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There are two active ingredients I turn to when I have a bad outbreak of seborrheic dermatitis; ketoconazole and selenium sulfide.
Both are prescription strength ingredients available OTC in many countries.
Both are clinically proven to be the most effective ingredients for combatting seb derm in most folk. In fact, it’s an FDA approved medicine for treating seb derm, is listed on the WHO list of essential medicines and is a first-line treatment for seb derm in Europe and the USA,
Yet despite it being so effective and widely accepted, only 4% of the shampoos reviewed contain the ingredient. Making it the rarest of the established anti-dandruff active ingredients.
In order to find the best selenium sulfide shampoo on the market today, we spoke to four board-certified dermatologists for their guidance, and have put in literally hundreds of hours worth of research, reviewing over a hundred dandruff shampoos in the process.
In this article, we’ll also look at what selenium sulfide is, how it works and what the major side effects are.
Giving you the tools you need to make an educated decision on whether this is the ingredient for you, and help you choose your own favorite selenium sulfide shampoo.
What’s in this article:
The Best Selenium Sulfide Shampoos
Below is a list of the 5 gentlest, most effective, gently formulated selenium sulfide shampoos we’ve yet reviewed.
Selsun 2.5% Shampoo
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
My other go to shampoo when I have a severe breakout.
Not perfect by any means and remains prescription only in the USA.
There's a reasons why doctors continue to prescribe it - it works.Read the entire review
Selukos Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Searching for a 2.5% selenium sulfide shampoo? Selukos is possibly your answer. It's not an everyday shampoo. It contains 9 (out of 13) harsh ingredients known to cause contact dermatitis.
But it works.Read the entire review
Vichy Dercos Oily/Dry Hair Dandruff Shampoo
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Vichy Dercos shampoos for oily/dry scalp are a very decent pair of combination shampoos for treating seborrheic dermatitis. It's the first time we've reviewed a Selenium Sulfide/Salicylic Acid shampoo and it's a combination of great promise.
They aren't perfect shampoos though containing fragrance, sulfates, silicones and a few other potential irritants.
If you're looking for a prescription strength formulation available OTC, and you haven't got a particularly sensitive scalp - it's definitely worth checking out.Read the entire review
Davine's NaturalTech Purifying Shampoo
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
A natural anti-dandruff shampoo that looks and smells nothing like an anti-dandruff shampoo. Based on a very effective anti-fungal ingredient known as selenium sulfide this natural and environmentally friendly formula offers the most glamorous solution we've seen for moderate to severe seb derm. Unfortunately, it contains too many ingredients known to cause contact dermatitis for our liking.Read the entire review
Selsun Blue Dandruff Shampoo
Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis
Selsun Blue was probably the most effective shampoo available OTC once upon a time. These were in the bad old days when Head and Shoulders was the only viable alternative *shudders*.
As its name implies, Selsun Blue is a blue. Very very blue. Even the foam that it creates is blue. The blue coloring is achieved via a food coloring additive. You might want to take care when using this shampoo since the colorant turned my shower basin blue.
There are also one or two ingredients which you may wish to know about. It contains DMDM Hydantoin, a formaldehyde releasing preservative that can irritate the skin and scalp. Also, the foaming agent is Cocamide DEA, which is a coconut oil derivative that is also can also cause contact dermatitis. It’s not sulfate free either.
Its not all bad though. It’s still a decent shampoo for milder cases of dandruff. However it certainly doesn’t pack the punch that 2.5% formulations do.
If you suffer from mild seb derm then its worth a look. For anything more I’d would look elsewhere.Read the entire review
If you can’t find the shampoo you’re looking for, chances are we’ve already reviewed it.
If not, please let us know in the comments below which shampoos you’d like us to take a look at!
How we chose the winners
All our reviewers are experts in their field, be that product formulation, pharmacy or 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 and we’ll explain what those are.
Our reviews will also assess the rest of the formulation, deconstructing the shampoos to their constituent parts and describe 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 themselves. 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 look 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 shampoo will work for you. Our responses to the ingredients are highly personal, so we just couldn’t do that.
What we will do is explain, in layman’s terms, the purpose of the shampoo and what condition it is designed to alleviate.
What is Selenium Sulfide?
Selenium sulfide is an antifungal agent used in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis, pityriasis versicolor, and tinea capitis (scalp ringworm). It’s a non-metallic trace mineral, found naturally in sulfur ore (and Brazil nuts!). It’s required at low doses for a range of cellular processes, including protective antioxidant activity, and thyroid function .
Selenium sulfide shampoos are widely used, and available to buy over-the-counter (OTC) from UK pharmacies. In the United States, the concentration of selenium sulfide in shampoos sold by pharmacies is restricted to 1% – all 2.5% shampoos require a prescription
Dr. Ben Barankin, a Toronto based board-certified dermatologist at the Toronto Dermatology Centre, recommends it’s usage when he told us, “For mild-moderate dandruff, my preferred over the counter dandruff ingredients include: zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, tar and salicylic acid“.
A brief history of Selenium Sulfide
Selenium sulfide shampoos were first developed as an alternative to sulfur, as the two are chemically very similar, and sulfur was associated with irritation and poor patient compliance. The chemists Slinger and Hubbard are credited with discovering that a 2.5% suspension had the most therapeutic benefit, with the least absorption .
A 1954 review article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), noted that the use of a selenium sulfide ‘shampoo’ (really just two teaspoons of selenium suspension with soap) was associated with:
‘Within a few weeks remarkable improvement of the seborrhea usually takes place…’
How does Selenium Sulfide work?
Selenium sulfide is a complex molecule, forming rings of various sizes comprised of selenium and sulfur atoms. It’s not clear how the ingredient exerts an antifungal effect but is known to be effective against the yeasts and fungus commonly associated with scalp conditions (e.g. Malassezia, P. Ovale). A possible mechanism is selenium accumulation, leading to apoptosis (cell death) .
How effective are Selenium Sulfide shampoos?
Selenium sulfide shampoos are widely used as first or second-line treatments in seborrheic dermatitis, pityriasis versicolor, and tinea capitis. As with many antifungal ingredients used in shampoos, there isn’t always strong clinical trial evidence backing their use, clinicians instead relying on experience.
Selenium Sulfide for Seborrheic Dermatitis
In the USA and UK, selenium sulfide shampoos are a first-line alternative to ketoconazole. This recommendation is based on a pivotal systematic review published in 2010, 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 study which found “Both ketoconazole 2% shampoo and selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo are effective in the treatment of moderate to severe dandruff; however, ketoconazole 2% shampoo appears to be better tolerated.” 
There are other anti-fungal conditions that selenium sulfide is used for. Pityriasis Versicolor, for example, is caused by an imbalance of yeast normally found on the skin. Selenium shampoos are recommended to treat this condition by specialist dermatology groups. Studies have found both ketoconazole and selenium sulfide are more effective than placebo . In addition, Tinea capitis (ringworm) is a common fungal infection. Due to an absence of high-quality evidence, treatment guidelines have been agreed by UK and EU specialist groups (BAD, HPA, and ESPD), based on experience and available clinical trials .
Selenium sulfide shampoos are particularly useful for this condition because they are licensed for children over 5 – ketoconazole is licensed from adolescence.
How often should I use a Selenium Sulfide shampoo?
To use a dandruff shampoo, or any shampoo for that matter, shampoo, you should always follow the instructions on the label.
Selsun 2.5% instructs you to massage into the scalp for 2-3 minutes before rinsing – twice weekly for two weeks to control symptoms. Selenium sulfide shampoos shouldn’t be used on broken or inflamed skin, and so you should consider speaking to your doctor or pharmacist before use .
However, not all shampoos are as prescriptive as this. For example, Vichy Dercos provides no guidance on frequency but instead recommend that you:
1. Massage in gently to wet hair, creating a lather
2. Wash out thoroughly with water, avoiding eyes
3. Follow with Dercos Conditioner
We looked a little further afield. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety recommends leaving the shampoo on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing and applied every 2 to 3 days. But they also caveat this by saying that this can vary by brand, and depends on any other ingredients in the shampoo.
So we asked a doctor for guidance.
Dr. Matthew Zirwas, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bexley Dermatology in Bexley, Ohio 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 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.”
What are the risks with using Selenium Sulfide?
Selenium sulfide shampoos are associated with a higher incidence of adverse effects than ketoconazole, with the most common reactions being: redness, irritation, burning sensations, dry hair, and blistering (if the shampoo is left on the skin for too long). Importantly, selenium sulfide shampoos have been known to discolor dyed hair, and can discolor metallic jewelry – so should be removed before use .
The US Department of Health’s ‘Report on Carcinogens’ rates selenium sulfide as: ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’. This recommendation is based on high-dose oral animal studies, but the reports note that the application of a 2.5% Selenium Sulfide shampoo on mice did not cause any tumor growth after 88 weeks .
Selenium Sulfide shampoos should not be ingested, and only used in accordance with the recommended dosage instructions.
 Tapiero, H., Townsend, D. M., & Tew, K. D. (2003). The antioxidant role of selenium and seleno-compounds. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 57(3), 134-144.
 EMC. (2014). Selsun Shampoo 2.5%. [Accessed: 1/4/17] www.medicines.org.uk
 Bereston, E. S. (1954). Use of selenium sulfide shampoo in seborrheic dermatitis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 156(13), 1246-1247.
 Gaitanis, G., Magiatis, P., Hantschke, M., Bassukas, I. D., & Velegraki, A. (2012). The Malassezia genus in skin and systemic diseases. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 25(1), 106-141.
 Naldi, L., & Rebora, A. (2009). Seborrheic dermatitis. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(4), 387-396.
 Hu, S. W., & Bigby, M. (2010). Pityriasis versicolor: a systematic review of interventions. Archives of Dermatology, 146(10), 1132-1140.
 NICE CKS. (2014). Fungal skin infection – scalp. [Accessed: 1/4/17] www.cks.nice.org.uk
 NIEHS. (2016). Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition: Selenium Sulfide. Accessed: 1/4/17] www.ntp.niehs.nih.gov
 Danby, Maddin, Margesson, Rosenthal D. (1993) A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of ketoconazole 2% shampoo versus selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo in the treatment of moderate to severe dandruff.
32 thoughts on “The 5 Best Selenium Sulfide Shampoos Available OTC Today”
Great post. i personally use medicated shampoos such as those you typically review but i have always thought it might be interesting to have a head to head review of all of the most cheap and popular shampoos available everywhere. I always wonder how they compare- head and shoulders, pantene, etc. and which is the best
Do you know thats a great idea!
What you tend to find is that Head and Shoulders and the likes are generally Zinc Pyrithione shampoos. I have a post on that coming up. It’s tough to find the more generic brands with active ingredients such as Ketaconazole though otherwise I’d love to do a head to head on all the active ingredients. Great idea though – let me see if I can find generic versions of the more expensive shampoos.
I have been following this blog for a while but just thought I would comment to say how much my scalp appreciates it. I don’t see an ‘about’ section of the blog and I am curious- is this your full time work or a personal side project? Regardless, I am very thankful
Thank you James!
It’s just a personal project – I suffered dandruff for years without having a clue what was going on. I read up on it and realised it wasn’t really complicated at all. Different active ingredients were designed to treat different types of dandruff. And that’s how it all started really. I love doing it, I’ve been dandruff free for years now and if I can so can most people.
Thanks for the kind words though – it really makes it worthwhile!
There is an about page – but it seems to be hidden with this new theme as almost nobody reads it! https://www.dandruffdeconstructed.com/about/
Chris, Exactly what worked for you?
I wouldn’t get hung up on what worked on me, as what’s important is what works on you!
That said, if I were to recommend any treatments to seb derm sufferers I’d choose a selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo or a ketoconazole 2% shampoo. There’s a reason why both are still prescribed by doctors. They typically work. Both work on me.
Thank you for sharing all of this information! I have battled in a long war against sub derm and have experienced victories and losses. I stayed away from OTC stuff for a while and just focused on what my derm suggested. My primary derm no longer treats individuals in my age group so I was referred to another derm in the same office. He was the first to suggest a shampoo with selenium and zinc. I’m currently shopping for the right one and he suggested the Selsun Blue. I’m hoping that I can find the 2.5 version, as my sub derm can get quite relentless! Thanks again for taking your personal time to provide this information. It is very much appreciated and useful 🙂
I am allergic to formaldehyde. I’m trying to find a selenium sulfide shampoo that has no formaldehyde but am coming up short. Any suggestions?
We have a post on formaldehyde free shampoos where you can see all our favorites but one of my absolute favorite seb derm shampoos contains selenium sulfide and is formaldehyde free – Selsun 2.5% and you can read the review right here
Let me know how you get on!
hi there!i was very eager to treat my dandruff problem on my own.i was looking around the web & bumped to your site..i read the comments.ill try selenium shsmpoo.thanks for the info.
Let me know how you get on! For moderate to severe try a 2.5% formulation. A 1% may do it if you have mild SD.
Hi there! thanks for taking the time to write this, it’s really useful. I have Seb derm and it settled down for years using selsun 2.5%, but recently it’s flared up as bad as ever! I’m under a lot of pressure at work so could be stress and also I’ve been going swimming so maybe the chlorine isnt helping? I am aware that the only place on my body I have skin problems is my scalp which is the only place I’ve used chemically shampoos my whole life (plus hair dyes for ~5 years but I don’t dye it anymore!)
Basically I am trying to find a natural, paraben etc free shampoo that works for me and that I can use permanently.. as you will know, when you’re having a bout of itchy scalp you’re willing to pay anything for a solution! I just don’t know if
A) it’s worth spending money on natural shampoos if my condition absolutely must be treated by selenium sulphide?
B) do you think the other chemicals in selsun for example, could have detrimental effects if used long term?
I am searching for a shampoo which contains selenium with other natural ingredients
Any advice would be greatly appreciated
que sucedio con el celsun oro?
This is kind of a risky product but I guess it’s worth a try just to get rid of my Tinea capitis. Some part of my scalp had already lost hair because of it. The dandruff shampoo you posted focus on treating Seborrheic Dermatitis. Can you suggest the best shampoo with SLS than can help me get rid of Tinea capitis? And how often should I use it? A reply from you would really be appreciated. Thanks
Tinea Capitis isn’t my specialty at all. I’d ask your dermatologist for advice there. I know they have a few oral medications that are effective against it.
Thanks for the warm and honest reply Chris! By the way, your article helped me become more knowledgeable about Selenium sulfide. Great article!
Have you found any natural remedies to control your dandruff? I always wonder if it is something dietary that I’m doing wrong, or something I need more of. Or if there is something more natural I can put on my scalp. I hate using the medicated shampoo because it smells so bad and makes the rest of my hair feel gross. But it does work, and when I go too long without using it, I am right back to lots of dandruff and blisters starting to form. (When the blisters come, that’s when I inevitably go back to the medicated shampoo.)
I wrote this post on natural cures for dandruff a few years ago now. It probably needs updating but it was a real in depth study into the science behind natural cures as opposed to what works for me. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but there has been some real promising studies into e.g. the anti fungal effects of honey. Enjoy!
Jamie, for what it’s worth I’ve been really struggling lately with terrible itch and blisters with my seb derm, and nothing my dermatologist prescribed/advised was working. Finally out of desperation I tried applying raw honey to my scalp. I left it on for 20 minutes and then shampooed it out with a gentle non-medicated shampoo. Instant relief. Not sure how long it will last, but it’s been four days now without itching. Chris, thanks for this great site. Wish I had found it sooner!
sempre tive um grande problema de caspa desde a minha juventude , usei todos os tipos de champoo mais sò tive uma melhora clinica mais prolongada quando usei o CELSUN OURO e CELSUM AZUL que seu principio é sulfato de selenio , olha que minha caspa é poderosa ou seja pertuba muito mesmo, já alguns anos faço uso de shampoo a base de sulfato de selenio , comprado em farmacia de manipulação onde é mais barato mesmo.
foi o unico controlador de caspa mais potente que encontrei realmente para quem tem uma caspa muita intensiva como é a minha .
Hi Chris, Thanks for all the information. For the possible benefit for others:- I had chronic Seborrhoeac Dermatitis when in my early thirties and at that time coal tar shampoo was recommended by the consultant. The smelly Coal Tar and Cortisone treatment made little difference to the dandruff and no impact on the itch. I then used a shampoo called Selenium, produced by Schwarzkopf and within a few weeks the Seborrhoea disappeared. This may have been pure coincidence, but when Seborrhoea reappeared, now in my seventies, I searched for Selenium based shampoos (Schwarzkopf no longer produce the same shampoo). I have tried all the shampoos that you mention and they all work effectively, however the Selsun Blue removes my itching immediately. I recall telling a doctor that when my friends and I went to Spain on beach holidays our dandruff disappeared. The doctor replied, “have you ever considered that none of you would have been stressed during the holidays?”
Have been looking online for something to treat my seborrheic dermatitis. My dermatologists have given me prescriptions for topicals and Rx shampoos costing as much as $35- $89 with good RX coupons. Have been using OTC clinical strength Head and Shoulders. It helps some. Can’t afford the RX shampoos that last one month and don’t do anything long lasting. Might call and ask for Selsun 2.5% RX shampoo and see what Dr. says. What do you know about Kamedis shampoo that I have seen on the internet. Am skeptical of anything that has to be ordered online. Got involved with skin cream scam out of California where they tried to draw money out of my account with a credit card number I used to order.
I’ve nevee heard of it! A lot of online sales are multi level marketing miracle types so you’re right to be careful.
Selsun 2.5% shampoo has worked wonders for me. After years of seb derm misery, it’s the reason I am symptom free. There’s one big problem – all the main pharmacies in the UK seem to have recently discontinued it. Does anyone have any information on this development?
Thanks for the heads up Seamus – I had no idea this had happened. It must be a recent development. I’ve found some on ebay and I’ve also ordered a shampoo called Selukos from Germany – another 2.5% shampoo – which I’ll be reviewing soon. But if I find anything I’ll post it on here.
Hi Chris, Firstly thank you for the great site – so great to share your knowledge like this! Like Seamus, I have been using Selsun 2.5% for years to control seb derm, and now cannot buy it anywhere in UK – or online! Help please. I’d love to know what has happened…. Does anyone know if this will be permanently unavailable? Many thanks.
Hi there, I’ve contacted the manufacturers but I’m still waiting for a reply – watch this space!
I hope you get a reply as this is seems to be the only shampoo that works for me too. Also which did you buy on Ebay and how much did you pay? I found some but the price was massively inflated!! Thanks in advance
Any update on why Selsun has been discontinued please?
I managed to contact the manufacturers, and its just out of stock and not discontinued!
Ref Selsun 2.5 UK. I was told back in August (by the manufacturer, Sanofi 01483 505 515) that it would be returning mid October. When I then queried timescales in mid October, I was then told that I’d need to go through a pharmacy or doctor to get an update.
It seems like its a stock issue though which is quite positive. At least it’s not totally discontinued.
As an aside, have you seen this? https://www.dandruffdeconstructed.com/review-sulukos/
its a selenium sulfide 2.5% shampoo, looks and smells identical too. I found some on ebay.