegar and rubbing alcohol is an effective treatment, what other simple or backyard remedies are there? Consider the following

Once you've gotten the sap on you and know you're in trouble, try cutting up a green tomato and squeezing the juice on the affected area. Of course, time of year and part of the country influence use of this treatment, since most of my friends in Minnesota will not have green tomatoes available in December. Then again, there's not much ivy around then, either.

What if you already have a red rash and it's starting to hurt and itch? Try mixing equal parts of buttermilk, vinegar, and salt, and rub on the area. Another effective treatment is to place a cup of willow leaves in a cup of water and boil. Strain and let cool while the solution becomes dark brown. Use cotton swabs and place on the affected area.

One effective commercial preparation for rashes is calamine lotion and also phenolated calamine lotion. In either case, while these may be helpful, you're going to pay a lot more than if you use some baking soda and water. This produces a drying effect at a fraction of the cost.

Still another plant is the jewelweed, or touch-me-not. Conveniently, it most often grows right next to poison ivy, making for an immediate remedy to the potential itch. When you think you have entered into a poison ivy patch and had contact, look around for the jewelweed. It is 8-12 inches off the ground, produces orange flowers, and has a thick stern. Break the stem and spread the gel-like residue on the areas you think have come into contact with poison ivy. This will stop the spread of infection.

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