No one likes flakes, especially when they’re on your head. A dandruff shampoo is the most effective solution, but there are a lot out there. And then there’s the small matter of figuring out why your scalp is flaking at all. If your dandruff tends to occur seasonally, you might just have a dry scalp. Year-long flakes may indicate a skin condition, like psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis, a kind of eczema. But you can find relief no matter why your scalp is flaking. Below, the best dandruff shampoos for every kind of hair (and every kind of dandruff).
For Extreme Dandruff
Head to the doctor for a scalp check if your dandruff is especially stubborn. You might have psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis: two skin conditions that trigger flakes, and yet are unrelated to dry skin. My doctor prescribed a 2 percent ketoconazole shampoo when I was first diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis. It’s an anti-fungal treatment that restores balance to your scalp’s natural fungal ecosystem. My flakes vanished almost immediately, but the shampoo was incredibly drying. Try alternating every other wash with a moisturizing shampoo to find some relief.
The Ones Redditors Rave About
This is the over-the-counter version of my prescription shampoo. It’s equipped with the same active ingredient — ketoconazole — but in a smaller dose. It’s a big hit within the dandruff community on Reddit, although it is obviously not as effective as its prescription counterpart. I also love that it has an innocuous, barely there scent.
If Your Hair is Curly, Dry, or Damaged
This shampoo requires you to take on an intense, monthlong hair regimen. Per the instructions, I marinated my scalp with the shampoo for four minutes, two to three times a week, for my first month of use. Even though I typically wash my hair only once a week, the extra shampooing wasn’t damaging or drying. Dare I say it was gentle? Your flakes will be gone after the first month, and after that, you can switch to weekly washes. It’s exhausting at first, but you’ll be glad you held strong.
The Best-Smelling Option
Instead of chemical exfoliants or ketoconazole, Philip B’s Anti-Flake shampoo uses zinc and coal tar to fight dandruff. They work to normalize your scalp’s natural oil production and slow down the rate at which scalp skin cells die and flake off. Philip B’s shampoo is perfect if your dandruff situation is mild to moderate, and I can’t get over how great it smells: like a hippie oil store.
The Luxurious One
While most dandruff shampoos are at the very least a little bit drying, Sachajuan’s is actually moisturizing. It makes hair feel soft and the bottle is actually pretty (and not an embarrassing medicinal-looking thing). The shampoo uses salicylic and lactic acid to remove flakes, and a few different oils in the mix help soothe your scalp. Though this isn’t the most powerful dandruff fighter, using it is the most pleasant experience.
The $6 Option
After my highly-effective-yet-terribly-drying prescription ran out, my dermatologist recommended Neutrogena’s shampoo. It employs a 3 percent salicylic acid formula to chemically exfoliate your scalp, meaning that it first lifts and then removes gross flakes — kind of like a chemical peel for your scalp. It’s just as drying as the prescription stuff, but easier to find and much cheaper. And if you want to save even more money, my dermatologist says that it pulls double-duty as an acne facial cleanser, too.
If You Prefer Something More Natural
This exfoliating shampoo is filled with peace of mind in the form of soothing, naturally derived oils like tingly peppermint oil, moisturizing castor oil, and the calming tea tree oil experts recommend for inflammation. It also leaves a delicious minty-fresh scent in case you need an extra reminder that your scalp is truly clean.
If Your Hair is Jealous of Your Skin’s Skin Care
We’ve come a long way. It’s now possible to buy dandruff shampoos in millennial pink, skin-care-level packaging. With Oribe’s luxe formula, your scalp gets the treatment your face is used to with exfoliating salicylic acid that lifts flakes instead of sloughing them off. It also has vitamin C and caffeine to keep your scalp stimulated.
If Your Hair Is Dyed
Color-treated hair costs a lot of money, so it makes sense that you’d rather not play a game of chance when it comes to finding the right shampoo. This one from Redken is formulated with pyrithione zinc, which treats dandruff without stripping your hair color. It’s also convenient: you can apply the shampoo to your dry scalp and let it marinate before heading into the shower (or it works on a wet scalp, too).
If You Use a Lot of Styling Products
This clarifying shampoo cleanses and soothes scalps with natural ingredients like aloe, tea tree oil, and the brand’s star cleansing ingredient, African black soap. But this gentle formula is particularly good at removing all that lingering product buildup along with any dandruff-related flakes, without making your hair feel stripped. Your scalp is left feeling calm, clean, and comfy, which is exactly what you want when embarking on the arduous journey of washing product-laden curly hair or removing a protective style.
If You’re Still Committed to Having French Girl Hair
French brand Ducray was founded by the son of a dermatologist and was built upon the philosophy that the scalp falls under the realm of skin care (long before everyone else jumped on board). The Kelual DS range was designed to deliver long-lasting relief from even the itchiest, driest, and most chronic conditions with flake-fighting zinc pyrithione and piroctone olamine, a creamy formula, and sebum-regulating ingredients. With regular use you’ll see a decrease in flaking, and an increase in visitors to your bathroom thinking you studied abroad in France.
If You’re Overthinking It All
Dove’s anti-dandruff shampoo is a well-rounded formula that’s easy to find. It’s formulated with dandruff-removing and -preventing pyrithione zinc (the same stuff in Head & Shoulders), but it’s backed up with moisturizing coconut and shea butters to make sure your scalp (and surrounding hair) stay nourished during the medication process.
This article was originally published January 19, 2018. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.