The 25 Best Lanolin Free Dandruff Shampoos

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Lanolin is the naturally occurring fat found in wool, which helps protect wool the weather and environment. It’s widely extracted and used in personal care products to protect and treat our skin and is frequently used in baby treatments.

For most of us its highly beneficial, however, it’s also a known cause of contact dermatitis in some people. Even this isn’t a binary allergy – an individual may be allergic to some lanolin-containing products but not to others.

We thought this was worth further study, to see if we could determine what lanolin is and why it appears to cause such a variable reaction. Ultimately to give you the information you need to do something about it.

In this article:

What is lanolin?

Lanolin is a ‘grease’ produced by sheep to waterproof their wool, helping to protect from the wind and rain. The wool from a freshly sheared sheep will produce up to 300mL of lanolin, although this varies by breed. This ‘crude’ product will contain [1]:

  • Lanolin (mix of polyesters, high-molecular weight alcohols, and acids)
  • Dirt found on the wool
  • Impure salts from sweat

The fatty, crude brown substance is washed with surfactants, heated, and then centrifuged. This produces a purer, light-yellow lanolin – although, for use in the pharmaceutical industry or cosmetics, the lanolin is still further refined to reduce pesticides and other contaminants.

Why is lanolin used in so many products?

Lanolin is widely used by the pharmaceutical (e.g. medicated creams, shampoos), cosmetic (hand creams, lipsticks, baby oils), and manufacturing industries (shoe polish, lubricants). Most people encounter lanolin through the day-to-day use of emollient hand creams.

Emollients can be split into two distinct categories, depending on the mechanism by the which they moisturize the skin:

· Occlusive (e.g. paraffin, dimethicone) – form a barrier to prevent water loss

· Humectant (e.g. propylene glycol) – draw water from the surroundings

Lanolin is a useful emollient because it has both occlusive and humectant properties, due to the wide variety of polyesters, alcohols, and acids. Uniquely, lanolin is also absorbed by the stratum coronium (outer layer of skin), and so can be used to deliver active ingredients (e.g. medicated steroid creams or ointments) [2].

What are the risks?

Lanolin can be labeled as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ because it comes from sheep’s wool. This can be technically correct but doesn’t mean that it’s the right ingredient for everyone. This is especially true for those with skin conditions such as seborrheic/atopic dermatitis or those that are vegan.

The most significant issue with lanolin is hypersensitivity reactions or allergies, a topic which has gained traction in the press and online over recent years. The evidence for lanolin hypersensitivity is mixed and remains controversial, but is a very real phenomenon for thousands of people.

In 2009 the North American Contact Dermatitis Group reported data from 1994-2006, which showed that 30% lanolin alcohol (the most likely irritant in lanolin) caused skin reactions in 643 of 25,811 participants (2.5%) [3]. A study at St. Marys Hospital in London analyzed 24,449 eczema patients, finding that only 1.7% reacted to the 30% lanolin alcohol patch [4].

Casting doubt on the true prevalence of lanolin allergies, a 2013 study by dermatologists at Mayo Clinic highlighted that the 30% lanolin alcohol patch caused more reactions than alternative methods – and so it’s unclear if the true prevalence of lanolin allergy is lower than has been reported by previous studies.

It’s a little more complicated than that too. Lanolin is a natural product and the contents vary. There are alcohols present in some lanolin that isn’t present in others. It’s often these alcohols that we believe to be responsible for the reactions, so some forms of lanolin may cause a reaction, whereas others don’t. In fact, there are chemically modified forms of lanolin which may be much better for sufferers. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who only react to these modified forms.

It’s complicated.

That said, if you suspect you have a wool alcohol allergy there are forms of patch testing available to you via your dermatologist.

And there are alternatives out there.

What are the alternatives?

For individuals with a known lanolin allergy, the prevalence among the public is largely irrelevant, and luckily lanolin cosmetics can be avoided. On ingredient labels, lanolin can be listed under different names, commonly one of the following:

  • Lanolin (or derivatives, such as ‘lanolin alcohols’)
  • Wool alcohols, wool fat, wool wax
  • Brand names (‘Amerchol L101’)
  • Isopropyl lanolate, laneth, lanogene

If reading the ingredient label seems overwhelming, most cosmetics will state they are ‘lanolin-free’, if they don’t contain lanolin-based ingredients. Most of the alternatives to lanolin are equally as effective, but can be more expensive, and finding the correct product for your skin can be down to trial-and-error [6]:

  • Coconut oil
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Beeswax
  • Paraffin oils

The best lanolin free dandruff shampoos on the market today

Lanolin is a waxy substance produced from sheep’s wool, used in a range of products from medicated creams to shoe polish. One of the most common uses is as an emollient – in hand creams and body lotions – as lanolin has unique properties that make it an effective skin moisturizer.

Certain lanolin products are branded as ‘organic’ or ‘natural’, but this doesn’t mean the ingredient comes without risk. Lanolin allergies have been widely reported, although the evidence suggests a generally low prevalence. For those who have had skin reactions to lanolin, there are methods for identifying lanolin products, and alternatives are available.

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Pharmaceutical Specialties formed in 1974 to “start a company to make better products than were commercially available for people with sensitive skin”. And boy, have they achieved it with this Free and Clear shampoo.

What is perhaps surprising on a website dedicated to dandruff treatments is that this isn’t a dandruff shampoo at all.

It’s rather a "a non-medicated, mild shampoo for sensitive skin and scalp.”

That said, we can’t use a medicated shampoo all the time, and this is my go to shampoo for those “between” washes.

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BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil is now part of my daily skin care routine. It’s as simple as that. I have lost count of the number of products I’ve reviewed over the years and I can count on one hand the number of products that have impacted me on this level.

If you suffer from dry skin, facial seb derm or rosacea I simply can’t recommend this product highly enough.

It even makes a good beard oil!

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Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo

Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo has been superbly formulated to soothe and moisturize the scalp and hair. The ingredients have been carefully selected to decrease the chance that the product will irritate the skin. Using multiple low dose surfactants is a stroke of genius and only the fact the shampoo contains only one potential contact allergen says it all.

This is as close to perfection as you get in the commercial shampoo world.

I simply can't recommend this highly enough.

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Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance Free Shampoo

Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance Free Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance-Free Shampoo is an excellent gentle option for sufferers of a dry irritated scalp. The absence of any noteworthy irritants or allergens combined with the expert formulation of anti-inflammatory moisturizing ingredients makes an excellent change from the usual harsh surfactants and other toxins that lead to a vicious cycle of irritation and inflammation.

They've managed all of this in a shampoo that foams and washes well.

It's not particularly cheap, but this is simply one of the finest dry scalp shampoos out there.

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Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo is a combination shampoo containing both salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione.  The thinking behind this shampoo is that the salicylic acid will soften and exfoliate existing build up and the zinc pyrithione will help prevent new build up from forming.

I’m generally a big fan of combination shampoos and this is no exception.  The shampoo feels great, has a nice light smell and leaves the hair feeling extremely soft.  It only contains one known contact allergen too - cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seb derm I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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Vichy Dercos Anti-Dandruff Sensitive Shampoo

Vichy Dercos Anti-Dandruff Sensitive Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

One of the best and mildest shampoos out there for seb derm sufferers with sensitive skin.

Containing both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid as well as being SLS free, paraben free, artificial color free this shampoo has an absolutely outstanding choice of active and inactive ingredients.

There are still two or three chemicals in there that some may find irritating. Otherwise this would have been a five out of five performer.

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Sebamed Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Sebamed Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Sebamed is one of the gentle yet most effective seb derm shampoos available.

The active ingredient is Piroctine Olamine - an excellent anti-fungal agent.

The rest of the shampoo has been formulated with panache.

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DHS Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo

DHS Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Coal Tar Shampoo is an expertly formulated shampoo containing 0.5% coal tar and is the gentlest coal tar shampoo we’ve yet reviewed

We can't recommend this product or this company highly enough.

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Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Quite simply the best pure Salicylic Acid shampoo we’ve yet reviewed. The shampoo contains 3% Salicylic Acid combined with a fragrance free, sulfate free and virtually every other nasty ingredient free formulation. It does this and still feels luxurious when washing.

Neutrogena should be exceptionally proud of this top top class shampoo.

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Tru Moroccan Repair Shampoo

Tru Moroccan Repair Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

An impressive dry scalp treatment shampoo with an innovative formulation.

I have to applaud any company that can formulate a shampoo with so few allergens. The fact that it washes so well is marvelous. For those not sensitive to Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Phenoxyethanol or fragrances - this is an excellent shampoo.

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Eucerin Dermocapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

Eucerin Dermocapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

This dry scalp treatment isn’t a shampoo at all, but rather a leave on moisturizer that you apply to your hair after washing.

The advantage of this approach is that, while shampoos are designed to clean (and all the sensitizing issues that come with that) this treatment is designed to moisturize and nothing else.

You’re free to use the shampoo of your choice and us this treatment in combination.

It’s an excellent approach that I hope other manufacturers take notice of.

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Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo

Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Scalp 18 Coal Tar shampoo is a 2% coal tar formulation that has a number of added essential oils to further nourish and soothe the scalp.

These essential oils do contain fragrance but if you're not sensitive to fragrances then this is a superb shampoo.

It is extremely gentle and washes like a high end salon shampoo.

If you’re not sensitive to fragrances then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this shampoo.

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Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo is an outstanding Tea Tree shampoo for treating Dry Scalp or Seb Derm. It doesn’t contain any artificial coloring or fragrance, sulfates, parabens, or carcinogens. It contains only three potential contact allergens, with two of the three being tea tree and rosemary essential oils.

The combination of cleansing agents used are gentle, effective and innovative while the shampoo smells ace and washes even better.

If you're looking for a tea tree shampoo, I can't recommend this highly enough.

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DHS Sal Dandruff Shampoo

DHS Sal Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Sal Shampoo is a 3% salicylic acid shampoo designed to treat Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis.

It’s an outstanding shampoo that washes well, contains relatively few ingredients, is gentle and won’t break the bank.

If you’re not sensitive to sulfates and are looking for a good salicylic acid shampoo, this is an excellent performer.

Yet again, DHS have produced a shampoo that we can't recommend highly enough.

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Cleure Volumizing Shampoo

Cleure Volumizing Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Cleure Volumizing uses only a handful of skin conditioning agents and gentle cleansers to treat a dry scalp.

It contains only two potential irritants that should be considered low to moderate concerns, compared to other much harsher alternatives. This shampoo doesn’t use any sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, dyes, alcohol, salicylates, formaldehyde, or SLS, making it a good option for those with sensitive scalps who typically react to less gentle, conventional shampoo and other personal care products.

Unless you have severely sensitive skin and are highly reactive to any potential irritants, we suggest trying this shampoo from Cleure and seeing if it calms your sensitive skin, and helps to clear up any dryness and itchiness on your scalp.

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Nizoral

Nizoral

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Nizoral is probably the most effective shampoo on the market to control seborrhoeic dermatitis.

It is still my go to shampoo if I suffer from a bad breakout.

The 2% edition is by far the best but the 1% can help too.

However, the 2% formulation can and does control severe cases of seb derm.

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Capasal

Capasal

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Capasal have taken the unique step of combining 1% Coal Tar with 0.5% Salicylic Acid and added coconut oil.

It's perhaps the most original and interesting shampoo formulation we've yet seen

While the shampoo is SLS, fragrance and paraben free there are still a few known contact allergens in there. Unfortunately it smells like a coal tar shampoo too.

That aside Capasal is an excellent shampoo for those who suffer mild to moderate scalp psoriasis.

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Denorex Extra Strength 2 in 1 Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner

Denorex Extra Strength 2 in 1 Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Denorex isn’t the gentlest shampoo, but with 3% Salicylic Acid it’s as strong as you’ll find OTC.

If you don’t use it too frequently and you suffer from mild to moderate psoriasis or seb derm, Denorex is very effective treatment.

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E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

E45 is a brand synonymous with dry skin care.

If you frequently get dry scalps after washing then this shampoo could be an excellent choice.

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Aubrey Organics Green Tree Clarifying Shampoo

Aubrey Organics Green Tree Clarifying Shampoo

Designed to treat Product Build Up

A gentle clarifying shampoo may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Aubrey Organics have done a fantastic job formulating a clarifying shampoo with mild ingredients.

It’s possibly the gentlest clarifying shampoo we’ve reviewed yet.

It smells nice, it will clarify your scalp, it will help remove dandruff caused by product build up.

But this comes at a cost – it will dry your scalp if used too much.

Like all clarifying shampoos – use absolutely only when needed.

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La Roche-Posay Kerium Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

La Roche-Posay Kerium Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

La Roche Posay is a combination shampoo, combining both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid. The Salicylic Acid will help exfoliate existing dandruff build up while the Piroctone Olamine is designed to prevent any new outbreaks. It’s a match made in heaven.

I can’t let a mention of a review pass without commenting on how luxurious this shampoo feels and smells when washing – better than any medicated shampoo I have ever tried. And I’ve tried lots!

There are a couple of harsh ingredients but compared to the majority of the shampoos on the market, this is a first class Piroctone Olamine shampoo.

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Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Clarifying Shampoo

Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Clarifying Shampoo

Designed to treat Product Build Up

The self proclaimed “natural-product industry leader”, Giovanni shampoos are multiple award winning shampoos entirely manufactured in the USA.

The 50:50 hydrating/clarifying shampoo has an ambitious purpose; to both moisturize and clarify.

It largely achieves this, although some of you may wish to use a conditioner too.

Excellent!

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Pura Dor Argan Oil Scalp & Dandruff Treatment

Pura Dor Argan Oil Scalp & Dandruff Treatment

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Pura's D'or Argan Oil shampoo features an interesting formula that combines traditional therapy and herbalism.

It wears a premium price tag, but it is truly a premium product.

The active ingredient in Pura's product is the familiar zinc pyrithione. It also includes aloe vera and grapefruit seed extract, which have antifungal and antioxidant properties, and a number of fragrant essential oils.

Normally, shampoos containing argan oil send up a red flag for people with seborrheic dermatitis. The oleic acid content can exacerbate the condition. However, the amount present determines the sensitivity level, and a little should have no impact.

After using the shampoo, we found that it delivered a great performance without producing adverse reactions.

If you're sensitive to fragrance, cocamidopropyl betaine or phenooxyethanol, you may want to steer clear of this shampoo, but for many dandruff sufferers, it can achieve complete control of symptoms while providing a pleasant and surprisingly sudsy washing experience along with reliable treatment results.

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Maple Holistics Sage Shampoo for Heavy Dandruff

Maple Holistics Sage Shampoo for Heavy Dandruff

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics has created an innovative and gentle shampoo using essential oils rather than traditional active ingredients to control dandruff. Despite being marketed as a sage shampoo, it actually contains a number of essential oils including tea tree, jojoba, sage, tea tree, rosemary, peach kernel and spikenard oils. The thick, white, pearly shampoo smells like tea tree oil mixed with other herbal notes. Considering its lack of sulfates, its foaming abilities are impressive, and it provides an excellent washing experience. Due to the inclusion of panthenol, it leaves your hair feeling extremely soft. Although older formulations contained undesirable ingredients, the only contact allergen listed in the current formula is cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seborrheic dermatitis or dry scalp, and you’re not sensitive to the fragrances in essential oils, this is a gentle, well-formulated shampoo that we highly recommend.

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Regenpure DR Dandruff Shampoo

Regenpure DR Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Regenure DR Hair and Scalp Treatment is a 1% Ketoconazole formulation shampoo combined with Salicylic Acid. The company ave been particularly clever with their formulation and marketing – positioning the shampoo as a gentler alternative to Nizoral. The company have largely achieved that too. Adding Salicylic Acid to get rid of the dandruff and ketoconazole to remove the dandruff is an inspired combination too.

That said, it’s still a 1% ketoconazole shampoo. Given the choice I’d choose 2% every time, but this would require a prescription in Regenpures largest market – the USA.

Overall a very interesting, innovative shampoo.

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References

[1] López-Mesas, M., Carrillo, F., Gutiérrez, M. C., & Crespi, M. (2007). Alternative methods for the wool wax extraction from wool scouring wastes. Grasas y aceites, 58(4), 402-407.

[2] Lynde, C. W. (2001). Moisturizers: what they are and how they work. Skin Therapy Lett, 6(13), 3-5.

[3] Warshaw, E. M., Nelsen, D. D., Maibach, H. I., Marks Jr, J. G., Zug, K. A., Taylor, J. S., … & Sasseville, D. (2009). Positive Patch Test Reactions to Lanolin: Cross‐Sectional Data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 1994 to 2006. Dermatitis, 20(2), 79-88.

[4] Wakelin, S. H., Smith, H., White, I. R., Rycroft, R. J. G., & McFadden, J. P. (2001). A retrospective analysis of contact allergy to lanolin. British Journal of Dermatology, 145(1), 28-31.

[5] Miest, R. Y., Yiannias, J. A., Chang, Y. H. H., & Singh, N. (2013). Diagnosis and prevalence of lanolin allergy. Dermatitis, 24(3), 119-123.

[6] Scheman, A., Jacob, S., Katta, R., Nedorost, S., Warshaw, E., Zirwas, M., & Bhinder, M. (2011). Hair Products: Trends and Alternatives. Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 4(7).

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