Which dandruff shampoo should you choose? What is the best anti-dandruff shampoo? Don’t worry; I’ve done all the research for you. Keep reading to learn what causes dandruff, how to use anti-dandruff shampoo, and my pick for the best dandruff shampoo.
What Causes Dandruff?
Dandruff is a common skin condition that causes your scalp to flake. While it’s not contagious, it can be pretty embarrassing. In addition to the telltale flakes, itchiness is another annoying symptom of dandruff.
Causes of Dandruff or Flaky Scalp Include:
- Dry skin (which is why dandruff often gets worse in the winter when dry skin is a bigger problem).
- Having oily hair or not washing your hair enough (if you suspect your dandruff is caused by oily hair, check out this article on the best shampoos for greasy or oily hair).
- Allergies or sensitivities to the ingredients in your hair care products.
- Overgrowth of Malassezia, a type of fungus.
- A medical condition like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis.
To learn more about the causes of dandruff, read “Dandruff: What Your Flaky Scalp Is Trying to Tell You”.
Regardless of the cause of your dandruff, using a specially formulated dandruff shampoo solves most mild cases of dandruff.
How Does Dandruff Shampoo Work?
Dandruff shampoo (also known as anti-dandruff shampoo or shampoo for flaky scalps) is a special kind of shampoo with active ingredients that help clear away flakes, reduce skin cell and sebum production, and soothe itching and irritation. In addition, they often contain antimicrobial and antifungal ingredients to clear up the overgrowth of fungus.
There’s no need to concoct messy hair masks in the kitchen or rinse your hair with vinegar. Shampoos for flaky scalps are the most effective way to treat mild cases of dandruff and can often provide instant results. In fact, many people find that switching to an anti-dandruff shampoo is all they need to do to eliminate flakes for good.
What Ingredients Do Anti-Dandruff Shampoos Contain?
When shopping for the best anti-dandruff shampoo or shampoo for a flaky scalp, look for formulas that combine soothing and hydrating ingredients (to treat itchiness) plus antifungal and antimicrobial ingredients that target the root cause of the problem.
Look for soothing and hydrating ingredients, as well as antifungal and antimicrobial actives like:
- Aloe Vera - If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you’re probably familiar with aloe vera. This soothing gel comes from the succulent aloe plant and helps several skin conditions, including dandruff. In addition, aloe vera has moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties that help to soothe a sensitive or sore scalp. That’s why the best natural dandruff shampoo should contain aloe vera.
- Glycerin - Glycerin is a humectant that pulls moisture from the air to keep your hair and scalp moisturized. Glycerin is very effective at retaining moisture, even during cold and dry weather. Studies show that glycerin can also help to treat dandruff. For example, one study showed glycerin to reduce dandruff over eight weeks. And while the name sounds very chemical-y, there is also natural glycerin derived from plant oils.
- Tea Tree Oil - The best dandruff shampoos often contain tea tree oil. This plant-based oil has moisturizing and antifungal properties that help address dandruff's causes, including dry skin and fungus overgrowth. Several studies have demonstrated tea tree oil’s efficacy against dandruff, including a 2002 study that showed that shampoo for flaky scalp featuring tea tree oil as an ingredient reduced dandruff by 41 percent. Tea tree oil also helps to soothe the scalp and reduce itchiness from dandruff.
- Dermosoft® decalact MB - Dermosoft® decalact MB is a 100% naturally-derived antimicrobial active ingredient proven to be effective against microorganisms that cause dandruff. It’s a natural alternative to other active ingredients in dandruff shampoos that can be harsh on the skin or hair.
Why Choose a Sulfate-free Dandruff Shampoo?
I’ve covered ingredients you should look for in the best dandruff shampoo, but what about ingredients you should avoid? The number one ingredient you should avoid in dandruff shampoo is actually a family of ingredients called sulfates.
Sulfates are cleansing agents in many household cleaners, soaps, and shampoos. Sulfates make shampoos lather, but they may also adversely affect your skin and health. Sulfates may irritate your skin, clog your pores, and cause acne. Plus, sulfates can dry out the skin and may contribute to some cases of dandruff. Since sulfates are so drying, they’re also not suitable for hair types prone to dryness, like curly or coily. Finally, they can strip the pigment from the hair, which is also not ideal for those who color their hair.
In fact, my hairstylist recommends using a shampoo formulated with sulfates as a color remover! That’s why it’s so important to choose a sulfate-free dandruff shampoo.
Benefits of Using Sulfate-Free Dandruff Shampoos
- They don’t irritate the skin or dry out your hair.
- They’re suitable for sensitive skin and dry or curly hair.
- They’re color-safe.
- You can use them more frequently than strong, medical anti-dandruff shampoos.
And don’t worry: sulfate-free shampoos still lather! Plenty of natural ingredients are less harsh on hair and provide the same lathering effect.
Check for the above mentioned hydrating and antifungal ingredients when shopping for the best sulfate-free dandruff shampoo.
My Pick: The Best Natural Dandruff Shampoo
In my opinion, the best natural dandruff shampoo is Instant Relief™ Dandruff Shampoo. This anti-dandruff shampoo has everything a flaky scalp craves: hydration, itch relief, and natural antifungal agents. In addition to glycerin, aloe vera, tea tree oil, and dermosoft® decalact MB, this shampoo for flaky scalps contains organic apple extract.
Apple extract has a high antioxidant content that protects the hair and scalp against environmental aggressors. Plus, apple extract is rich in a natural polyphenol called procyanidin B2, which has been shown to stimulate hair growth. So if you’re looking for extra support in the hair growth department (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), this is the perfect anti-dandruff shampoo for you.
Of course, I also love that Instant Relief™ Dandruff Shampoo is formulated without drying sulfates. Plus, it’s vegan and organic certified. And the effects are instant. From the first wash, the hydrating ingredients work to soothe dry, itchy scalps prone to dandruff. That’s why it’s the best anti-dandruff shampoo, at least in my book!
How To Use a Dandruff Shampoo
Now that you know about the best natural dandruff shampoos, let’s talk about how to use them!
Using a shampoo for a flaky scalp is a little different than using a regular shampoo, so take notes:
- Step One: Wet hair and apply the best dandruff shampoo. Then, use your fingertips to work the product into your scalp gently. You can also use a scalp massage brush to buff away flakes. In fact, scalp exfoliation is essential for hair health and can help reduce dandruff.
- Step Two: To get the best results, let the dandruff shampoo sit on your hair and scalp for a few minutes while it works its magic. This way you can get the most out of the active ingredients.
- Step Three: Rinse well with lukewarm water. Hot water dries out the hair and skin, so you should avoid using it when washing your hair.
- Step Four: Apply conditioner to your hair. If you’re using a conditioner specifically formulated to promote scalp health, like Scalp Delight™ Detox Conditioner, you may apply it to your scalp and roots. Otherwise, focus the product on the length of your hair rather than your scalp.
- Step Five: Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. And when I say “thoroughly”, I mean it! Buildup from products on the scalp (including leftover conditioner) can cause scalp irritation and dandruff. You can also rinse your hair with cold water, which may help promote shine.
So what about frequency? Typically, I recommend washing your hair two or three times per week. But if you have dandruff, it might be necessary to wash your hair more often.
Experiment to find a washing schedule that works for you. Seriously, experiment! I keep a small notebook in my bathroom to keep track of which hair products I’m using and how often so I can see how they affect my hair and scalp. It may sound nerdy, but everyone’s hair is different, and the best way to find what works best for your hair is to try different things and see how your hair responds.
Products tailored for your hairTake test
The Best Products for a Flaky Scalp (Besides Dandruff Shampoo)
If you’re serious about your scalp and hair health, I have some other products to recommend to you. Investing in the right products can make all the difference in your hair's health (and appearance). In addition to using the best natural dandruff shampoo, I recommend the following:
The Scalp Delight™ Bundle
This scalp care bundle includes Scalp Delight™ Detox Scrub, Conditioner, and Scalp Massage Brush, all of which work together to cleanse, exfoliate, stimulate, and nourish your scalp and hair. But don’t worry about dryness; these deep-cleaning products hydrate the hair and scalp while they cleanse.
I recommend these products to anyone with dandruff from having oily hair or not washing their hair enough. This suite of products hits the reset button on your hair, stripping away buildup from dead skin, sebum, and hair products.
Grow Perfect™ Thickening Spray
Are you suffering from an itchy scalp? Try this. This leave-in scalp treatment delivers instant soothing hydration to itchy scalps. Plus, it improves circulation to support regular hair follicle function and growth (and who doesn’t want that?). However, what I find most exciting about this product is its inclusion of RootBioTec™, which has been shown to reduce hair loss by 31% after two months of application.
Natural Styling Products
Why stop there if you’re already using the best natural dandruff shampoo? Many people find haircare products with synthetic ingredients irritate their scalp and leave a dull residue on their hair. Instead, I recommend choosing natural styling products like Mineral Clay Wax and Ocean Water Sea Salt Spray that can help promote hair health even when you’re just styling your hair!
Curious about how to choose the right styling product for you? Read about the differences between hair wax, gel and hair clay here.
While it’s normal to have dandruff, it also feels embarrassing. Just know that you’re not alone, and most people suffer from dandruff from time to time. But by choosing the best natural dandruff shampoo and following a scalp-healthy hair routine, most cases of dandruff will clear up without medical intervention. But if you continue to have dandruff after changing your hair routine, talk to a medical provider.
Did you know that dandruff can also occur on your beard? To treat beardruff, try a special beard shampoo.