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Almost 100 million bottles of dandruff shampoo are sold in the USA, and an estimated half the population has suffered from a flakey scalp at some point in their lives . Yet dandruff is considered to be the most commercially exploited skin and scalp disorder/disease  by the personal care industry.
We’ve reviewed hundreds of dandruff shampoos and thousands of hours of research, and can vouch that commercial exploitation and disinformation are still as rife in this industry as it ever was.
Cutting through the disinformation is tough It’s the reason I started this site! Finding a good dandruff shampoo back then shampoo was trial and error.
So it’s almost surreal not to be editing a site, 6 years later, with hundreds of reviews and articles, penned by genuine experts (including a product formulator and two practicing pharmacists).
Even with our in-house expertise, compiling our best dandruff shampoos was tough. So, for the first time, we spoke to 5 board-certified dermatologists for their input.
Their input was a game-changer.
We’re now in a unique position to list the best dandruff shampoos on the market today, and it gives us great pleasure to name….
Sebclair Shampoo is our best-medicated dandruff shampoo of 2023.
In addition to Piroctone Olamine, the rest of the shampoo has been formulated with an almost unique level of care and attention. It contains Sorbitol – a humectant aka an active which attracts water to itself. Humectants hydrate and soothe your skin essentially. Great news for dry scalp sufferers. And it’s also an ingredient used to break down biofilms.
Instead of SLS, Seblair uses 5 extremely mild cleansing and foaming agents. The cleansing ingredients are all perfect for sensitive scalps, have no significant ingredients likely to cause contact dermatitis and this shampoo still washes oily hair and scalps extremely well.
Also of note are the extracts with antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
To top it off, Sebclair uses an ultra-mild, natural preservative system and contains no essential oils, no fragrance, no perfume, and no allergens.
Bottom line: If you have an extremely sensitive scalp but suffer from dry scalp or mild/moderate seb derm, Sebclair shampoo is the embodiment of your perfect remedy.
An outstanding shampoo, formulated with precision and care, and the best dandruff shampoo we've seen this year.
We couldn’t really separate the next two shampoos.
Zinc Pyrithione is a gentle, well-tolerated, antifungal agent found in many dandruff shampoos. It’s used primarily to treat mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis.
Salicylic Acid is on the other hand used in shampoos, creams, and ointments mainly for its keratolytic effects – the ingredient causes the epidermis to shed more easily, helping to remove dry and flaky skin . You’ll often see salicylic acid referred to as an exfoliator – and it’s added to dandruff shampoos to help shift existing build-up.
Salicylic Acid and Zinc Pyrithione complement each other so well because Salicylic Acid can soften the existing build-up on your scalp and help the Zinc Pyrithione penetrate the scalp more effectively .
Dr. Matthew Zirwas, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bexley Dermatology in Bexley, Ohio, told us that he prefers shampoos that contain multiple active ingredients. “Our experience has been that all of the ‘normal’ dandruff shampoos work about the same, on average, in terms of effectiveness. Obviously one or another works best for most individuals, but on average, they are all about the same. For resistant dandruff, compounded shampoos that contain multiple active ingredients work much better than regular shampoos.”
Aside from the active ingredients, Dead Sea Spa has chosen some innovative help ingredients that really made this shampoo stand out.
The formulation is gentle, it smells great and washes as well as a high-end salon shampoo. On the downside, it contains fragrances and a secondary surfactant called Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
Both ingredients can cause reactions in very sensitive skin sufferers. But compared to 99% of shampoos out there, it’s as gentle as they come.
Two active ingredients and a winning formulation make this shampoo a long-time favorite of ours
Our second runner-up, DHS Fragrance-Free Tar Shampoo is a coal tar shampoo. Coal Tar remains a controversial active ingredient to this day, but there’s no denying that it can be effective at treating dandruff caused by both seb derm and scalp psoriasis.
The shampoo contains a 0.5% coal tar concentration and uses gentle surfactants in a very minimalist gentle formula. While 0.5% coal tar is way below 5% you’ll see in some shampoos, stronger isn’t necessarily better. In fact, a recent study suggests that a 1% coal tar solution is more effective than a 5% solution when treating mild to moderate psoriasis.
In addition, this is one of the gentlest shampoos we’ve reviewed. The ingredient list is minimal, with only 7 ingredients in total. Two of these ingredients are surfactants; Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine. So while it isn’t sulfate-free, we’re talking about two relatively gentle but high-performing cleaning agents all the same. The other ingredients are salt, citric acid, and an emulsifier.
Washing with this shampoo is better than most coal tar shampoos. And, while no coal tar shampoo has a particularly pleasant aroma, DHS has done a good job in formulating a coal tar shampoo with a relatively decent(ish) smell.
If you have a sensitive scalp we simply can’t recommend this shampoo highly enough.
Our favorite coal tar shampoo formulated with sensitive skin sufferers in mind
The Best Dandruff Shampoos of 2023
The shampoo contains only one active ingredient, Piroctone Olamine.
We’re finding Piroctone Olamine is becoming ever more popular in newer dandruff shampoos. And for good reason too. Studies show that Piroctone Olamine is extremely effective at clearing dandruff caused by seb derm  while another shows a 1% formula of piroctone olamine  is effective in reducing oiliness of your scalp, increasing hair thickness and reducing hair shedding. Great news for scalps prone to seb derm or excessive dryness.
Sebclair shampoo is a fragrance-free formulation containing no essential oils, no major allergens, and contains some of the gentlest combinations of surfactants we’ve seen.
As an added bonus, it also contains Sorbitol. Sorbitol is a humectant ie an ingredient that attracts water to itself. When such an ingredient is near your scalp, your skin can be hydrated and soothed. Great news for dry scalp sufferers. It’s also an ingredient used to break down biofilms. Biofilms accumulate at a molecular level and build up a resistance to antifungal ingredients . They may just be the reason why your dandruff shampoo has stopped working.
In an ever-crowded market, Sebclair shampoo really does stand out of the anti-dandruff crowd.
Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo is a combination shampoo containing both salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione. Both active ingredients are FDA approved for treating dandruff caused by scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
Zinc Pyrithione may be considered the godfather of the anti-dandruff active ingredients family. It’s been used for a long time and its effectiveness was accepted before even scientists knew why it worked. Though many studies exist on zinc pyrithione, a 2018 study found that as an antifungal and anti-bacterial Zinc Pyrithione helps to quell populations of the Malassezia yeasts associated with seb derm .
Perhaps more noteworthy, in 2001, it was found that Seborrheic Dermatitis sufferers have an altered skin structure that is improved significantly with zinc pyrithione treatment .
Salicylic Acid, on the other hand, does not possess any antifungal properties often used in the treatment of seb derm. However, it is keratolytic that can help soften and remove existing flakey build-up on the scalp. In addition, a recent study suggests that the presence of salicylic acid with an anti-fungal can help amplify the power of that anti-fungal agent.
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. As an added bonus, the salicylic acid will help improve the efficacy of the zinc pyrithione.
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 contact allergen of note too – cocamidopropyl betaine.
If you suffer from mild seb derm or scalp psoriasis I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Suitable for seborrheic dermatitis
Sebamed is a German maker of ph-balanced medicinal skincare. It’s a shampoo containing only one active ingredient – Piroctone Olamine – which is an excellent choice to control mild to moderate seb derm or dry scalp.
While the shampoo isn’t sulfate or fragrance-free, it’s long been a favorite with regular readers of Dandruff Deconstructed.
Why isn’t this brand better known!
DHS Coal Tar Shampoo is an expertly formulated shampoo containing 0.5% coal tar.
Coal Tar is an oddity in the anti-dandruff world – it’s actually a mixture of over 10, 000 ingredients – not all of which are known. When used on the skin, these ingredients are able to show antifungal  and anti-inflammatory  properties while potentially normalizing skin cell growth .
Numerous studies demonstrate the ingredient’s efficacy in treating psoriasis with one 2010 study concluding coal tar products appear to be therapeutic in psoriasis and AD, are well tolerated with few side effects, and are cost-effective . As such, it’s long been an FDA-approved treatment for seb derm.
DHS’s Fragrance-Free formula is particularly notable as it washes well, doesn’t smell as bad as most other coal tar shampoos, and is the gentlest coal tar shampoo we’ve yet reviewed.
I can’t recommend this shampoo or this company highly enough.
Another Neutrogena shampoo in our best-of list. This is quite simply the best pure Salicylic Acid shampoo we’ve yet reviewed.
Board-certified dermatologist, Debra Jaliman MD rates it. She explained to us, “I like this shampoo – it will give you relief from itching”.Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Caren Campbell MD Dermatology echoed these sentiments, “T/Sal is effective for removing scales and scalp build up on psoriasis patients or folliculitis patients. Just don’t use it too much.
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-class shampoo.
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.
Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo is an outstanding Tea Tree shampoo for treating Dry Scalp or Seb Derm.
Tea tree oil is an immensely popular active ingredient in dandruff shampoos and has been used for centuries to treat many skin and scalp problems. It’s derived from the ‘Melaleuca alternifolia’ tree native to Australia with the first medicinal use recorded over 100 years ago .
Numerous laboratory studies  have shown that tea tree oil is an effective antifungal against Malassezia yeasts – thought to be responsible for the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.
Maple Holistics formula 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.
This combination of cleansing agents is 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.
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 has produced a shampoo that is a worthy entry in our best dandruff shampoos of 2023.
Designed to treat seborrheic dermatitis
Do you have an extremely sensitive scalp in need of anti-dandruff help?
Do you suffer from mild to moderate seb derm?
Meet your new best friend.
Free & Clear’s Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo contains zero allergens, zero irritants, and zero sensitizer formula based on 2% zinc pyrithione – an active ingredient that improves the health of dandruff-affected skin while also helping pacify dandruff-causing overgrowths of the Malassezia yeast.
This isn’t the first Free and Clear shampoo we’ve reviewed, and we hope it’s not the last.
Suitable for seborrheic dermatitis
Nizoral is probably the most effective shampoo on the market to control dandruff caused by seb derm.
Containing one active ingredient, a 2% concentration of Ketoconazole, it’s technically a medicine. It’s one of few anti-dandruff shampoos approved to make healthcare claims i.e. to treat and prevent dandruff.
It’s on the FDA’s approved list of dandruff treatments and in the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends 2% ketoconazole as a first-line treatment for seb derm on the scalp. This recommendation is backed by the British Association of Dermatologists.
The reason it’s so widely recommended is that it’s effective. Numerous studies demonstrate its efficacy in treating seb derm including a very recently published 2018 study  that showed a 2% ketoconazole shampoo dramatically improved symptoms of seb derm over 30 days of use – when used once every 3 or 4 days.
Dr. Caren Campbell loves it, “I love ketoconazole shampoo for a variety of conditions from dandruff aka seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp and beard and tinea versicolor on the chest and back. Both are conditions caused by an overgrowth of the normal yeast that lives on our skin. Ketoconazole helps reduce the number of those organisms on the skin.
I love it simply because it’s effective and it’s affordable so it’s often my first-line treatment – sometimes in combination with a topical steroid solution..”
Nizoral contains a 2% dose of antifungal ketoconazole mixed into an 11-ingredient fragrance-free formula.
If you suffer from moderate to severe seb derm – it’s a must-try.
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.
Suitable for seborrheic dermatitis
Another go-to shampoo if you suffer from moderate to severe seb derm. Selsun 2.5% shampoo contains a 2.5% concentration of Selenium Sulfide.
Selenium Sulfide is on the FDA-approved list of dandruff treatments and, like ketoconazole, is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a first-line treatment for seb derm on the scalp.
These recommendations are based on a pivotal systematic review published in 2009, which evaluated the efficacy of ketoconazole and selenium sulfide for seborrheic dermatitis . The study reviewed six high-quality trials, ranging from 20-350 participants, and found that both ingredients were associated with an improvement in scaling, itching, redness, and dandruff].
This is a follow-up from an earlier 1993 study which found both ketoconazole 2% shampoo and selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo are effective in the treatment of moderate to severe dandruff .
Selsun 2.5% formulation isn’t perfect by any means, it contains a number of relatively harsh ingredients and isn’t exactly catering to the high fashion crowd. It also remains available on prescription only in the USA.
However, there’s a reason why doctors continue to prescribe it – it works.
Suitable for Seborrheic Dermatitis
DHS Zinc Dandruff Shampoo is yet another top-class shampoo from DHS.
This time, the active ingredient is Zinc Pyrithione, making it ideal for sufferers of mild seb derm, and the rest of the formulation is excellent.
Dr. Caren Campbell is a fan. “DHS Zinc Shampoo is fabulous. I recommend it for anyone looking for something gentle to treat their mild to moderate dandruff or seb derm. It’s both affordable and accessible.”
Yes, there are two ingredients to watch out for; TEA Lauryl Sulfate and Perfume. But other than the sulfate and the fragrance there are remarkably only another 5 ingredients in this shampoo (discounting the zinc pyrithione). And one of them is coloring!
I wish every manufacturer would subscribe to the more is less philosophy of shampoo formulation.
If you’re looking for a shampoo to treat a mild case of seb derm, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Bioderma Nodé DS+ shampoo certainly packs an anti-dandruff punch. Its combination of anti-dandruff actives (Piroctone Olamine and Zinc Pyrithione), with keratolytic Salicylic Acid and anti-inflammatory Sodium Shale Oil Sulfonate, are also complimented by several scalp soothing ingredients.
That is a heck of an ingredients list only let down by the use of SLES and one or two other potential irritants.
This shampoo is definitely worth checking out.
Suitable for seborrheic dermatitis
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo is a beautiful-looking Scandinavian shampoo that contains a very effective (new-age) combination of anti-dandruff actives.
Containing Piroctone Olamine and Climbazole ready to defeat dandruff-causing Malassezia yeast and Salicylic and Lactic Acids ready to eliminate existing flakes.
There really is a lot to love about this formula.
It’s as good on the inside as it looks on the outside.
Bioderma Node P Apaisant Anti-Dandruff Soothing Shampoo is a fabulous option for sensitive, irritated conditions of mild to moderate dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
With a combination of 2 fungal actives in Climbazole and Piroctone Olamine with the and dry flake-busting Salicylic Acid, its overall efficacy is excellent.
It washes and smells great and if it weren’t for the presence of fragrances and silicones it would be an almost perfect sensitive scalp-friendly formulation.
ORIBE Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is a fantastic collection of shampooing ingredients targeted at – doing away with flakes.
With a 2% maximum dose of salicylic acid accompanied by natural AHAs, ORIBE Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo has huge power to soften and dissolve existing flakes, while also helping to prevent new ones. An anti-dandruff shampoo which will help make your dandruff invisible, while also helping to improve the overall health of your scalp.
If you’re sensitive to fragrances then you probably want to look elsewhere, but otherwise, full credit must go to Oribe.
Who would have ever thought it was possible to put the glam into dandruff control?
How we chose the winners
All our reviews are research-driven. Our reviewers are experts in product formulation, qualified pharmacists, or experts in haircare.
They assess the primary purpose of the dandruff shampoo, by examining the active ingredients present in the formulation. These active ingredients are designed to control specific types of dandruff. We explain, in layman’s terms, what those active ingredients actually do and outline the pros and cons.
Our reviews will also assess the rest of the formulation, deconstructing the shampoos into their constituent parts and describing the key ones in detail. In addition, we warn of the presence of any one of over 100 ingredients that can potentially itch, irritate and even cause dandruff. A significant number (~90%) of these chemicals have never been tested for their effect on human health. Many of these chemicals are known to have adverse effects on our skin and one of these adverse effects is dandruff.
Unlike most review sites, our reviewers personally try every shampoo they review and they also assess how the shampoo washes, how it smells, and looks at the price point in their market. These may be medicated shampoos, but that doesn’t mean we want to compromise on a little bit of luxury!
What we won’t do is tell you if the dandruff shampoo will work for you. To understand that, you have to understand how to control your dandruff.
How to control dandruff
Dandruff is (incorrectly) a term we use to describe a flakey scalp. There are a number of conditions that can cause a flakey scalp, including seborrheic dermatitis, cradle cap, tinea capitis, eczema, contact dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, dry scalp etc, etc etc. In order to control your dandruff, you will often need to understand the root cause. The UK National Health Service advises that you don’t usually need to see your doctor if you have dandruff, and instead treat it with an over-the-counter shampoo. However, they state that it’s a good idea to visit them if:
- you’ve tried anti-dandruff shampoos for at least a month and your symptoms haven’t improved
- your dandruff is very severe or your scalp is very itchy
- your scalp is red or swollen
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, you’re having chemotherapy, you have HIV, or you’re taking medication that suppresses your immune system
Board-certified dermatologist Brent Thomas Goedjen M.D., founder of Live Oak Dermatology in Roswell, GA explains further, “A common misconception is that the skin flaking of seborrheic dermatitis is a result of dryness rather than a result of inflammation. This leads patients to sometimes compensate by reducing the frequency of hair washing and attempting to rub off the scale. Unfortunately, this has the opposite of the intended effect by allowing conditions for yeast to flourish and therefore promoting inflammation. Rubbing the inflamed skin also contributes to perpetuating the problem.”
Dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology mirror this advice. It’s fairly easy to treat and control dandruff with patience – and the right dandruff shampoo.
“Many people believe dandruff is caused by poor hygiene, but this simply isn’t true,” said board-certified dermatologist Adam J. Friedman, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology and director of dermatologic research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Rather than try to remedy dandruff by over-shampooing or over-brushing your hair, which can both be damaging to the hair, use dandruff shampoo and scalp treatments instead.”
What shampoos are designed to control my condition?
Anti-dandruff shampoos can contain many different active ingredients.
These active ingredients are designed to control specific types of dandruff. They perform different tasks.
Without understanding your condition, it’s pointless to even try to find the right shampoo. You have to match the active ingredient to the type of dandruff.
Using the wrong shampoo on the wrong type of dandruff will, at best, have no effect. It may even aggravate the condition!
• Conditioning treatments can help a dry scalp.
• Clarifying shampoos are best for product build-up.
Dr. Brent Thomas Goedjen explains, “Part of the mechanism behind seborrheic dermatitis is thought to be an inflammatory immune reaction (resulting in redness, itching, flaking) to an otherwise resident yeast that becomes overly represented on the skin. Antifungal shampoos such as ketoconazole are useful to regulate the yeast population and therefore reduce in part the trigger for skin inflammation. Ketoconazole is helpful for this purpose and as a generic, is well covered by most insurance plans.
Antifungal shampoos such as ketoconazole are useful to regulate the yeast population and therefore reduce in part the trigger for skin inflammation. Ketoconazole is helpful for this purpose and as a generic is well covered with most insurance plans.”
Once you understand the condition causing your dandruff, and you understand the active ingredients or treatments you want to try, it’s time to find your best dandruff shampoo.
How to find your best dandruff shampoo
We have reviewed many many shampoos. Our reviews will explain, in detail, how effective these shampoos are and what ingredients these shampoos contain.
Unlike most review sites, our reviewers personally try every shampoo they review. It may take us longer to get a review out there but try and find another site that provides such comprehensive information.
Many of us dandruff sufferers have sensitive skin. The gentler the shampoo the better as far as we’re concerned. And after a bit of research on this site, we’re pretty confident you’ll agree. If you want to read an impartial scientific overview of sulfates, parabens, MI, silicones, alcohols, formaldehyde, phthalates, or a whole host of other controversial ingredients, then you’ve come to the right place.
How often should I wash my hair with dandruff shampoo?
To use a dandruff shampoo, or any shampoo for that matter, shampoo, you should always follow the instructions on the label.
This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. For example, Dead Sea Spa provides no guidance on frequency but instead recommends that you, “Apply to wet hair, massaging into scalp and hair. Rinse well. For best results follow with Spa Magik Hair Magic serum or Conditioning Scalp Mud.”
Neutrogena, on the other hand, recommends, “For best results, use at least twice a week or as directed by a doctor.”
So we asked a doctor for guidance.
Dr. Matthew Zirwas recommended trying a shampoo for, “at least a month because if your old shampoo had ingredients that were causing a dandruff-like rash of their own, it will take 4-8 weeks for that ingredient to work its way out of your body after you start the new stuff.”
For some further clarity, Dr. Ben Barankin, told us, “For mild-moderate dandruff, I recommend daily shampooing, and ideally alternating 3 shampoos, each with active anti-dandruff ingredients.”
And if it doesn’t work, board-certified dermatologist Adam J. Friedman, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology and director of dermatologic research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine explains via the AAD, “For most people, dandruff does not require medical attention. However, sometimes the flaking and itching that appears like dandruff is actually a medical condition, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, fungal infections of the scalp, or eczema. If you continue to have symptoms after using a dandruff shampoo, consult a board-certified dermatologist.”
By visiting a board-certified dermatologist, you can be properly diagnosed and be prescribed stronger medication than you can pick up at the pharmacy. As Dr. Ben Barankin, a Toronto-based board-certified dermatologist at the Toronto Dermatology Centre, says, “For moderate to severe cases of dandruff, a steroid shampoo or leave-in lotion can be prescribed. A prescription ciclopirox olamine lotion is often a nice option.”
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 C. Piérard‐Franchimont, V. Goffin, F. Henry, I. Uhoda, C. Braham, G. E. Piérard (2002) Nudging hair shedding by antidandruff shampoos. A comparison of 1% ketoconazole, 1% piroctone olamine and 1% zinc pyrithione formulations
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