How to Fight Dandruff with Coffee Grounds

A quick-fix solution for going flake-free when time, money, and shame are limited.
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Kate Leonard
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A quick-fix solution for going flake-free when time, money, and shame are limited.

My hair has spent the last decade in a messy on-again, off-again relationship with dandruff. As a dark brunette favoring a funeral-ready wardrobe, I tend to look like a busted snow globe. That noxious sludge marketed as anti-dandruff shampoo does work for me eventually, but I’ve been on the lookout for a more efficient solution to beat back the flakes. Enter: coffee grounds.

I may not be a scientist, but I was a sixth-grade brown-noser, so I know a thing or two about the scientific method. With the explicit goal of showing off to Dr. Stein of Twelve Corners Middle School, I present my experiment in the approximate style of a children’s classroom lab guide:

Coffee Grounds for Dandruff: Whaaaa? No, Really!A Really Serious Scientific Investigation 

Ask A Question -- How can dandruff be eliminated physically, forgoing or supplementing the slow chemical process that usually tackles flakes?

The Before Photo: A Dramatic Reenactment Starring Potato Flakes.

The Before Photo: A Dramatic Reenactment Starring Potato Flakes.

Do Background Research -- Recall hearing somewhere that coffee grounds make for a good facial exfoliant – gentler than sugar, more eco-friendly than “microbeads,” and helping fair women achieve a UVA-free summer glow. Figure this vague recollection is research enough and carry on with your test.

Construct a Hypothesis -- Massaging coffee grounds into your scalp will eliminate dandruff, allowing for the unencumbered sporting of The Best Neutral (read: black).

Test with an Experiment

Step 1: Gather Materials

At the end of your workday, volunteer to clean out the office French press. Once you’re alone, carefully dump the contents into a plastic food storage container. When a co-worker walks in and asks what you’re doing, say, “Uh, don’t worry about it,” and relocate your operation to the bathroom.

From around your home, gather: shampoo, conditioner, a wire mesh kitchen sink filter (for bathtub drains), a coffee filter (for wide shower drains), an unimpeachable sense of self and commitment to personal betterment, and a wide-tooth comb (optional).

Step 2: Prepare Your Experiment

Bring your plastic storage container (can I just say Tupperware? I’m going to say Tupperware) into the shower with you. Lather up your hair with a moisturizing shampoo – if you’re really feeling ~wild~ you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo.

If you have a standard tub drain, line it with the kitchen sink filter. If you have a wide shower drain, cover it with the coffee filter and whatever setup you want to finagle to keep the filter in place. I recommend planting your feet on either side of it and moving like a hula doll for the remainder of this process.

Step 3: Good Rubbin’

Divide your hair. Using your fingers, scoop up a tablespoon of grounds at a time and plop them on the exposed area. Rub in small circles along the line until the silence leads to a sudden, stark self-awareness and a mild embarrassment flushes your cheeks. Remind yourself that you are alone in a locked bathroom and no one needs to know that you put garbage in your hair if it doesn’t work. Repeat with another section of scalp. Continue until entire scalp has gotten a good rub-down.

The byproduct of my magical morning elixir.

The byproduct of my magical morning elixir.

Step 4: Clean Up and Recovery

Attempt to rinse the coffee grounds and shampoo out of your hair. Fail miserably. Apply more shampoo. Experience only slight success. Begin to question your life choices, starting with this and moving onto more sensitive topics, like why you keep dating aloof weirdos and whether your childhood guinea pig actually died of neglect and not old age like you tell yourself. 

Apply more shampoo, about twice as much as you’d ordinarily use. Rinse out the last of the coffee grounds.

Cover your hair and scalp with a deep conditioner. You’ve shampooed your hair 3+ times at this point, so this step is probably pretty important. While the conditioner works its magic, spray down your tile and shower curtain. Wash any remaining grounds off your body with your hands or with something that won’t gather grit – that is, unless you want to go wild with a mesh pouf and shift its exfoliating power into overdrive. 

If you’re a mason-jar-as-drinking-glass type, put the coffee grounds gathered above your drain in the compost. Otherwise, dump them in the trash. Rinse your hair. Dry and style your hair as usual.

Analysis and Conclusion

Check your roots for flakes and find none. Experience a disproportionate sense of accomplishment. Immediately decide to post about it on the Internet under the pretense of helping fellow dandruff sufferers, but, if you’re honest with yourself, mostly for external validation.

Three weeks later and still only flaky on the inside.

Three weeks later and still only flaky on the inside.

There are some shortcomings in the experiment. This may only work on certain types of dandruff (or non-dandruff scalp flaking, if you wanna get all finicky about it), such as those flakes caused by dry skin, infrequent shampooing, and incidental dermatitis. People with fungi, psoriasis, and other issues should see a dermatologist rather than, like, rubbing garbage on their heads.

Before performing this experiment on themselves, blondes should consider whether they’re down for that ‘80s Madonna look – a valid style choice I fully support. Those with hair in colors like “espresso,” “chocolate,” and “the type of peat mud in which one might find perfectly preserved bog bodies” are good to go.

Also, addressing the root cause will stave off dandruff better in the long-term than a regular sloughing schedule. But if you want to wear that LBD without lying about flash blizzards all night, this is an awesome interim solution.