Dear Mark: Fat Gain on a Ketogenic Diet; Dandruff and an Itchy Scalp

Fit young man pinching his stomachFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a two-parter. First up, I respond to a comment from last week’s Weekend Link Love concerning fat gain and lean mass loss in taekwondo athletes on a ketogenic diet. Did the athletes actually get fatter and lose muscle on their diet, even as performance improved? After that, I discuss what to do about dandruff and an itchy scalp. There may be no silver bullet against the common malady known as dandruff, but there are a few things you can try and one in particular that looks quite promising.

Let’s go:

That Taekwando study was posted on Free The Animal awhile ago. The conclusion:

“”Keto” Diet in Taekwando Athletes: Good for Performance, Less Beneficial for Body Composition – Non-Sign. Higher Muscle & Lower Fat Loss in 25% Deficit vs. Balanced Diet”

“Performance” is relative. A ketogenic diet is often detrimental to athletic performance. What’s interesting is that the athletes got fat on said ketogenic diet.

I’m really glad this was mentioned. Here’s the study (PDF).

Let’s say you’re right and these martial artists did get fat and lose muscle. They did all that while improving their 2000 meter time and reducing their anaerobic fatigue during a Wingate test (probably the toughest sprint workout ever conceived; puke buckets adjacent to the cycle ergometers are standard, to give you an idea of how tough it is). Isn’t that amazing? I mean, if they were really getting fatter and atrophying muscle mass, shouldn’t their performance markers decline?

Anyway, in the authors’ own words, the changes weren’t significant enough to mention in the results. And the method used to determine the changes, as you’ll find out, wasn’t very accurate.

The study used bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to determine the athletes’ changes in body composition. This is problematic for several reasons:

BIA just isn’t accurate when it comes to measuring the loss or gain of lean body mass during weight reduction. Changes in lean body mass are consistently overestimated using BIA, especially in ketogenic dieters.

Researchers have dubbed BIA invalid for assessing lean body mass in athletes; the fluctuations in water weight throw off the results. Even “small fluid changes” are incorrectly interpreted as changes in body fat content. It simply doesn’t work.

Ketogenic dieting (and low carb dieting in general) is famous for the massive drop of water weight that occurs in the first couple weeks. For every gram of glycogen they store, our muscles retain three grams of water (PDF). As we lose muscle glycogen, either from training or going low-carb, we flush water out. This is all normal, and it’s often used to disparage the weight loss effects of low-carb diets (“Ah, you’re just losing water weight!”). Since BIA interprets water weight as lean mass, this makes a BIA-derived assessment of body fat unreliable.

There is another, better method for testing changes in body fat in athletes: the skin fold measurement. In studies directly comparing the validity of body fat measurements in athletes using skin fold measurement or BIA, the former always wins out and BIA overestimates body fatness. Let’s see what happens when you test the effects of a ketogenic diet on body composition and performance in elite athletes (gymnasts, in this case) using skin fold measurement. Back in 2012, Paoli used skin fold measurements to track changes, finding that ketogenic athletes lost body mass, lost body fat, and gained a small amount of lean mass while suffering no decrease in physical performance.

There were some differences between the gymnast keto diet and the taekwondo diet. The TKD diet was 55% fat and 40% protein, probably too high in protein to be truly ketogenic. The TKD athletes also restricted calories by 25%, while the gymnasts ate as much as they desired.

The athletes didn’t get fat, then. And performance is “relative,” I suppose, but that doesn’t invalidate the results. “Relative” to the non-ketogenic dieting athletes, the keto athletes’ performance increased. Relative to their own previous performance, the keto athletes’ performance improved. I don’t see that as a mark against their results.

Now, I’m not suggesting you can’t gain fat on a ketogenic diet. You certainly can. I’m just showing that this study in Taekwondo athletes on a ketogenic diet isn’t strong evidence in favor of it.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the site; I love it and use it to great extent with friends and family.

I’ll keep it simple: I’ve had an itchy scalp (lots of dandruff, insane itching, dry patches) for about four years, and am currently keeping it under control with medicinal shampoo prescribed by the doctor. Primal doesn’t seem to stop it; and the moment I stop using the shampoo it comes back.

The medicinal shampoo has a 5% alcoholic coal tar extract in it as well as lots of scary ingredients like parahydroxybezoates.

Is there anything I can pinpoint the problem to – and also should I be trying to get off this shampoo ASAP because of what its active ingredients are?

Many thanks,

Andrew, UK

You could try a more “natural” alternative with fewer offensive ingredients, like Grandpa’s Pine Tar shampoo. It’s designed to work against dandruff, though some people may have allergic reactions to it. Over the counter coal tar shampoos are out there, too, so you could hunt around for one without the ingredients you don’t want.

You could do what the subjects with itchy skin and dandruff did in this study: mix raw honey with warm water (9:1 ratio, enough to make the honey nice and runny) and apply it to the affected areas every other day, making sure to rub it in for three minutes, and letting the honey solution sit on their scalps for three hours before rinsing. Big time commitment, yes, but it worked; everyone improved. After treatment, members of the honey group underwent a second trial to determine the prophylactic efficacy of honey. For six months, half of them applied the honey solution once a week. None of the honey group had a dandruff relapse, while 12 of the 15 from the group who did not use honey suffered relapses 2-4 months after the initial honey treatment.

You could do what an employee of mine did to fix his dandruff: regular ocean plunges. He’d wade out in the water, dunk his head, and scrub like crazy. An added benefit, according to him, is that the sea water gives you awesome looking hair. Worth a shot, if you’re within reach of an ocean. And if you’re not, he said he’d often “recreate” the ocean water by mixing sea salt and trace mineral drops in a glass of cold tap water.

A lot of people swear by apple cider vinegar hair soaks.

I’d say the honey looks like a good bet, if you’re willing to put in the time. Good luck!

Thanks for reading, everyone. If anyone has a dandruff/dry scalp solution that worked for them, please comment!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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96 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Fat Gain on a Ketogenic Diet; Dandruff and an Itchy Scalp”

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  1. I’ve often wondered about cosmetics and chemicals such as shampoo – despite living a largely paleo lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, and general day-to-day habits, I still use deodorant, shampoo, hair gel, brush my teeth with toothpaste, etc.

    I don’t want to stink for the sake of those close to me, but I’d be interested in knowing how much / if any damage I’m doing.

    1. Fluoride free toothpaste tends to have less junk in i, all the brands I’ve seen show a full list of ingredients. I can’t buy it in my local supermarket you can get it online pretty easily.

      Wellness mama dot com has plenty of homemade recipes for all kinds of cosmetics if you want to go all out!

      As for the hair gel; do you not think it’s time to start looking a more caveman??

      1. Try health food stores–mine carries Tom’s, as well as other brands that have fluoride/SLS free options.

        SLS = sodium lareth sulfate (a foaming agent)

        1. I quit using flouride toothpaste ages ago because it made the skin on the inside of my mouth peel off in like sheets basically and I would get sores on the inside of my mouth and on my tongue. It was so gross, and somewhat painful. I now think it was because of the SLS. I really like this Himalayan Naturals toothpaste. It’s like $12 CAD for a small tube, but a tube lasts like 6 months between me and my husband. It’s the only toothpaste that actually gets my teeth clean. They have really great shampoo too. I don’t know where to buy it in the U.S. but I buy it at Thrifty Foods here in British Columbia, Canada.

    2. In reality? Probably very little since you aren’t ingesting any of those things. It’s kind of a misnomer that everything we put on our skin is immediately sucked up through the pores. Still, a little common sense doesn’t hurt.

      Shampoo doesn’t remain on the scalp long enough to be a major problem unless you happen to be allergic to some of the ingredients. The same is true of toothpaste, but shop around. There are quite a few brands out there that get the job done with all-natural ingredients. You can also brush with plain old baking soda. Deodorant can be iffy since it remains on the skin. Try a natural mineral stone. It’s effective in most cases without all the toxic ingredients.

      1. Shary – I agree with you that the skin’s barrier is strong and so we do not soak up everything – which is a good thing – but many things are penetrating the skin barrier for different reasons – and I do not have the time to share them – but certain chemicals break down cell walls – also, small residues of these harsh chemicals add up after a while – the little chemicals int he shower when the pores are open – and all the more when someone’s immune system is compromised. And more people have a compromised immune system than we realize – they often don;t know it – because the mucosa lining in the gut is not able to work effectively for various reasons (systemic yeast infections, mucoid buildup, etc.) and then this weakens the skin’s protective barrier too. so yes, it is a misnomer that everything is sucked up – but we must not forget that it is still permeable (albeit semi) 🙂

    3. For a natural deodorant (not antiperspirant, so no aluminum) Primal Pit Paste has been an amazing discovery I made about a year ago. Works really well and only has 5 ingredients!

      1. I make my own deodorant out of coconut oil, cocoa butter, and baking soda, plus a drop of essential oil (currently lavender + tea tree). It’s kind of a paste you gently rub on. If you Google, you’ll find recipes.

        I love it and it’s so natural and harmless you can even EAT it (not that you would actually chow down — but I did taste a smidge once as an experiment – no ill effects).

        Also, it saves $$$ (I am a cheapskate). Been using it for more than a year and it works well; I love not smelling chemical-y.

        1. You guys all make me feel better about non-conventionality. 🙂

          I’ve been using coconut oil, baking soda, and corn starch. (Effective for 2 – 3 days.) Now, thanks to you MissJelic, I’m inspired to go find the secret scent ingredients for Old Spice.

          I’ll call it “Stone-Age Spice!” LOL

        2. Ok, I can’t imagine that this home made deodorant costs less than what I pay…I probably don’t pay more than 5 or 6 dollars for name brand deodorant every 3 months or so…coconut oil by itself costs that much for a 32oz. tub, then the essential oils are going to cost you a few more dollars for a tiny like 3 or 4oz. bottle…I never buy deodorant unless it’s on sale (I can only use Right Guard, it’s the only one that lasts through most of a day without me starting to smell), and usually we use a coupon while the product is on sale and sometimes even end up getting money back…takes really minimal effort to save this money too…has anyone ever offered to PAY YOU to use your homemade deodorant? oh, and one other thing, if i put this paste on that is not an antiperspirant, it would last all of 2 hours before my sweat washed it away…I have a high pH in my sweat AND I sweat A LOT…normal deodorant/antiperspirant off the shelf rinses away, so i can’t imagine this stuff you make would be any better…like I said, Right Guard is the only one that works…

        1. Me too! They have a roll-up stick application, just like drug store types, as well as a balm you apply with a wand. The Jasmine is my favorite.

      2. I have tried every deodorant on the shelves and they all make me have a funky smell after a couple hours of wearing; however, I do not have that problem with primal pit paste and I’ve been using their product for nearly two years now. I love Primal Pit Paste!

        1. Apple cider vinegar on cotton pad daily or every few days works excellent

    4. All fluoride toothpaste has a warning in small print on the tube that says ” seek medical attention immediately” if more than a certain amount is swallowed. Why would anyone want to put anything in any amount with this kind of warning in their mouth! Google “Earthpaste”, it’s an all natural toothpaste.

      1. Earthpaste also has a warning on the tube, it contains lead.

        1. Good point hairy!
          The biggest difference I’ve experienced since having stopped using mainstream toothpaste about 2 years ago is with the absence of gelatin in the mainstream brands. The gelatin costs your teeth preventing minerals from absorbing into them. My mouth is full of cavity filings from years of using mainstream products even though they claim to prevent cavities. I constantly experienced sensitive teeth. Since switching to Earthpaste 2 years ago I actually had 4 filings fall out and the cavities have ” filled ” in naturally and I have zero sensitivity or tooth pain over the last year. I’ve proven to myself that your teeth do repair themselves if not covered in gelatin. Of course I haven’t eaten processed foods including sugar in 2 years either. I’m 54 years young and wish I’d known 30 years ago what I know now about nutrition.

      2. You realize that you would need to eat like two regular sized tubes of fluoride toothpaste to get sick, and secondly you wouldnt’ actually be ill it would just make you throw up until the toothpaste was gone…the amount of fluoride in normal toothpaste is very minimal…sorry, but you guys are all crazy…this whole “go natural or go home” approach to things is ridiculous…if I did this, making my own deodorant and my own shampoo and everythign else, i would never have time for anything else…I have three children the oldest of which is 6 and one of them has special needs so I don’t have any spare time to be doing all of this and I don’t have a spare dollar to waste on this “primal” stuff…

        1. Fluoride exposure is cumulative – and toothpastes made for small children are fluoride free because they had serious issues with fluorosis from swallowing… I raised children – we used baking soda, and sometime Toms of Maine – we didn’t allow toothpaste that tastes like bubblegum or candy to avoid issues with swallowing – and waste 🙂

    5. My gums and breath have improved a lot after I switched to brushing with baking soda once a day and only with water once a day. I aim to Include once a week brushing with activated charcoal and oil pulling (I mostly forget and maybe do this once a month) for whitening teeth.
      Takes a few days to get used to, and transitioning of mouth bacteria of I’d say 2 weeks, but then you’re good to go! And for me no more bad breath (yes, I ask people close to me)
      I also do the no-poo thing, but for me this only works if I eat strictly paleo. If I eat gluten and pasteurized dairy my hair becomes oily again. Hair gel is just a little coconut oil for me. Strangely, it doesn’t make the hair oily but a little dry if used sparingly.

    6. Use of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), as a toothpaste and deodorant, are not only effective for those purposes, but has detoxing benefits. It also leaves behind an alkaline film that protects tissues for hours. It’s also cheap.

    7. Try skipping a day of soap and shampoo, but not the shower. See what happens. I act like I’m washing my hair, which helps distribute the oils. I only use shampoo about once a week, give or take. Now, I couldn’t quite go with nothing on the skin, so I add a little sea salt and epsom salt (magnesium sulfide) with warm water in a squeeze bottle. I also switched to a deoderant crystal. No complaints from my husband and daughter, not even this summer. It gets quite hot and sticky in Arkansas in the summer. I do use soap in the shower on occassion and shampoo and conditioner about once a week.

    8. I buy tooth powder and deodorant from PLO(Primal Life Organics) but I’m still on the fence about what to do about shampoo.

    9. Soapwalla cream deodorant is the best thing that’s ever happened to my underarms. (So strange to type that sentence!) It’s primal, natural, and it really really works. Plus, since you have to rub it into your pits, you get a nice quick massage every morning. I’ve gotta imagine that’s good for the lymph nodes there. I’ve tried other natural deodorants, and it seems like only the cream ones work for me.

  2. I had the same problem, perhaps worse. My scalp would actually get tender and bleed. I started using shampoo without sodium lauryl sulfate (or other hash chemicals). It made a huge difference! Coal tar & pine tar made no difference for me. I also stopped washing my hair every day. Good luck!

    1. I would agree with exploring the fungal connection. In fact – have been discovering that fungal connections are silent epidemics because of two things – antibiotics – and sugar consumption.

      Antibiotics are way overused and they wipe out all the good stuff. And we say, “yeah I know that” and then we take probiotics for a couple of weeks thinking everything is fine. But it is not – if you have ever had antibiotics you have messed with your inner flora and need to be very serious about restoring it. It angers me to see moms have their kids on super strong antibiotics thinking it will help them heal when they instead should be thinking about DIET – and sugar intake and all that. And most kids are not getting enough good fats and well, we all know the story….
      but when we have natural fungal levels are imbalanced – whether as a child or as an adult – candida and other microorganisms thrive – and so most people need to think about this…

      1. 100% concur.

        I’m trying to borrow a copy of Doug Kaufmann’s, “The Fungal Link” and the related diet book to specifically learn more about fungal treatment.

        1. Hey Bon…(I like your movies- well mores the first one – lol) anyhow, I have a few problems with Doug Kaufmanns positions – he seems very business minded and sometimes the products he promotes are just “off” – I think he is really right on the fungal connections, but his show his so heavy laden pushing expensive bottles of misc. “stuff” – and well nothing wrong with someone selling a decent product that meets a need – but his shows are all about the sales – also – many of his guests that are on helping to promo this and that – well they are questionable health wise – like one doctor – was more than 100 lbs overweight – and I am not slamming what here issues were – but obviously something is not working for her…. I could go on and on – but will sum it up so say that something just feels “off” there and I am usually correct when I discern stuff like that.

          ~~~ anyhow, I would find other resources (but that’s just me)

          and there are resources out there – but it can take a long time to eradicate systemic final infections in the body – but it starts with eliminating sugar and then cleaning the gut. Everyone’s gut is so different and so you would have to customize your plan – but it could take 4 months to 2 years – yeast is some nasty stuff. Herbs and bentonite clay are used – but you have to go slow because of die-off – also – many folks have to do enemas because some of the fungi can only be reached that way. The allicin in garlic is powerful too –
          anyhow, I am still learning so much myself- but I do know that probiotics are taken throughout the cleansing – but become even more important for keeping it in balance. Also, many of the principles of the primal lifestyle are win-win – but it is getting rid of the systemic infections – and there are many strains – there are also molds that have been found in some people –

          Anyhow, this month I enjoyed some material from Ty Bollinger- he has done some independent research on cancer – (and he covers fungi – but overall basic immune system stuff) and his videos are a bit long, but Ty has done some great work. And right now he has a 5 day view free special.
          go here:

          Okay Bon – have a great day and best wishes finding your info

  3. I have had a lot of problems with dandruff since childhood, but it’s hardly noticeable now since I drastically increased my fat consumption. This is a guess, but I think that it has something to do with animal fat in particular.

    My skin is also now softer than when I was a teenager 🙂

    1. Childhood dandruff is most often an allergic reaction to the protein (lactase – yes spelled with two a’s and no o’s) in cow’s milk. In babies they often call it “cradle cap” and it requires the child to go off cow’s milk formula or drink modified pre-digested cow’s milk formula, predigested by enzymes to break down the protein.Perhaps now you do not consume cow’s milk because it’s not part of this type of diet, (because of the lactose sugar in milk). If that is true, then it’s not the fats you consume that have helped, it’s avoiding cow’s milk allergy that is helping you.

      1. Dana,
        Lactase isn’t a protein, it’s the enzyme that breaks down lactose. A four year old using Google could figure that out in less than 10 seconds…

  4. I deal with dry itchy scalp and skin this time of the year as it gets colder the air drier where I live. My solution is simple: coconut oil. I massage a bit into my scalp and onto any areas of dry skin and let it sit for an hour. If on the skin, I just leave it. On my scalp, I use a towel to wipe it off my hair after an hour. I usually do this right before bed. The neat thing about coconut oil (the good, high quality stuff) is that while it might mark up your sheets a bit, it doesn’t leave them or your clothes with that permanent oil discoloration look you get from other oils. So its safe to put your head and face on your pillow with some on your scalp or face or to get into the sheets with some on your legs or arms and not worry about ruining things. I find if I repeat this every 2-3 days its enough to keep any dandruff or dry, flaky skin at bay…

    1. And not to be too explicit, but I discovered coconut oil’s lack of permanent staining/discoloration issues when using it as a lubricant with my wife. We found that most “primal” oils (olive oil, etc) would stain our sheets like a shirt can get when cooking near grease. But olive oil does not… at least not permanently. We use the 16oz of the good stuff from Trader Joe’s. If I use it for dealing with dry skin it will darken the sheets or pillowcase, but only temporarily. After an hour or so you’d never know it was there. Plus it has a pleasant odor. Compare this to other natural oils or over the counter sexual lubricants and you’ll get much different results (which, honestly, can be a tad embarassing if you forget to make the bed… no joke, one day one of our kids asked if I had wet the bed LOL).

    2. +1 to coconut oil! it’s amazing and gives instant results. (I think it’s supposed to be due to the antifungal properties?).

      I rub it into my scalp and ends and only leave it on for about half an hour with a towel wrapped around it. I have medium length hair and use 4 tablespoons for this.

      When I wash it off, I always do two shampoos (with a natural paraben/sulfate free shampoo) as one isn’t quite enough to get rid of the oily feeling – but try not to rub the shampoo directly on my scalp too much. Then I just use conditioner on the ends.

      I have tried everything out there to help with this and this is by far the best (and cheapest!) thing I have ever tried. It makes your hair look instantly shinier and healthier too. It doesn’t last forever but the treatment is quite straightforward so really isn’t too bad to repeat now and then.

      1. +2 to coconut oil – for scalp and other things mentioned in other comments 🙂 (wink)

        and here is a poem my blogging friend wrote about coconut oil – which I think is a must have in every home – and I add a tablespoon to some green tea. It also has helped folks heal from Alzheimer’s because coconut oil naturally removes metals front he body!

        coconut oil poem:


        Caring is me

        Overprotecting, yes, sometimes

        Classy, I am

        Old and golden, yes, that’s me

        Not even my peelings are trash

        Under no circumstance do I fail to deliver

        Terrifying thirst hates my sight


        I can breastfeed

        Produce oil,

        Work on hair like magic

        Work on skin like magic

        I have the soft touch, good for all

        The hard touch, mm, chewy!

        The hard and silker protectors good for chimneys

        I help in boosting your immune system

        You can bake or flake me

        Boil or cook me

        Make me into meat

        Or rawly have me

        My fatty acids have high healing powers

        And of course, I can help you burn fat right

        Some bacteria, viruses and fungi flee at my sight

        Even I help reduce seizures and heart diseases

        And I work on the brain like magic

        I am coconut, the nut you pay no attention to

        Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia (c) 2014

  5. I too have an itchy and flaky scalp. Going completely gluten free (celiac) and dairy free fixed most of it. What I also found is that I had to start looking for gluten in every single body care product. As long as I get no wheat proteins anywhere my itchiness and flakiness is nearly nonexistent. Getting colder and dryer it returns somewhat but a deep conditioning application of coconut oil directly to my scalp and hair will relieve it for a while.

  6. “A lot of people swear by apple cider vinegar hair soaks.”

    I had bad psoriasis (?) of the scalp before turning primal. I was prescribed a topical corticosteroidal lotion by my dermatologist. I didn’t want to keep using it, and when I asked my dermatologist he said nothing else was ‘proven to work’.

    I started experimenting with diet. I had some success, but things really improved (say, 80%) when I started eating paleo-primal.

    I solved the remaining 20% by using an apple cider vinegar tonic – 1 part acv to 2 parts water (say), apply to scalp. Typically I do this once a day, or once every couple days. I have only tried this with unpasteurized acv, Bragg’s brand name. I don’t know if it would work using pasteurized, filtered acv, which is the normal kind you find in a typical grocery store.

    I should add my hair is shaved fairly close, so it’s easy to apply and I only require a small amount of acv + water to apply it on the scalp.

    1. My $0.02. I’ve had psoriasis (flaking to the point that I couldn’t wear black / dark clothes, scabs / sores on my scalp, intense itching) for, oh, the last 28 years or so (I am 33). I’m also about 20-30 lb overweight despite lifting weights 4 days a week & 2 HIIT / week.

      I went to Europe for a month for work / vacation. I swam in the Aegean every day for a week. I then went to Panama directly for 10 days. The psoriasis was improving from the sun and saltwater (and completely different diet over there).

      In Panama, an esthetician there told me to use ketoconazole (2%, an antifungal topical shampoo & cream) for the psoriasis.


      It completely cured it within a month. For the first time in my life, after OTC shampoos didn’t work, and prescription things that turned my dark brown hair orange, after rinsing with white or apple cider vinegar and smelling sour for eons (especially once I worked out and my sweat re-wet my hair), after coal tar and pine tar and shale and all these other horrendous things…. fungus.


      So, thinking “well if the topical cured it, it must be systemic”, I am embarking on an anti-fungal diet…. aka Paleo mostly low-carb, with natural anti-fungals like caprylic acid (coconut oil!) and oregano oil thrown in.

      And I feel terrible mostly because of sugar withdrawal but also because of fungus die-off.

      Anyway, if this can help anyone, I hope so. Good luck!!!

      1. I used to have the sores/super itchy scalp pre-low carb too. I still get a bit of dandruff after a couple of days w/o shampoo (I use diluted castille soap and a lemon rinse). Do you recommend a particular product? (I see Nizoral on google shop…)

      2. thanks, I’m gonna try that on the patch of eczema I have on my arm. It’s small and it doesn’t bother me that much, but I might as well give some anti-fungal stuff a shot!

      3. Mel – I am glad you mentioned die-off – because a lo tot people do not realize that when they cleanse – they will feel bad at times because of the cleaning out…
        and sometimes a “herx” effect can happen…

        “A Herx, more formally known as a Herxheimer reaction, is when there is a massive die-off of bacteria and your body is suddenly overrun by toxins. Your system freaks out, because you are filling up with toxins faster than your body can purge them. Your liver gets overworked, your symptoms flare up, and you basically feel like you have a super flu times 80 million.”

        so it is important to go slow – 🙂

  7. I have a dandruff problem, and every anti-dandruff shampoo I’ve used (including several prescribed by a dermatologist) make is worse. The honey thing might work, but I suspect putting ANYTHING moisturizing on for 3 hours would work.

    The main thing that I’ve discovered to help the situation is also primal (and related to Mark’s friends’ ocean plunges): Cold water rinsing. Hot water exacerbates the situation, and cold water improves it.

    It’s not a cure, but it helps A LOT.

  8. I feel your pain with the dandruff, I used to suffer pretty badly, thankfully it’s gone now. I can’t say it’s all thanks to PB lifestyle but after 6 months going primal none of my skin in dry and flakey.

    After reading about all the nasty chemicals in the shampoos that my wife bought I stopped shampooing everyday, now just once or twice a week now under lukewarm water using natural castile soap, coconut oil to condition. Also stopped with all the styling products, wax was replaced with plain old coconut oil.

    It may also help to fit a shower water filter! Best of luck!

  9. I would think that adding a homemade broth to the diet could really help with skin and scalp problems along with an increase of fat.

    1. Increasing healthy fats, such as fish oil, might also help. An itchy, flaky scalp is often a dry scalp and coincides with dry skin in general. Fish oil also works well for dry eyes.

  10. For dandruff, try more Retinol in the diet and less beta-carotene.

  11. My youngest son suffered from seborrhea dermatitis (extreme dandruff) and eczema for many years .. it all stemmed from fungal and toxins from leaky gut. We cleaned up his diet and went on a GAPS type diet (limited starches) to heal the gut. Problem cleared up within a few months. Headaches vanished. White blood count stabilized. About a month ago he binged on forbidden foods and the problem returned. More healing of gut needed.

  12. Mine wasn’t nearly as bad, but I’ve had dandruff since forever and sometimes I would get horrible burning and itching, for which I tried various OTC concoctions. Since going no poo (no shampoo), my dandruff has disappeared. I’ve been no poo for a year now, currently I’m low poo (using handmade shampoo bars of natural origins which appear to only consist of oils) and neither the dandruff nor the burning has come back. In the short-term when switching off shampoo honey sounds like a good bet (I’m sure it will take a while to get a normal environment back if the problems are this bad). I now use manuka honey for my face! (as well as oils)

  13. I found using a natural shampoo bar solved my ichy scalp problem….. find an online store. Most of them have versions for dandruff. The inch increased for a few days but then went away. And I agree with everyone about coconut oil. It’s the only thing I use on my skin nowadays.

  14. I have psoriasis and the ocean superbly helps with the scalp. Number one thing is the sun though, The vitamin d and rays keep it under control. And i can agree that the ocean does make your hair look really good! haha

  15. I too have had dandruff problems and no diet restrictions have seemed to help or change it. I have had some relief with tea tree oil and a tea tree oil. The oil itself I put directly on the problem areas without diluting (instructions usually say to dilute) and leave on for 5 -10 minutes before I shower. This usually helps for a few days. I also do not wash my hair everyday and this helps too.

  16. I tried a keto diet for 4 weeks a la Jimmy Moore. His experts in the book say some people have to stick with it for 4-6 weeks to see results, while others show improvement in much shorter time. I lost maybe 2 lbs, most of it water weight. I was walk/running 4 miles once a week and trying to fit in some weights a few days a week. I had every intention to make it to 6 weeks (just waiting for results to finally show), but at the end of 4 weeks I was lethargic, felt “dead” emotionally (robotic or zombie like) and when I began to feel depressed I bailed on the keto experiment. I didn’t go crazy, but added some starch and dark chocolate back into my diet, just to improve my energy/mood and to function well. I immediately gained 5-7lbs which I have been unable to take off. So, I think I trashed my thyroid and possibly adrenals and now have a higher “set point” for my weight. It’s taken 3 months, but my clothes are finally starting to fit better. I’m still eating 100 carbs a day, sometimes higher, just so my body doesn’t think it’s starving. Keto might work for lots of people, but it’s bad news for me.

  17. Where those ketogenic diet studies (gymnasts and tae-kwondists ) that didn’t meassure blood ketones in either diet at any time? That doesen’t help to stablish the ketogenic-antiketogenic nature of either diet…

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Also the ratios sound wrong to produce ketosis. 55% fat doesn’t sound nearly high enough to produce ketosis, 40% protein seems guaranteed to make too much glucose to sustain ketosis.

  18. I’m another scalp psoriasis sufferer. None of the things people suggested here have helped me. I use a topical steroid solution called clobetasol and it works very well. Sunshine does seem to help a little. Best of luck.

  19. I’ve pretty much controlled my dry scalp by massaging coconut oil onto my scalp after my shower and letting it soak in over night. When I shower I don’t use any shampoo, I find it drys out my scalp, no matter the brand. Afterwards melt a tablespoon or so, and use your fingers to massage it onto your scalp. You don’t have to soak it just use it like a lotion. By the morning it will have soaked in, and there’s no need to wash it out. Also if you have scalp psoriasis like I do, you may have some foods that trigger a breakout. Recently, I found out egg whites were a culprit. And fish oil helps too. I take 2tsp of cod liver oil a day. Good Luck!

  20. I also think it is a bacterial thing. I find my scalp gets tight, itchy and flaky after x amount of time so then I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (trying to just get the scalp as it is very drying and damaging to the hair) scrubbing very well. I use it over two days or so and will be fine for the next while. I use milder shampoos in between so there is less damage to my hair otherwise I would just use Dr. Bronners.

  21. Itchy scalp for me is ALL about eating nightshades. I can eat a small amount on occasion, but cannot eat very much before the most insane itching kicks in. I’d try excluding nightshades, even chilli and paprika. Wheat is also a factor but this is easier to avoid as there are loads of other reasons to keep off. Beautiful tomatoes, capsicum, eggplants, etc are VERY sad to say goodbye to!

    1. For me it turned out to be nuts. Just one week ago I stopped eating nuts and now the raised, red and very itchy patched on the back of my head are almost gone.
      I figured it might be the nuts because a few years ago I discovered that almonds gives me a constant urge to pee…

      1. quick note about nuts = not all nuts are the same- raw nuts are the best for nutrients – and some say they can (should) be soaked to break down certain things. Also, the aflatoxins in peanuts are BAD news for everyone – so stay away.

  22. Mark,

    As the comment regarding the ketogenic diet was mine, I feel it only appropriate to follow up on that.

    The effects of water and glycogen weight loss on low carb diets are well-documented. Years ago, I experimented with the Ultimate Diet 2.0. After 4 days of 1,000 calories, I would drop to 132 lbs. After my carb-up, which was literally 1,000g of carbohydrate in 30 hours, I was back up to 145 lbs. I would cycle 13 POUNDS of water and gylcogen weight per week – Thursday night was my lowest point and Saturday night was my highest point. That was roughly 10% of my total body weight fluctuating in 48 hours! Let’s put that into perspective.

    If I were to drastically cut carbohydrate and expend lots of water weight in a mere 2 days like I did on the UD2, what do you think would happen to my chin-ups and pull-ups? I could do more chin-ups and pull-ups after the depletion stage than I could after carbing up – even though I was considerably stronger with my glycogen stores full. Why? Because my body weight dropped substantially in a very short period of time. I had to pull a lot less weight up to the bar, and that more than made up for how much weaker I felt.

    Ketogenic diets are notorious for raising adrenaline and cortisol levels because of the inherent stress they place on the human body. Prolonged ketosis was only ever experienced during starvation in terms of our evolution. Calorie-replete ketogenic diets (the likes of which Jimmy Moore promote) are a new fad diet – they have never before been detected in traditional societies. They simply did not exist until the past few decades and are the very anthesis of “Paleolithic.” When you force your body into a state of ketosis, you are tricking the body into thinking it is starving, and that raises adrenaline and cortisol inherently. This leads (in the SHORT TERM) to increased alertness and an increased ability to push yourself harder. Your life may depend on it, as far as your body is concerned! Could the people simply sprint faster because they were not only chock full of adrenaline, but because they (like me) had 10% less body weight to carry around? They basically removed a weighted vest from their bodies, then gave themselves an epinepherine injection. I guess so they could move faster!

    But what does longterm ketosis do? Ketosis exists for one reason evolutionary-speaking: to help your muscles, brain, vital organs and connective tissue waste away more slowly when you’re starving to death by supplementing precious, precious glucose with ketones. It is up to the individual whether or not they want to subsist on a diet that elevates stress hormones and lowers anabolic hormones, starves their symbiotic gut bacterira, purges their muscles of precious glycogen, lowers their body temperature and is the very definition of a “Neolithic” invention. For me, it is a huge no-no. Could weeks or months on a ketogenic diet for a person with so much fat mass their body could never confuse itself with starvation be OK? Maybe. For them, it could even be beneficial. For anyone healthy, active and lean, in my opinion it is a huge mistake. The body can adapt to almost any situation, and it is no big surprise to me people who initially go on ketogenic diets feel great – they’re giving themselves mini adrenaline shots. But that to me is foreboding. It is a warning from the body, not an invitation.

    1. Your so wrong on this it’s sad. Gluconeogenesis does not cause rises in cortisol in a ketogenic diet and there are no stress levels involved. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar causes rises in cortisol and people on ketosis rarely have hypoglycemia. On the very rare occasion a person gets very low levels of protein or fasts for extended lengths of time a person on ketosis may have lower blood sugar or less than 65mg/sleep on a glucose meter but seriously if that’s all you’ve got then you’ve got nothing.

  23. Regarding a honey scalp treatment, if the water isn’t warm enough, and I can’t remember exact temp now but I’m thinking it’s around 100 degrees, the honey will produce peroxide and lighten the hair. Just something to be aware of.

  24. LOL!!! i went from 12% bf to 8% bf measured by ultrasound.
    same test done on a BIA and my BF went from 14% to 18%!!! LOLOL
    I HATE those gimmicks.
    When I Sold personal training at golds a WHILE back, I was a rookie for sure.
    our managers would tell us to use them because they would always read high.
    better sales.

  25. Coconut Oil and Honey! I’ve tried everything else for my itchy scalp and dandruff. I’ve been no-poo for almost a year and this made it so much better. It seems to come and go. I used to rub a bunch of olive oil into my scalp and then wrap my head in a hot towel for a half hour or so. Then scrub well with my fingers and use a mild shampoo in cold water to clean my hair (hopefully leaving the oil on the scalp) This would help for several weeks, then slowly the flakes would return. I’ve switched to coconut oil for almost all my other, former olive oil uses. I’m sure my poor olive oil is sitting in the back of my cupboard saying, “coconut oil, coconut oil, coconut oil…” (in the key of “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.”)

  26. I started cold showering three years ago and since then I have not needed deodorant. I make sure the shower directly sprays each armpit for a few seconds.

    I also don’t use shampoo as I found that if I vigorously scrub my short hair in the shower for 30 seconds or so that it comes clean. Might be harder for those with longer hair.

    I brush my teeth with just water and brush after eating and floss once a day.

  27. Different causes evidently but I used to have minor dandruff and except for times I’ve been wearing a hat all winter or in dry air or subjected to other potentially harmful conditions, it cleared up when I gave up on shampoo.

  28. The absolute best thing that’s ever worked for me for dandruff has been fasting. Unfortunately, that’s not a long term solution. You basically have to get rid of all inflammation in your gut and the rest of your body. What works just as well as fasting (just not as quickly) is following a diet like primal, but sticking to non starchy vegetables and cooking or juicing the veggies you eat. So that means no sweet potatoes for one thing. Stick with the greens and try to avoid going too starchy. And remove all raw veggies from your diet for at least a couple weeks. Basically, you’re goal is to make your carb sources as digestible as possible. Remove the fiber or break it down. On top of this replenish your gut bacteria with a good probiotic and consider using l-glutamine every morning on an empty stomach to help heal your gut lining (there’s a good chance you have leaky gut going on).

    Topicals can surely help as well, but they’ll most likely never solve the problem completely. Just keep you in race… That being said, vinegar can help for sure, Jason’s Dandruff shampoo works very well for those without sever gluten allergies (there’s wheat protein in it), and infrared sauna can help a lot as well if you give it multiple sessions and get try a diet like what I outlined.

    Sorry this is kind of a stream of conscious post and not very well structured haha… but I’ve been able to completely rid myself of dandruff so long as I don’t eat like garbage. I’ve been dealing with it for 10 years. Never tried the honey trick though like MArk mentioned. Maybe I should try it next time I have a relapse…

    Let me know if you have any more questions!


  29. For itchy scalp I use a natural teatree shampoo bar from soap lady Oregon. It is supposed to work for dandruff as well. I have long hair, and love all of her shampoo bars.

    1. I second the use of tea tree oil. I used to use a medicinal shampoo prescribed by my doctor, but it didn’t help. So I bought a gentle shampoo (Seba Med) and added tea tree oil. It just two weeks or so, my scalp is probably 70% better. You could also mix it in oil (coconut or olive or jojoba), massage it into your scalp, and let it soak in for a while before shampooing. There’s a research article you can find on PubMed that specifically addresses the dermatological uses of tea tree oil. It has been shown to be particularly effective for seborrheic dermatitis.

  30. A weekly sauna and cold shower to finish does the job for my dandruff. I never use soaps of any kind on my scalp. But without the sauna the dandruff returns.

  31. I seem to be weird. I was able to enter ketosis within two weeks of starting a low carb diet. The book that got me started said to keep carbs below 30g the first two weeks, I only managed 60g or more. Protein does not seem to have any effect on whether I can enter ketosis, only large amounts of carbs(ie. binge). I have more energy when I am in ketosis than I ever remember having and all I have to do to start is give my body some fat to burn(coconut oil works best).

    1. I fogot to mention the book that got me started was “Grain Brain”. I started at 135#s5’10” & lost 15#s & two pants sizes within two months. I have gained the weight back but I can’t seem to get back to a 31″ waist.

  32. Dandruff and itching scalp for me is stress related. This is what works for me… go to Bikram Yoga class for 3 weeks straight and all the stress symptoms vanishes, you sweat so much that all your scalp is completely clean and the itching goes away. Nothing else has worked, except for vacation time 🙂

  33. I stopped using shampoo. I had dry dandruff, but not anymore. I guess shampoo sweeps microbial protection.

  34. I had the same issue with dandruff shampoo, until I finally realised that when I stopped the medicated shampoo I was going back to the highly perfumed junk that caused it in the first place. Now that I just use shampoo with natural ingredients, I just have to moisturise with coconut oil now and then. Such a relief!

  35. Coconut oil & honey overnight hair treatments work a wonder on both my hair and scalp

  36. Apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, and much much more on this wonderful website:

    It is so user-friendly and thorough. People write in about the natural remedies that work for them. You can look at the “remedies” section or the “ailments” section.

  37. I do a daily inverted scalp massage and gentle scritching to loosen up all the old skin flakes (No digging at hot spots! Just keep it the same everywhere!) and that helps a TON. I always end my shower with ice cold water to the scalp, also extremely effective. And exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables if you aren’t, that seemed to help too.

    No shampoo, that made my druff awful. Water-only, or acidic rinses like ACV or kombucha are great. If you have a lot of product build-up in your hair, dilute some kind of basic soap in water, don’t leave it on your head too long, and make it a rare occurence. Don’t wash too often, once every three to four days is plenty. Your head will make less and less sebum as time goes by to compensate.

    Or join the dark side and try no-wash sebum-only once you have the dandruff under control. Try random stuff until something works! Don’t be afraid to play!

  38. My scalp issues turned out to be caused by Histamine Intolerance. I have been eating low carb/primal for almost 4 years. About 2 years ago, I started getting very bad itchy, flaky dandruff/seb.dermatitis, complete with sores sometimes. Head and Shoulders helped temporarily, Nizoral did nothing, using fairly high doses of Oil of Oregano (for fungus) also did nothing. A vacation in Hawaii (lots of sun, salt water) helped for a bit, but it could also have been a change in diet (no leftovers, see below)

    I had read about Histamine intolerance previously, but did not make the connection, since most web sites don’t mention dandruff specifically (they do mention eczema and pruritis, or itching). One day, a few months ago, my dandruff got very bad very quickly, along with an itchy face. I had had some slow cooked stew that had been sitting in the fridge for a few days, on top of spinach, along with a few other high histamine foods. It turns out that Paleo diets can be very high in histamine: leftovers, processed meats (bacon), fermented foods (yogurt, sour kraut, wine), spinach, tomato, avocado,shellfish, fish that isn’t very fresh or frozen quickly, some nuts, some probiotics (some make histamine) etc. If one’s body can’t break down the dietary histamine, it can cause skin, digestive, and other problems.

    By cutting out high histamine foods, freezing meat immediately for lunches, using a pressure cooker instead of a slow cooker, and using Histame (diamine oxidase, the enzyme that breaks down histamine) when I can’t avoid/don’t want to avoid them, I have cleared my scalp. If I slip up too much, it comes back, gradually. Supplements that are supposed to help are vitamins C and B6, and Align probiotic (Bifido Infantis breaks down histamine). Head and Shoulders shampoo’s main ingredient also breaks down histamine on the scalp.

    Since I mentioned my histamine intolerance to my sister, she has noticed that her scalp gets itchy when she has tomato sauce. I imagine there are more people out there with this condition. It doesn’t seem well known at all. Since it’s a build up of histamine in the body, you may not have to avoid everything on the published lists, but it’s probably a good idea to do so at the start in order to bring your levels down to begin with.

    1. Interesting. Sometimes I suspect a histamine intolerance. Are you saying that I could test this by eating a bunch of high histamine foods and I’ll notice it get worse straight away almost?

  39. Eating a half clove of raw garlic each day or so (great anti-fungal agent – keep eating daily until you get that garlic “saturated” feeling, then cut back) and a diet rich in healthy oils/fats really helps for the Dandruff.

  40. Well I tried kept-adaptation for two weeks and I lost a lot of weight. Although my energy levels seemed less. I then tried the same calorie amount but added in unprocessed carbs and still had low hunger but lost a lot of weight too. So I’m wondering if maybe just adding fat into the diet is a good thing, and not worrying about carbs per se.

  41. The only way I could find to get rid of dandruff? Stop using shampoo. Seriously. My hair doesn’t stink, my scalp doesn’t itch and I get zero dandruff whereas before it was ridiculous!

  42. DMSO!!

    I think everyone should know about DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide). It is from trees!!!

    It has many uses, it is solvent that penetrates! For the scalp, I would suggest using a little DMSO with different things to see what works. But use it sparingly and experiment. It has a slight stinging sensation, but it goes away rather quickly. As a solvent, DMSO can penetrate the scalp and kill the source of whatever is living deep int he skin. Some people have used DMSO by itself to find that alone it works – but most of the time it needs to “carry” something – like coconut oil, a light borax mix, chlorine dioxide, an essential oil, etc. you will have to experiment to see what world for your scalp because you have that unique biome.

    Some body builders use DMSO just to soothe aches and inflammation (vis are on you -tube) and some have used DMSo with peroxide to reduce tumors or heal stubborn MRSA on the skin. Also, DMSO is not approved by the FDA, yet it continues to be used in hospitals in IV’s for MANY things – like swollen bladder relief and for transplants. check it out for yourself….. 🙂

  43. Here in Australia we have a natural body care line called MooGoo. They have a shampoo and conditioner especially designed for itchy scalps with targets the fungus that can cause dandruff and flaky scalp. They claim to use many natural ingredients (coconut oil, glucose cleansers, honey, apple cider vinegar etc) and many of their products are edible. Best skincare and hair care products I have ever used.

    They post worldwide, check out their website

  44. I used to struggle so much with itchy, flaky scalp. It was awful, my self confidence was the lowest I ever had, because I was continually afraid that my shoulders were covered in gross flakes. I tried everything. Different kinds of shampoo, shampooing more frequently, less frequently, tea tree oil, coconut oil, olive oil, medicated scalp treatment (which only made it way worse!), apple cider vinegar rinse, hot water, cold water, you name it I tried it.

    I found my own solution quite by accident almost a year ago and since then have had a gloriously clear scalp. The magic remedy was oysters! It sounds random but it isn’t. The selenium content of oysters is off the charts. Selenium is an essential mineral and happens to be a key ingredient in some of the dandruff shampoos out there that didn’t work worth a darn. As far as I know any type of oyster will do but where I live fresh ones do not exist so I buy tinned smoked oysters and eat them on crackers. I seem to need to crack open a tin about once a month to keep my scalp happy but I happen to like them so I usually don’t go that long. They are probably one of the most economical high-quality nutrient-dense foods out there, I can find tins for $1 apiece, though beware what kind of oil they are packed in. Definitely easier and more pleasant than sitting with honey in your hair for three hours every week!

    As far as shampoos without a chemical experiment on the ingredients label, check out a brand called Shea Moisture. It is carried by the walgreens chain, among others probably. Nothing but botanical ingredients and great for your hair, especially for curly hair.

  45. All it takes for dandruff is apple cider vinegar rinse. keep a plastic pitcher in the shower add a little apple cider vinegar fill with water and rinse. very good for the skin as well,

  46. I had the same problem, sore itchy scaly scalp for a few weeks when I started keto, my head felt like it was burning. I did a bit of research and it turns out when you are on keto

    1. Your body will take time to adjust so you will probably not be able to avoid the breakout on your skin or scalp. (I was not aware of this and got really stressed and nearly booked an appointment with the dermatologist as I thought I was going bald)
    2. Your body releases acetone through your urine, breath and sweat…so basically your getting a lot of acetone on your skin. Acetone is what is used in clear cell (pure salicylic acid) a mild face peel which clears out your pores…I would have used this on a regular basis but I had to stop because my body was producing it’s own so I was getting a double dose and shedding like a snake.
    3. Steps I took. 1 washed my hair once with head and shoulders to remove the flaky bits. Then warmed up a 1/4 cup of coconut oil and rubbed all over my scalp and left over night then washed it out with a paraben-free shampoo the Oat Garnier one pink and white bottle. I decided just to put conditioner on the tips of my hair as it is long. I blow dried my hair this is important so that your scalp doesn’t stay moist. And lastly I found I wipe my face, shoulders and arms every day if I sweat during the day with water-wipe so that the acetone doesn’t accumulate and this helps with reducing the spots and itching. I also wash my hair every second day and never go to the gym and sweat it out without an immediate shower after. I found my hair has transformed! It was brittle, falling out in clumps, now it is soft, shiney and doesn’t itch, the fats in the keto diet must be adding oils to my scalp because it’s like a different head now. I also add some sort of carb usually roasted potato or sweet potato every Sunday and allow myself one banana/ or some forbidden fruit like a plum once a week. Stick with it!

    Ohh and another tip, I found using trilogy vital day cream really helped to get my face back in shape. I think it is a combo of the rosehip, vit C and other things in it, not sure but as a sensitive skin person I found it really helped! (Just so you know I am not being paid to say this ha)

    I hope this makes someone else’s struggle easier.x

  47. I get dandruff when my breathing is not so good — I might not immediately notice the poor breathing — I might notice the dandruff first. This may be different for others, but I presume there are reason/s there that people get dandruff. Shampoos are just working on the symptoms, as far as I can see. Try and figure out why you’re getting it.

  48. Regarding dandruff, it’s taken me many years to discover my triggers but for me, foods I eat determine whether or not I get dandruff. Without a doubt, dairy, peanut butter, vegetable oils and for some reason almond butter even though I can eat raw almonds without a problem. The jury is still out on lemons and tomatoes.