The 20 Best Fragrance-Free Dandruff Shampoos

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Some of the ingredients in anti-dandruff shampoos can end up making your dandruff worse (!) A very real fact. On one hand, you will find anti-dandruff active ingredients in your anti-dandruff shampoo and on the other hand you will find known scalp irritants in your anti-dandruff shampoo.

Fact: irritants, allergens and sensitizers have high potential to aggravate your dandruff prone scalp.

Neither of these 3 words sounds descriptive of an ingredient you would expect to find in a dandruff shampoo – however surprising they’re more often than not included. Some companies use ingredients described as irritants because they’re cheap and can cleanse hair quickly. Other companies use ingredients described as irritants because they can make shampoo smell good.

Fact: Fragranced anti-dandruff shampoos are the worst offenders for containing known irritants, allergens and sensitizers.

An enormously common symptom of a dandruff prone scalp is reduced barrier function i.e. skin absorbs what it shouldn’t. A healthy scalp can effectively resist irritants, allergens and sensitizers acting as a shield against penetration. Dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis or even dry skin affected scalps can be quickly flared.

Why you’ll find fragrance in 90% of anti-dandruff shampoos…

Because bottom line – its smells good.

Yes really.

In the medicated treatment of your dandruff prone scalp – fragrance is included because the company want to make your nose love their formula. Not your scalp. Your nose. And they’re not being silly about why – fragrance is emotive, fragrance can make you feel good, fragrance can trigger happy hormones. Fragrance can even make you believe an anti-dandruff shampoo will work.

In 2014 it was reported in the Dermatology Times that anti-dandruff shampoos with a medicinal menthol fragrance are perceived as significantly more likely to alleviate an itch.

Including fragrance in an anti-dandruff shampoo makes you subconsciously more likely to remember it, repurchase it and in certain cases – believe it can work.

There are 3 kinds of fragrances commonly found in anti-dandruff shampoos;

  1. Fragrance/parfum
  2. Essential oils
  3. Masking fragrance

The first kind – fragrance/parfum is found as 1 word on an anti-dandruff shampoo’s ingredients list. 1 word which covers a mixture of 10’s to 100’s of ingredients. If any of these ingredients are currently recognized by the EU as an allergen (in 2018 there are 26) they must be declared at the end of an ingredients list. Limonene and linalool are common.

Essential oils although natural are an extremely common source of irritants, allergens and sensitizers. Not all natural ingredients are good for skin. Natural anti-dandruff shampoos should be carefully screened for sensitive, hypersensitive and allergic-type scalps.

Masking fragrance is an interesting one. A masking fragrance is a fragrance which is used to neutralize a bad smell i.e. if an anti-dandruff active ingredient smells funky. Rather than adding scent, masking fragrance balances-out scent.

Shocking fact: Anti-dandruff shampoos containing masking fragrance can, therefore, be described as unscented.

Why fragrance in your anti-dandruff shampoo matters…

Fragrance is a known cause of contact dermatitis.

In fact, fragrance is the most common cause of contact dermatitis. A skin reaction which can present with the same side effects as dandruff. Due to the nature of allergens, you could be using a scented dandruff shampoo for years without issue – however, once a limit is reached – an allergy or sensitization will be permanently developed for life. The result – itchy, red, flaky, sore, sometimes oozing, sensitive and reactive skin.

It is also known scalps which are prone to dandruff, have reduced barrier function. This, therefore, increases the potential of irritants, allergens and sensitizers to firstly be absorbed, secondly be deeply absorbed and thirdly be absorbed in greater quantities. Using an anti-dandruff shampoo with fragrance could increase your chances of not only irritation but also life-long allergy.

What the law says…

In Europe, 1996 was the year which saw the regulation of fragrances in cosmetics begin.

A set of 26 fragrance allergens including ingredients like citral, linalool and limonene. All 26 ingredients were included because they are well-recognized as having the potential to cause allergy.

To date, any of these 26 ingredients must be declared on an ingredients label when in a concentration of over 0.001% in leave on cosmetics and 0.01% in rinse off cosmetics.

Thresholds which were set based on assumption rather than real life data.

However, these 26 EU declarable allergens are not the only ingredients having the potential to cause allergy and irritation. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Saftey have identified over 100 more – either being established contact allergens or likely contact allergens.

The SCCS is currently campaigning for the legal declaration of all 100+ ingredients.

The legally declarable limit of 0.01% is considered as tolerable to people with fragrance allergies – however in the same context, may also not be tolerable by people with especially sensitive skin.

Note: If an anti-dandruff shampoo ingredients label lists parfum but no separate allergens – it may include them but only below 0.01%.

Anti-dandruff products sold in the US abide by different rules. Similarly to the EU, a mixture of fragrance ingredients may be listed as fragrance or flavor. However, there is no legal necessity to include a list of allergens i.e. allergens contained in a fragrance can be used without notice to the consumer.

If you know your scalps sensitive, reactive, allergic or easily flared, A fragrance-free anti-dandruff shampoo is the best possible type of anti-dandruff shampoo you could use. And by fragrance-free, we mean n anti-dandruff shampoo without fragrance, parfum, flavor, essential oils or masking fragrance. no fragrance had been added.

There are many shampoos labeled fragrance free that contain essential oils and/or masking fragrances.

To save you from reading the small print, use this list of 20 best fragrance-free anti-dandruff shampoos to find your perfect fit.

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.

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!

Sebclair Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Calling all sensitive scalp sufferers, if you haven’t yet found an anti-dandruff shampoo your scalp can tolerate, you haven’t yet found Sebclair shampoo. A piroctone olamine, Malassezia yeast quelling formula with extremely mild yet highly effective cleansers, accompanying scalp hydrators, flake fighters and natural anti-inflammatories. No fragrance, no essentials oils, no allergens. Sebclair shampoo really does stand out in our anti-dandruff crowd.

Bioderma ABCDerm Babysquam

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap

If your babe’s crusty cradle cap’s only getting worse, it’s time to try a leave on treatment – one which doesn’t leave your baby’s scalp looking like a grease ball. Enter Bioderma’s ABDderm Babysquam keratoregulating cream a 14 ingredient formula made from sensitive, hypoallergenic, moisturising, soothing and barrier building ingredients.

Useable 7 days a week with no fragrance or harsh preservatives Bioderma’s ABDderm Babysquam keratoregulating cream respects, repairs and conditions away crusty cradle cap.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Free and Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

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, zero sensitizers formula based on 2% zinc pyrithione. An active ingredient able to improve the health of dandruff affected skin while also helping pacify dandruff causing overgrowths of the Malassezia yeast.

I simply can't recommend this shampoo highly enough.

Dentinox Cradle Cap Baby Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap

Did you know using natural oils could be making your baby’s cradle cap last for longer? Instead, we recommend placing your trust in clinically trialed baby-friendly formulas able to effectively tackle the cause of your baby’s cradle cap – excess scalp oil. Case and point, ultra-mild Dentinox Cradle Cap Treatment Shampoo, an 8 ingredient formula proven safe and effective for everyday use.

Babe Laboratorios Paediatric Cradle Cap Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap

Tired of testing out cradle cap shampoos which just don’t budge your babe’s crusty dry scalp? Then you need a cradle cap shampoo with active ingredients proven to work. Enter Babe Laboratorios Paediatric Cradle Cap Shampoo a 4 active ingredient formula including 0.5% scalp softening salicylic acid plus a boosting active able to make your 0.5% dose work harder than its quantity would usually dictate. For use 2 to 3 times a week, the gentle shampoo formula cleanses carefully, treats sensitively and works simply.


Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Nizoral is probably the most effective shampoo on the market to control dandruff caused by seb derm. It's technically a medicine and is one of few anti-dandruff shampoos approved to make healthcare claims i.e. to treat and prevent dandruff. With a 2% dose of anti-fungal ketoconazole mixed into an 11 ingredient fragrance-free formula, if you suffer from moderate to severe seb derm – it’s a must try. Studies show significant and dramatic improvements in 30 days.

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.

Ketozolin 2% Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

If you have a moderate to severe case of dandruff caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis, purchasing the Ketozolin 2% shampoo is potentially a wise decision. It has the maximum EU allowed dose of anti-fungal ketoconazole – effective against the overgrowth of Malassezia yeast seen in cases of seb derm and dandruff. It can be used to clear dandruff within a week and it can be used to prevent dandruff recurrence when used once weekly.

However, it does contain one or two harsh ingredients, including SLS and a formaldehyde releaser. So use with caution if you have a sensitive scalp.

DHS Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

DHS Clear Shampoo is a decent shampoo to use between medicated shampoo washes, or if you are suffering from a dry scalp.

We say decent and not great because, although it has only a few ingredients, a significant portion are mild to medium contact allergens.

As such, we can't help but be mildly disappointed given the company's previous track record of producing the gentlest shampoos on the market.

Skinchanted Peek A Poo No Poo Dry Scalp Treatment

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Almost world class and a very interesting concept - a commercial bottle of a No Poo treatment. Unfortunately there is a commercial grade preservative and anti-mold agent in there.

Skinchanted Peek a Poo really ought to be called "Nearly No Poo".

Stiproxal Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Stiproxal in summary has a lot of promise, but with some of the harsher ingredients added it's not the greatest shampoo in the world. Overall its very decent and I really like the combination of active ingredients. Ciclopirox Olamine is one of the best active ingredients out there for Seborheic Dermatitis. And although here are only a few shampoos out there that contain the ingredient, this is probably the pick of the bunch.

It's certainly worth a try if your skin isn't sensitive to the ingredients.

Exorex Hair and Body Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

This is an admirable idea and one which I hope the other manufacturers take on board.

The shampoo's formulation will help alleviate your dry scalp unless you react to one of the few contact allergens in there.

It's such a shame there are any contact allergens at all though.

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First Class MChem in Chemistry

A master of chemistry, a product formulation expert and a regular reviewer on this site. Megan wishes to remain partially anonymous so she can be candid about her employer's and competitor products.

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One Response

  1. Gary September 3, 2019

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