Dandruff is a common condition that many people struggle with — it can cause flakes on the scalp that build up and well, flake off. Although dandruff can be unsightly and uncomfortable to deal with, having dandruff doesn't always mean you're doing something wrong.
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In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) explains that dandruff (also known as seborrheic dermatitis) isn't always the result of poor hygiene habits. The exact cause of dandruff is thought to be more complex and, according to the Mayo Clinic, involves things like yeast-like fungus building up on the scalp; having naturally oily, sensitive or dry skin; or having other skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema.
"This condition is thought to be a response to the presence of Malassezia yeast that normally lives on the scalp and body. Why some people develop seborrheic dermatitis and others don't is unclear," board-certified dermatologist, Shoshana Marmon, MD, PhD, assistant professor and director of clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at New York Medical College, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Not shampooing enough can be a factor in dandruff developing, so the AADA recommends using shampoo that's specifically formulated for dandruff at least twice per week.
Here are the best dandruff shampoos, as recommended by dermatologists.
It's a good idea to work with your dermatologist to choose the best dandruff shampoo for you, because different hair types may have different needs. Additionally, it’s important to follow the instructions for the shampoo that you choose in order for it to be most effective.
1. Best Overall: Nizoral
Simply put: "This is dermatologists' top pick," Dr. Marmon says. "It contains ketoconazole to directly target the yeast that causes seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff."
2. Best on a Budget: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Antidandruff Shampoo
According to Dr. Marmon, the selenium sulfide in this shampoo works against dandruff by slowing the growth of yeast on the scalp. It also contains aloe to prevent dryness.
3. Best for Color-Treated Hair: L’Oreal Ever Fresh Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
"This formulation is sulfate-free and surfactant-free so it is gentle on your hair color," explains Dr. Marmon. "The active ingredient is pyrithione zinc, which blocks fungal and yeast cell division to eliminate scaling and flaking."
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.99 for 2 bottles
4. Best for Kids: Mustela Foam Shampoo
This is Dr. Marmon's pick for kids and babies because it's a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic formulation that uses primarily natural ingredients like sunflower seed oil and avocado fruit extract to exfoliate and treat cradle cap.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $13
5. Best for Natural Hair: Biolage Scalpsync No-Dandruff Shampoo
Dr. Marmon chooses this Biolage shampoo for Black hair that hasn't had its texture altered by chemicals because its zinc pyrithione formulation will combat flakes without stripping the scalp of natural oils.
Plus, it also contains cooling mint leaf extract, which soothes irritation.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $32
6. Best for Dry Hair: Dove Dermacare
Pyrithione zinc targets yeast and decreases scales, plus it's pH-balanced and contains nourishing coconut to help with hydration.
Buy it: Rite-aid.com; Price: $4.99
7. Best All-Natural: Briogeo
"This natural formulation uses charcoal and peppermint, spearmint oil and tea tree oil to soothe irritation," says Dr. Marmon.
It works by gently scrubbing away flakes with microexfoliation while still letting necessary oils absorb to keep the scalp healthy.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $42
8. Best Travel Shampoo: Head and Shoulders
Formulated with the same powerful zinc pyrithione as many other shampoos on this list, you get all the oomph of a full-sized dandruff shampoo in a convenient travel size.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $5.99
9. Best Luxury Buy: Oribe Serene Scalp
Dr. Marmon's luxury pick contains salicylic acid, which helps exfoliate the scalp and dissolve dead skin cells as well as caffeine to refresh and invigorate the skin. Plus, it's keratin- and color-safe, and it contains no parabens, sulfates or sodium chloride.
Buy it: Dermstore.com; Price: $147
10. Best for Scalp Itch: Redken Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo
The star of this dandruff shampoo is pyrithione zinc, which helps treat the scaly buildup from yeast and decreases itch and inflammation.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23
11. Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream Free and Clear
This shampoo targets fungal elements with 2 percent pyrithione zinc, but it is free of fragrance, sulfate and gluten, so it's perfect for sensitive skin, notes Dr. Marmon.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $10.99
12. Best for Preventing Dandruff: Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo
"This contains salicylic acid to break down the dead skin cells that accumulate on the scalp," says Dr. Marmon, so it can be helpful when used as a preventive measure for dandruff.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $16.39
What to Look for in a Dandruff Shampoo
When choosing a dandruff shampoo, you can usually find an over-the-counter remedy that can help manage your symptoms. You should always work with a dermatologist to help ensure that you are choosing the right formulation for your specific needs and that there aren't any other underlying causes or alternative diagnoses that need to be addressed. And if your scalp seems to worsen with shampoo use, stop using it and see your doctor, as you might be having an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in the shampoo.
With that said, here are some of the things to look for in a dandruff shampoo:
1. Anti-Flaking Ingredients
"Look for ingredients like pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole and selenium sulfide," says Dr. Marmon.
She recommends these ingredients because they will tackle flaking and scaling on the scalp.
Alongside ingredients that will handle the flaking and scaling, Dr. Marmon recommends looking for shampoos that contain moisturizers. For instance, "To combat dryness, choose formulations that include moisturizers like coconut oil as well," she says.
No matter which dandruff shampoo you choose, Dr. Marmon says to leave it on for five to 10 minutes before rinsing in order for it to be most effective.