The best anti-dandruff shampoo
If you've got a flaky scalp, most likely you're suffering from dandruff. This common condition is harmless but can be itchy, not to mention embarrassing when flakes noticeably snow down onto your clothes. Fortunately, it's highly treatable in the privacy of your own shower with shampoos designed to banish white, flaky scales.
Which shampoos actually work? Which active ingredients are best for your particular scalp situation? We've taken the guesswork out of the purchasing process with this quick shopping guide on anti-dandruff shampoos. We've also included our top recommendations, like Nizoral's shampoo containing potent ingredients to combat severe dandruff and an itchy, burning scalp.
Considerations when choosing anti-dandruff shampoos
What causes dandruff?
Dandruff is easy to spot: white flakes on your scalp and clothes. Some people with dandruff also suffer from a dry, itchy scalp. Dandruff forms for several reasons:
Seborrheic dermatitis: A common cause of dandruff, this condition appears in areas of the body with lots of oil glands, like the scalp. Symptoms include red, greasy skin and flaky, white scales.
Fungus: A type of fungus called Malassezia that is found on the scalp can cause the growth of flaky scales that result in dandruff.
Contact dermatitis: Sometimes hair care products can cause a reaction on the scalp that results in red, itchy, and scaly skin.
Poor hygiene: Infrequent shampooing can cause dead skin, oil, and product buildup on your scalp that results in dandruff.
Anti-dandruff shampoos contain a variety of active ingredients to banish flakes and keep them at bay. Depending on your situation, some formulas are better suited for your scalp than others.
Salicylic acid shampoo contains this beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates flakes from the scalp. This is a drying ingredient, so best used on oily scalps and hair and paired with a conditioner.
Coal tar shampoo treats dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis by slowing down the process that causes skin to die and flake on the scalp. Be aware that coal tar shampoos can discolor blonde or light-colored hair, so it is best suited for darker-haired individuals.
Zinc pyrithione shampoo is both antifungal and antibacterial, making it ideal for dandruff caused by Malassezia.
Selenium sulfide shampoo slows down the die-off of skin cells on the scalp that causes flaking. It's also a great treatment for Malassezia-caused dandruff. Be aware that this formula can discolor light or color-treated hair.
Ketoconazole shampoo contains a powerful antifungal ingredient (ketoconazole) and is available OTC and by prescription. Select a ketoconazole shampoo when all other anti-dandruff shampoos fail.
Tea tree oil shampoo is a nice alternative to some of these harsher, medicated shampoos while still being effective on dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. This essential oil boasts natural antifungal, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties.
Anti-dandruff shampoo prices
Depending on their active ingredients and brand, anti-dandruff shampoos range in price between $3 and $60. Ketoconazole and selenium sulfide-based shampoos are generally on the higher end of the price spectrum whereas coal tar and zinc pyrithione shampoos tend to be priced on the lower end. Salicylic acid- and tea tree oil-based shampoos are generally more mid-priced.
Q. Are there certain populations who are more prone to dandruff?
A. Yes, certain people are more prone to develop dandruff. Men are more likely to due to their hormonal makeup. People with oily hair are more likely to develop Malassezia because the fungus thrives on oil. Populations with HIV or Parkinson's disease are also more prone to dandruff.
Q. When can I expect to see results from an anti-dandruff shampoo?
A. Generally, expect to see results after four to six weeks of consistent use of an anti-dandruff shampoo. Severe cases may take longer, and it's always best to consult a dermatologist if you're not seeing a reduction of symptoms within a month or if your scalp is red and swollen.
Anti-dandruff shampoos we recommend
Best of the best: Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Our take: A ketoconazole-based shampoo with powerful anti-dandruff results.
What we like: A gold standard of anti-dandruff shampoos. Works on severe cases. Delivers immediate relief after first application.
What we dislike: Nothing.
Best bang for your buck: Neutrogena T-Gel Daily Control 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner
Our take: An anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner combined in one low-priced bottle.
What we like: Combats dandruff and moisturizes hair. Safe for color-treated hair. Highly popular anti-dandruff product from a reputable brand that gets the job done.
What we dislike: Fragrance too strong for some users.
Our take: Stands out as a pleasant-smelling dandruff shampoo that's gentle on hair.
What we like: Inexpensive. Safe for color-treated hair. Sulfate- and paraben-free. Doesn't smell medicinal like its competitors. Zinc-based formula won't strip hair.
What we dislike: Can be drying for some users.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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