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 You Love a Good Routine
This shampoo requires you to take on an intense, two-week hair regimen where you marinate and massage your dry scalp with the formula for five to seven minutes, two to three times a week. Even if you typically wash your hair only once a week, the extra shampooing isn’t damaging or drying. Your flakes will be gone before you know it, and after that, you can switch to monthly washes with a maintenance shampoo in between. It’s exhausting at first, but you’ll be glad you held strong.
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 Your Hair Is Very Dry or Fragile
Fighting flakes sounds like it’d be harsh on the scalp, but this effective formulation from the trichology experts at Philip Kingsley is gentle enough to be used daily. The anti-microbial piroctone olamine alleviates the scalp of flaking, itching, and buildup, while a hefty dose of aloe vera soothes and repairs the skin without drying our stripping hair in the process.
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.
The Invigorating One
If itching is the only sensation your scalp has been experiencing lately, get ready to change its life with this best-selling, reviving shampoo. The star ingredient, tea tree oil, is known for anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that keep scalps clean and balanced. This bottle also contains the “Tingle Complex:” a refreshing blend of tea tree oil, peppermint, and lavender, which gets irritated scalps to truly chill.
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 Best In-Shower Experience
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.
If You Prefer Something More Natural
This exfoliating shampoo will give you peace of mind in the form of soothing, naturally derived oils like tingly peppermint oil, moisturizing castor and coconut oils, and charcoal to draw impurities from the scalp and hair follicle. 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 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.