The 10 Best Zinc Pyrithione Shampoos

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Zinc Pyrithione is one of the most widely used active ingredients to treat dandruff caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis on the market today.  A staggering 20% of the shampoos we’ve reviewed contain the ingredient, making it (by the second most widely used active ingredient after salicylic acid in the market today.

There are hundreds of brands out there that contain the ingredient.  Everything from Head and Shoulders to generic dollar store dandruff shampoos.  And the quality varies wildly.

In order to find the best zinc pyrithione 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.

The Best Zinc Pyrithione Dandruff Shampoos

Out of the many hundreds of zinc pyrithione shampoos available, there are some utter dross, some absolute gems and everything in between.

Below is a list of the 10 gentlest, most effective, gently formulated zinc pyrithione shampoos we’ve yet reviewed.

Free and Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

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.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

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.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

DHS Zinc Dandruff Shampoo

DHS Zinc Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

DHS Zinc Dandruff Shampoo is yet another top class shampoo from DHS.

Yes there are two ingredients to watch out for; Sodium Laureth 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.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

Kiehl's Scalp Purifying Dandruff Shampoo

Kiehl's Scalp Purifying Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Kiehl's Scalp Purifying Dandruff Shampoo is a combination shampoo, combining zinc pyrithione and salicylic acid in one excellent but gentle shampoo.

It's the first zinc pyrithione shampoo that has controlled my moderate to occasionally severe dandruff in years - the addition of salicylic acid definitely helps.

Be warned though, long term usage could dry your scalp.

There are one or two unpleasant ingredients in there but if you don't react to perfume or sulfates then this is definitely worth checking out.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

Bioderma Node DS Shampoo

Bioderma Node DS Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

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. 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.

Read the entire review buy now on ebay

Alpecin Dandruff Killer Shampoo

Alpecin Dandruff Killer Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

While most shampoos contain one or two active ingredients, this bad boy goes the whole hog and contains five; zinc pyrithione, benzalkonium chloride, fumaric acid, piroctone olamine and salicyclic acid.

The shampoo washes with a dense and luxurious foam and leaves the hair feeling soft and clean. There’s no need to use a conditioner as the company have added conditioning agents such as panthenol, allentoin and hydroxypropyl guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.

It may sound like the perfect shampoo but unfortunanately they’ve added some harsh ingredients too including Fragrance, DMDM hydantoin, limonene, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium hydroxide and cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you don’t have a particularly sensitive scalp and suffer from moderate to severe dandruff this is definitely worth a look.

Just make sure you don’t have sensitive skin!

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

Clynol Care Anti Dandruff Therapy Shampoo

Clynol Care Anti Dandruff Therapy Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Clynol is worth a look if Head and Shoulders has worked for you.

It's gentler, and less likely to irritate

However, if Head and Shoulders didn't work for you, neither will this.

Read the entire review buy now on ebay

Aveeno Nourish+ Dandruff Shampoo

Aveeno Nourish+ Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Aveeno have produced some great products for sensitive skin sufferers in the past. That's what makes the harsh contact allergens added to this uninspiring shampoo so hard to fathom.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible shampoo. Just there are better alternatives out there.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

Rene Furterer Melaleuca Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Rene Furterer Melaleuca Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

This shampoo is an enigma. It contains some innovative essential and plant oils but also contains some pretty harsh allergens. The wash is fantastic, it doesn't dry your hair. It smells pleasant too. However, the active ingredient will only help those of you with the mildest forms of Seb Derm and the price is pretty extortionate too.

Picking a score from that is tough but the shampoo, in our opinion, really doesn't justify the price tag.

Read the entire review buy now on ebay

Kenra Dandruff Shampoo

Kenra Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Terribly overpriced for what it is. A straight vanilla zinc pyrithione shampoo.

Read the entire review buy now on Amazon

We’re adding new reviews all the time, so if you don’t see your favorite shampoo listed here, check out all our Zinc Pyrithione reviews.

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 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 assesses the price too 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 Zinc Pyrithione?

Zinc Pyrithione is an antimicrobial added to shampoos to treat dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis. The molecule is a pyrithione complex of zinc, and so is also commonly (but confusingly) referred to as ‘pyrithione zinc’. Shampoos containing zinc pyrithione can typically be bought without a prescription.

In the USA it’s approved by the USFDA for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis in 1.8 to 3 percent concentrations.

In Europe, the situation is slightly different.  Zinc pyrithione is regulated as a preservative and not a medication. This means that the ingredient is subject to different regulations to other active ingredients found in shampoos (e.g. ketoconazole) – and importantly, the manufacturer decides the dosing schedule.

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”.

How does Zinc Pyrithione work?

Zinc Pyrithione is relatively unique in that it has been shown to be effective against many species of fungus and bacteria. The ingredient was first identified in the 1930s, but the exact mechanism for its antimicrobial activity was a mystery until 2011 [2]. Researchers working for Procter & Gamble were able to show that zinc pyrithione targets critical iron-sulfur proteins, which causes copper toxicity leading to cell death. A better understanding of this mechanism will be useful in finding new treatments for dermatological conditions.

How Effective Is Zinc Pyrithione?

Zinc pyrithione has a role in certain scalp conditions because it’s effective against Malassezia yeasts – important in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis [3]. There is relatively little robust evidence for the use of the shampoos, but they have been available for a long time and are generally well tolerated, and so retained as a second-line therapy.

1. Seborrheic Dermatitis

Despite not being a prescription medication in the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends zinc pyrithione as a second-line treatment for seborrheic dermatitis if ketoconazole or selenium sulfide are not effective or tolerated [4]. This recommendation is backed by the British Association of Dermatologists, and based on several key clinical trials [5].

In 2002 an open-label, randomized, 10-week clinical trial of 343 participants evaluated the effects of 1% zinc pyrithione shampoo against 2% ketoconazole and placebo for seborrheic dermatitis [6]. The study found that both shampoos were effective, with ketoconazole significantly superior – 73% to 67% improvement. This was followed by a study of 83 people published in 2010 which showed that zinc pyrithione resulted in less dandruff reduction after four weeks than topical betamethasone or tacrolimus [7].

In addition to these, tests, it has been found that severe zinc deficiency states are associated with numerous forms of dermatitis [9] although zinc is still not used as a first-line treatment for any of these conditions.

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. [10]

The lack of high-quality studies looking into the use of zinc pyrithione shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis prevents it from being used as a routine first-line treatment. In studies that have been performed, zinc pyrithione has generally resulted in a statistically significant improvement in symptoms, but to a lesser extent than conventional first-line therapies (e.g. ketoconazole).

2. Scalp Psoriasis

Zinc Pyrithione does not have a formal role in treating scalp psoriasis, but in 2011 a study found that applying a 0.25% cream twice daily effectively reduced ‘Psoriasis Area Severity Index’ (PASI) scores – used to monitor the severity of symptoms [8]. Corticosteroids are a more conventional therapy for plaque psoriasis, but zinc pyrithione might have a role in retaining disease control during steroid-free periods.

How should I use a Zinc Pyrithione 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.”

Free and Clear, on the other hand, recommend that you, “Use at least twice a week or as directed by a doctor”. But provide no guidance on how to wash.

We looked a little further afield.  The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety recommends leaving the  (zinc pyrithione) shampoo on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing and applying every 2 to 3 days [1]. 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 Of Using It?

In 2014 the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety published a 98-page safety report on zinc pyrithione, in response to increased use in anti-dandruff shampoos [1]. The committee concluded that an increase in maximum concentration from 1% to 2% in rinse-off cosmetics (e.g. shampoos) was unlikely to result in harm, due to a range of factors:

  • Shampoos with 1% concentrations were not noted to cause more adverse reactions than those without the ingredient
  • 2% shampoos are used in the US without significantly more adverse reactions
  • The ingredient is a ‘mild irritant’ and so should only be used in rinse-off products
  • Zinc Pyrithione has been shown not to be sensitizing to the skin

The comprehensive safety report reviewed all of the available animal and human data and decided that post-marketing surveillance was required after permitting the increase in concentration. This requires cosmetics companies to keep track of all adverse reactions thought to be caused by zinc pyrithione.

It should also be noted that zinc pyrithione is highly toxic if ingested. Studies in animals have shown that doses of 0.05g/kg were sufficient to cause vomiting, with 2.5g/kg leading to death (although for an average adult, this would equate to ingesting over 7kg of a 2% shampoo). On the risk of toxicity, the 2014 EU safety report concluded:

‘…it is unlikely that a human accidentally ingesting shampoo could retain a hazardous amount’


[1] European Commission: Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. (2014). Opinion On: Zinc pyrithione. [Accessed: 6/3/17]

[2] Reeder, N. L., Xu, J., Youngquist, R. S., Schwartz, J. R., Rust, R. C., & Saunders, C. W. (2011). The antifungal mechanism of action of zinc pyrithione. British Journal of Dermatology, 165(s2), 9-12.

[3] Roques, C., Brousse, S., & Panizzutti, C. (2006). In vitro antifungal efficacy of ciclopirox olamine alone and associated with zinc pyrithione compared to ketoconazole against Malassezia globosa and Malassezia restricta reference strains. Mycopathologia, 162(6), 395-400.

[4] NICE CKS. (2013). Seborrhoeic Dermatitis. [Accessed: 6/3/17]

[5] British Association of Dermatologists. (2015). Seborrhoeic Dermatitis. [Accessed: 6/3/17]

[6] Pierard-Franchimont, C., Goffin, V., Decroix, J., & Piérard, G. E. (2002). A multicenter randomized trial of ketoconazole 2% and zinc pyrithione 1% shampoos in severe dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 15(6), 434-441.

[7] Shin, H., Kwon, O. S., Won, C. H., Kim, B. J., Lee, Y. W., Choe, Y. B., … & Eun, H. C. (2009). Clinical efficacies of topical agents for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp: a comparative study. The Journal of Dermatology, 36(3), 131-137.

[8] Sadeghian, G., Ziaei, H., & Nilforoushzadeh, M. A. (2011). Treatment of localized psoriasis with a topical formulation of zinc pyrithione. Acta Dermatoven APA, 20(4).

[9] Yuval Bibi Nitzan & Aanon D. Cohen (2006). Zinc in skin pathology and care.

[10]Ronald R. Warner, PhDa, James R. Schwartz, PhDb, Ying Boissy, BSa, Thomas L. Dawson Jr, PhDc (2001).  Dandruff has an altered stratum corneum ultrastructure that is improved with zinc pyrithione shampoo.


  • Master of Pharmacy Ethan graduated a number of years ago after studying pharmacy in the UK, and is now a practicing pharmacist by day. By night he writes the most stunning articles on a whole range of pharmaceutical subjects both here, and on our sister site at

  • The site owner. I founded, and have ran this site for too many years now. I have extremely sensitive skin, have suffered from seb derm for all my adult life and this site is my way of doing something about it. Check out my sister site at

  • 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.