When you look good, you feel good, but even on your best day, a flaky scalp can be an instant sensation.
This dry, flaky, and itchy condition, also known as dandruff, is most commonly caused by seborrheic dermatitis, a condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast. “It’s a harmless yeast that lives on us, but due to body chemistry, it can overgrow on the scalp, ears, eyebrows, or nose,” says Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu. “When yeast overgrows, your body can mount an inflammatory response that can cause itching, peeling, or redness.” That’s not the only cause of dandruff, though. These symptoms can also be due to product buildup, allergic reactions, seasonality, or conditions such as psoriasis.
A common misconception about dandruff is that it’s caused by dry hair, but that’s not true. With seborrheic dermatitis, Wu explains, the yeast feeds on the oils we produce, causing excess oil to be produced, which can lead to dandruff. She’s seen some patients think their scalp is dry, so they use more oil when they should be doing the opposite. The oil acts to cover up the flakes in the short term, but as the yeast eats up the oil, the symptoms come back. “We often see this in people with oily hair or people who don’t wash their hair as often,” she says.
According to Dr. Sumayah Jamal, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, removing oil from your daily routine isn’t necessarily the answer. “There are many ways to keep hair hydrated while controlling yeast production,” she explains. The texture and quality of your hair, as well as your hair care routine, determine which treatments will be most effective. However, it’s important to remember that dandruff is not something we can completely get rid of. “Because it’s associated with yeast in our natural skin flora, we can’t get rid of it,” she says. “Some people have very mild dandruff with intermittent redness, but others require constant treatment and there is no cure.”
Both Jamal and Wu recommend trying an over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo first to treat your symptoms. Ingredients like zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole are effective at killing yeast and are common in many shampoo treatments. If you have dry or coarse hair, be sure to choose a shampoo that doesn’t strip too much moisture.
As Wu says, our hair care is more important than ever these days because it helps us feel more confident since we usually wear masks to cover most of our faces, and we have to agree with that. If you’re in the market for the best dandruff shampoo to make your day look your best, check out our top-rated picks below.
If you go to a dermatologist for dandruff, they may tell you to try this shampoo. In fact, it was recommended by two of our experts because it’s an over-the-counter drug prescribed by doctors for patients with more serious conditions. Nizoral contains 1% of the active ingredient ketoconazole to help prevent dandruff flare-ups (usually 2% when prescribed). Nearly 17,000 reviewers on Amazon are impressed with its ability to treat symptoms after a few uses at a very affordable cost.
True to its name, Neutrogena’s T/Gel Shampoo works to soothe itching and flakes. According to Jamal, it’s known to reduce inflammation because it contains coal tar extract. It’s gentle yet formulated to continue working even after you rinse it off. In addition to dandruff, it is also indicated for those with scalp psoriasis and the more severe form of seborrheic dermatitis. Reviewers aren’t too fond of the smell, but think it’s worth it for the great results.
This new 2-in-1 from Harry’s is going to be a game-changer for those super fragile days when you need quick relief. For less than $10, you can get an anti-dandruff formula with zinc pyrithione to combat even the most stubborn dandruff. The shampoo even comes in three different strengths (with slightly different formulas)—dry scalp, anti-dandruff, and extra-strength anti-dandruff—to best suit your concerns.
We can personally attest to the effectiveness of the Dove DermaCare range in fighting stubborn dandruff. Once again formulated with Zinc Pyrithione, this Dry Anti-Itch Shampoo treats dandruff and its accompanying symptoms well. For less than $5, you can lather up in the soothing scent of coconut and shea butter to combat dandruff.
Jamal advises people with color-treated hair to avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). These can be too strong in nature and strip your hair of the color or nutrients it needs. She recommends this African Black Soap Cleansing Shampoo by Shea Moisture. Made with tea tree oil and willow bark extract, it deep cleans to remove buildup while calming the scalp without damaging your complexion. Reviewers also love it because it controls oil without drying out hair.
Wu recommends this scalp treatment serum thanks to the charcoal and tea tree oil. “Charcoal is great for oily hair. It helps absorb dirt and oil,” she explains. Charcoal draws away buildup, while a blend of tea tree, peppermint, and aloe reduces itching and soothes the scalp. This vegan, cruelty-free treatment is ultra-light, so it won’t build up. If you’re looking for scalp care between shampoos, choose a serum, not an oil, unless it’s tea tree oil, she advises.
According to Wu, this shampoo from dandruff legend Head & Shoulders is perfect for anyone with dry hair. It contains 1% zinc pyrithione, which controls yeast, but is also infused with avocado oil to nourish every strand of your hair. Jamal also notes that the shampoo is also safe for color-treated hair.
Head & Shoulders continues its tradition of treating dandruff by creating the Royal Oils range to meet the specific scalp needs of people with curly hair. Each product is designed with hydration in mind to retain moisture while relieving symptoms of flaky and dry scalp. This scalp elixir is a standout from the range, and is recommended by two of our dermatologists, allowing those with natural hair to tackle their concerns between washes. It contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like Niacinamide, Menthol, and Peppermint Oil to help relieve itching after each application.
Jupiter’s Dandruff Shampoo contains 1% Zinc Pyrithione to help relieve itchy and flaky scalp, and is enriched with conditioning ingredients like Coconut Oil, Squalane and Sugar Kelp Extract. Reviewers love how quickly it relieves a sensitive, itchy scalp. Plus, it’s safe for color-treated hair, vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified, and free of synthetic fragrances.
Trying to be more mindful of how much plastic you buy and dispose of? The Shampoo Bar is your solution. Ethique’s Heali Kiwi Shampoo Bar is popular for its commitment to zero-waste beauty and its ability to soothe sensitive scalps. The bar contains oatmeal, coconut oil, neem oil, and karanja oil to tackle itching without weighing down hair.
Reviewers seem to be raving about this scalp scrub by Christophe Robin. This scrub works with sea salt to remove residue from the scalp, while sweet almond oil soothes sensitivity or itchiness. Wu recommends that those with oily hair use a scalp scrub between shampoos. While this scrub is meant to be used as a shampoo, she recommends using it only once or twice a week to avoid over-irritating the skin.
If you’re looking for a more natural shampoo to treat dandruff, a tea tree oil-based shampoo might be worth a try. While it may not be as effective as a zinc shampoo, Wu credits the oil with its anti-yeast properties to balance the scalp. She recommends Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree Shampoo, a beloved option that thoroughly cleanses the scalp, leaving it cool and soothing to the tingle.
Apple cider vinegar, another natural ingredient known to help treat dandruff, is a key ingredient in Ouai’s Detox Shampoo. According to Wu, ACV has antimicrobial properties, helps get rid of yeast, and is acidic enough to slough off dead skin cells. However, in most cases it is not strong enough to properly control yeast like zinc pyrithione. So if you have lighter hair, this formula works with keratin and chelating agents to detoxify your locks while strengthening them. Even better, it’s SLS-free, which means it’s safe for color-treated hair.
Let’s get on with it, this Oribe bottle looks quite noteworthy in your shower. Luckily, form meets function, because according to reviewers, this anti-dandruff shampoo does a great job of relieving scalp problems, and it’s gorgeous. Formulated with Salicylic Acid, this sulfate-free shampoo breaks down dead skin cells, reduces itching and gently cleanses hair for healthy-looking locks. It also contains caffeine to energize hair follicles and different extracts to help prevent breakage and damage.
Overall, treating dandruff is all about listening to your scalp, as successful treatment really depends on the severity of your dandruff. According to our experts, try using an anti-dandruff shampoo once a week and see how your hair responds to it. If you don’t see results, you may need to increase the frequency. If your symptoms don’t go away, consider seeing a dermatologist.