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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.
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.
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;
- Essential oils
- 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 10 best fragrance-free anti-dandruff shampoos to find your perfect fit.
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.Read the entire review
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!Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review
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.Read the entire review