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.
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.
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"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 along with natural remedies for dandruff 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.
The Best Dandruff Shampoos
- Best Overall: Nizoral ($15.47, Amazon)
- Best on a Budget: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Antidandruff Shampoo ($6.98, Amazon)
- Best for Color-Treated Hair: L' Oreal Ever Fresh Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($9.18, Walmart)
- Best for Kids: Mustela Foam Shampoo ($14.50, Amazon)
- Best for Natural Hair: Biolage Scalpsync No-Dandruff Shampoo ($38, Amazon)
- Best for Dry Hair: Dove Dermacare ($4.88, Walmart)
- Best All-Natural: Briogeo ($42, Amazon)
- Best Travel Shampoo: Head and Shoulders ($9.99, Amazon)
- Best Luxury Buy: Oribe Serene Scalp ($52, Sephora)
- Best for Scalp Itch: Redken Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo ($25, Ulta)
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream Free and Clear ($10.99, Target)
- Best for Preventing Dandruff: Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo ($16.89, Amazon)
How We Chose
We tapped board-certified dermatologists to share their top recommendations for dandruff shampoos. The products were chosen based on the following criteria:
1. Best Overall: Nizoral
- Clinically-proven effective
- Contains powerful ingredients
- Some reviewers said it may be too strong for dry, frizzy hair
Simply put: "This is dermatologists' top pick," Dr. Marmon says. "It contains ketoconazole to directly target the yeast that causes seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff."
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.47
2. Best on a Budget: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Antidandruff Shampoo
- Prevents dryness
- Contains aloe
- May not be suitable for sensitive skin, according to reviewers
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.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $6.98
3. Best for Color-Treated Hair: L’Oreal Ever Fresh Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
- Great for oily hair
- Can be drying, according to reviewers
"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: Walmart.com; Price: $9.18
4. Best for Kids: Mustela Foam Shampoo
- Natural ingredients
- May need to use a brush to fully remove cradle cap, according to reviewers
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: Amazon.com; Price: $14.50
5. Best for Natural Hair: Biolage Scalpsync No-Dandruff Shampoo
- Best for textured hair
- Pricey compared to other options
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: $38
6. Best for Dry Hair: Dove Dermacare
- Can be drying, according to reviewers
Pyrithione zinc targets yeast and decreases scales, plus it's pH-balanced and contains nourishing coconut to help with hydration.
Buy it: Walmart.com; Price: $4.88
7. Best All-Natural: Briogeo
- Some reviews say it's not exfoliating enough
"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
- Good for travel
- Powerful formula
- Some reviewers do not like the smell
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: $9.99 for a pack of 3
9. Best Luxury Buy: Oribe Serene Scalp
- Keratin and color-safe
- No parabens
- Pricey compared to other options
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: Sephora.com; Price: $52
10. Best for Scalp Itch: Redken Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo
- Decreases inflammation
- May cause greasy hair, according to some reviewers
The star of this dandruff shampoo is pyrithione zinc, which helps treat the scaly buildup from yeast and decreases itch and inflammation.
Buy it: Ulta.com; Price: $25
11. Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream Free and Clear
- Sulfate, gluten and fragrance-free
- Can be drying according to some reviewers
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: Target.com; Price: $10.99
12. Best for Preventing Dandruff: Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo
- Contains salicylic acid
- Some reviewers don't like the smell
"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: $16.89
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Often Should You Use Dandruff Shampoo?
A medicated shampoo can be used up to two to three times per week, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with dry hair, however, may benefit from shampooing less often to preserve hair's natural oils.
2. Does Dandruff Shampoo Cause Hair Loss?
There is not enough research to suggest that dandruff shampoo causes hair loss. If anything, there is one small December 2018 study in the International Journal of Trichology that suggests dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione can help reduce premature hair loss.
If you have dry/damaged hair, however, you may experience a worsening of this when using dandruff shampoo, due to its strong ingredients.
3. How to Wash Your Hair With Dandruff Shampoo
Make sure you shampoo your hair twice when washing with dandruff shampoo. On the second lather, let the product sit on your scalp for five minutes before rinsing. This helps the medicine soak into your skin, per the University of Michigan.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.