Dandruff is a type of eczema, consisting of small flakes of dry skin on the scalp. A yeast or fungal infection is thought to be a primary cause of dandruff, so effective treatment often consists of using antifungal ingredients. Commercial brands of dandruff shampoo contain one of three antifungal compounds: zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide or ketoconazole. If your dandruff is severe or particularly intractable, you may wish to consult a dermatologist for prescription-strength formulas.
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Shampoos Using Zinc Pyrithione
The best-known brand of shampoo containing zinc pyrithione may be the drugstore standard Head and Shoulders. It's inexpensive and milder on the scalp than other dandruff shampoos and smells better than many other products. Beauty brands such as Redken and Aveda offer their own versions of zinc-pyrithione shampoos as well. Zinc pyrithione is best for mild cases of dandruff; more serious sufferers may need a stronger product.
Shampoos Using Selenium Sulfide
Selsun Blue is the largest brand of dandruff shampoo that contains the compound selenium sulfide, another antifungal compound. Dandrex and Exsel are two other brands containing selenium sulfide. Shampoos with this ingredient are generally stronger in their antifungal action than zinc pyrithione, but can have a strong unpleasant smell because of their sulfur content. Like other dandruff shampoos, selenium sulfide can dry out the hair; a moisturizing conditioner can help alleviate this side effect.
Shampoos Using Ketoconazole
Nizoral is a dandruff shampoo that used to be available only by prescription, but can now be found over the counter. It contains ketoconazole, which is thought to be the most effective antifungal agent available for treating dandruff. Ketozal is another ketoconazole-based dandruff shampoo; two other brand names to look for are Xolegel and Extina. Ketonacozole-based shampoos work best if you leave them in place for 5 minutes or more before rinsing.
Shampoos Using Coal Tar
Coal tar slows the growth of skin cells on your scalp and is used in shampoos to treat both dandruff and psoriasis of the scalp. This ingredient also works particularly well against itchiness. It does not, however, act as an antifungal. Not surprisingly, coal-tar shampoos smell like tar; they can be very drying to hair. Neutrogena T/Gel is one brand name to look for.
Shampoos Using Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is better-known as an anti-acne ingredient, but it can also be used to treat dandruff. It softens the skin, allowing cells to slough off while in the shower rather than later, thus avoiding pesky dry flakes on your clothes. Like coal tar, salicylic acid has no antifungal action. Denorex uses both salicylic acid and selenium sulfide in its formula. Neutrogena's T/Sal has salicylic acid as its main active ingredient.
Shampoos Using Tea Tree Oil
Tea-tree oil is proven to act as a mild natural antifungal, so several dandruff shampoo brands have incorporated it into their list of active ingredients. It's a good choice if you find other antifungals too harsh or drying. Jason Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo and Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo are two widely available varieties.