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We’ve all been there. Maybe you didn’t moisturize your hair well enough, or your hair is missing some crucial element — either way, your hair starts creating dandruff and flaking. It’s annoying and embarrassing, and nobody wants to worry about being caught flaking. Thankfully, we have some shampoos that will help your scalp fight the dandruff battle.
Dandruff shampoo helps to strip the scalp of dandruff-causing bacteria and helps create a healthy environment for hair to grow. From dandruff to hair thinning, dandruff shampoos act as an antibacterial and antifungal treatment that gets to the root of the issue. As the scalp is relieving itself of dandruff, the dandruff shampoo supplies the scalp with ingredients to fortify and nourish the hair. You might notice your hair appearing to be healthier and thicker after continued use.
Dandruff shampoo is an easy way to get rid of dandruff while also keeping your daily hair routine. We’ll give you dandruff shampoo benefits below, some tips from a cosmetic dermatologist and follow with a list of the best dandruff shampoos that will make your hair thick, healthy and flake-free.
What to Look For in Dandruff Shampoo
There are some key ingredients that you should look for when selecting a dandruff shampoo. These include:
- Pyrithione zinc
- Coal tar
- Salicylic acid
Pyrithione zinc has antibacterial properties that help fight dandruff, scalp psoriasis and acne. Coal tar is used to treat itchy, dry scalp conditions and dandruff by slowing down skin cells and causing skin cells to shed from the top layer of the skin, specifically the scalp. Salicylic acid is derived from a class of drugs known as salicylates helping to shed dead skin cells and reduce inflammation and dandruff. When dealing with shampoos and other hair needs, there are some elements typically avoided: sulfates, parabens, and phthalates.
Sulfates help to strip your hair of dirt and grime but can also strip your hair of its natural oils. Parabens are typically used to inhibit microbial growth but they also can affect your hormonal functions as well. Finally, phthalates can cause a host of medical issues with long-term usage.
How do I choose the best dandruff shampoo for me?
We wanted some insight on the causes of dandruff, how to figure out the root of your dandruff problem and a few dandruff shampoos that actually work. We reached out to Dr. Michele Green, a New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist, for her expertise and advice.
Dandruff can be caused by overly dry or oily skin. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and scalp fungus could also be responsible. But thankfully for most men, dandruff is readily treatable. Only a doctor can confirm a medical condition, but if you’re sure you don’t have one, it’s just a matter of knowing whether you have a dry or oily scalp problem.
“If you find that by the end of the day, your hair becomes flat, weighed down or ‘dirty looking’ you most likely have an oily scalp,” Green told SPY. “A dry scalp tends to flare up seasonally, so if you find you only get flakes during certain months out of the year, it’s likely your dandruff is the result of a dry scalp.”
Once you’ve determined the cause, the only thing left to do is use the dandruff shampoo properly. Green had a bit of advice there, too.
“Be sure you are using only about a quarter-sized amount of the shampoo and applying it directly to the scalp, not the ends,” she said. If the dandruff shampoos end up over-drying your hair in the mid-sections and ends, “try first applying a leave-in conditioner to the ends before you lather up. This will protect the lower part of your hair [from] absorbing the product.”
And of course, make sure to follow the directions on the shampoo bottle — many dandruff shampoos need to soak for a few minutes before rinsing — and from your doctor for best results.
With the basics out of the way, it’s just a matter of finding the best dandruff shampoo for you. We rounded up some of our favorites below and included a few shampoos Green recommended, too. Check them out and get the itch-free scalp and dandruff-free shoulders you should’ve had all along.
1. Head and Shoulders Classic Clean Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner
Whatever your scalp situation, you should strongly consider trying out the Head and Shoulders Classic Clean Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner.
A go-to for thousands and yours truly, it’ll leave your hair feeling soft and clean and stop dandruff and flakes in their tracks, thanks to pyrithione zinc.
It comes out in a thick, almost lotion-like consistency, but it’s highly effective. Use this shampoo and it’ll help “prevent flaking, itching, irritation, scaling and redness associated with dandruff,” said Green.
Head and Shoulders Classic Clean Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner
2. Selsun Blue Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo
If you’ve heard of two dandruff shampoos, the first is probably Head and Shoulders, but the second is almost certainly Selsun Blue. Selsun Blue Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo “contains 1% selenium sulfide and menthol, which both work synergistically to relieve scalp irritation and soothe itching and discomfort,” said Green.
In fact, in a clinical study published on the National Institutes of Health website, Selsun Blue was rated as the top-performing dandruff shampoo in a trial that included Head and Shoulders. If you need powerful, proven dandruff relief, Selsun should be one to look out for.
And reviewers agree. One woman said, “I had an oily spot on the back of my head that just wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t figure out why, I tried clarifying shampoos and different styles of blow dryers and nothing worked. Finally, I found this recommended on a forum and decided to give it a try. It worked immediately! I haven’t been able to air dry my hair in years and this fixed it.”
3. Dove DermaCare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
BEST FOR DRY SCALP
We always rep Dove’s products for all things skin. For an overly dry scalp, Green suggested Dove DermaCare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. “This shampoo contains zinc in addition to coconut oil and shea butter. The combination of ingredients will reduce flakes and keep your hair silky smooth,” she said.
One reviewer noted just how much it helped his dry, itchy scalp during winter, “My scalp gets very dry and itchy in the winter. This shampoo has helped dramatically with those issues even just after one use. Highly recommend this if you suffer from dry, flakey, itchy scalp. Plus it smells great.”
4. Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo Scalp Build-Up Control
BEST FOR OILY SCALP AND SCALP BUILD-UP
Neutrogena makes short work of oily faces and acne with its excellent Oil-Free Acne Wash, and the Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo Scalp Build-Up Control does the same thing for oily scalps, whether you’re dealing with chronic scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis or common dandruff. Both products rely on salicylic acid to gently break down skin build-up and clear away excess oil.
One reviewer on Amazon had great success with it too, saying, “I have had excess skin on my head over the past year behind my ears and it has started to clear up with using this product.”
5. Rugby Sebex Shampoo
BEST MEDICATION STRENGTH DANDRUFF SHAMPOO
The Rugby Sebex Shampoo is not only medicated to fight dandruff, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, a scaly skin condition, but it comes highly recommended by Green too. She said, “I love this shampoo as it packs a one-two punch, containing salicylic acid and colloidal sulfur. The salicylic acid acts [as an] anti-inflammatory to gently exfoliate the scalp and [the] colloidal sulfur … is antimicrobial.”
Though reviewers on Amazon agreed it smells pretty weird, many said it worked, and that’s the bottom line.
6. Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
The Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is salon-tested, salon-approved and, most importantly, doctor recommended. “This shampoo works particularly well for fungal scalp conditions. It contains ketoconazole, which is an antifungal,” Green said.
This option is also safe to use on color-treated and gray hair and is usable on all hair types. Plus, it’ll help keep your hair clean, fresh and soft.
7. Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
KILL THE ITCH
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo relies on lactic acid and salicylic acid to break down excess skin and promote healthy skin while rosemary oil, menthol and ginger extract tamp down on skin irritation. Add in piroctone olamine and climbazole, both antifungals, and you’ve got an all-around great shampoo for treating dandruff and an itchy scalp, no matter the cause.
8. DHS Tar Shampoo
BEST COAL TAR SHAMPOO
Coal tar is anti-itch, antifungal and anti-inflammatory, making it perfect for treating dandruff and the resulting scaly skin from conditions like psoriasis. Green pointed the DHS Tar Shampoo out because it’s unscented, making it perfect for those who want the power of coal tar, just without an overpowering fragrance on top of it.
9. Head and Shoulders Royal Oils Moisture Boost Shampoo
BEST FOR NATURAL HAIR
Free of parabens and dyes, Head and Shoulders Royal Oils Moisture Boost Shampoo leaves your hair with a coconut scent and long-lasting odor protection that can help with day to day maintenance of kinky hair. This option treats your hair with a coconut oil formula that also works to seal in the moisture.
10. Shea Moisture African Black Soap Shampoo
BEST FOR COILS AND KINKS
The Shea Moisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleansing Shampoo clarifies the scalp while nourishing your hair. This option doesn’t have parabens, phthalates or sulfates, and is also cruelty-free. For a healthy scalp that will foster an environment for growth, Shea Moisture’s shampoo might help.
11. Harry’s Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Harry’s Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner helps to remove annoying flakes while leaving behind a manly scent. This option has 1% of pyrithione zinc, thus making it a powerful addition to your dandruff-fighting arsenal. Harry’s Anti-Dandruff line also has other options to choose from that will aid your scalp and have your strands looking healthier and stronger than ever.
12. Dollar Shave Club Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
GREAT FOR AUTO-REFILL
Unfortunately, dandruff isn’t one of those things that just goes away (for the most part), especially if you’re managing a chronic skin condition. That’s where auto-refills and subscriptions can be a godsend. The Dollar Shave Club Anti-Dandruff Shampoo uses 2% salicylic acid to rejuvenate itchy skin and can be delivered every two months automatically when you subscribe.