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Dandruff is a scaly, itchy scalp condition where clumps of skin cells come together to create flakes you can see in your hair.

If you have mild to moderate dandruff, treating it with over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos can often help keep flakes, itching, and irritation at bay.

Keep reading to learn what to look for in dandruff shampoo and how specific ingredients interact with certain hair types.

We also recommend 15 products worth trying and explain why we like them.

Dandruff shampoo is a specialty shampoo that contains antifungal and antimicrobial ingredients like ciclopirox and zinc pyrithione to help relieve itching and flaking, buildup, and excess sebum production in your scalp.

When you start to look at dandruff shampoos, it’s important to know that dandruff usually occurs due to a combination of the three following factors:

  • presence of Malassezia yeasts on the scalp
  • sebaceous (oil gland) function and overproduction
  • your body’s immune response to the presence of yeast

As a result, most dandruff shampoos contain ingredients that aim to reduce yeast on the scalp or keep the sebaceous glands from producing too much oil.

Antidandruff ingredients

Manufacturers use many ingredients in dandruff shampoos. The following table lists these ingredients and how they work to minimize dandruff.

IngredientHow it works
ciclopiroxThis antifungal agent works by stopping the growth of the fungus.
coal tarCoal tar helps reduce skin scaling and the overgrowth of skin cells that lead to dandruff.
ketoconazoleThis antifungal agent helps kill the Malassezia fungus that irritates oil glands and can lead to dandruff.
salicylic acidThis beta hydroxy acid keeps skin cells from sticking together and can help remove scaly skin cells.
salicylic acid and sulfurAdding sulfur to salicylic acid helps further reduce skin cell buildup. Sulfur also has antimicrobial activity.
selenium sulfideThis antimicrobial agent also helps slow skin cell turnover and scaling as well as reduce yeast growth.
zinc pyrithioneAlso known as ZPT or ZnPT, this ingredient helps heal the scalp by reducing yeast growth, excess oil production, and overproduction of skin cells that can lead to dandruff flakes.

As you can see, there are lots of dandruff shampoo ingredients. Certain ingredients may work well for some people, but not so well for others.

Also, some shampoos may be good for your scalp but not great for your hair or scalp type.

Other factors to consider

In addition to ingredients, you may also want to consider the following variables when choosing a dandruff shampoo:

Frizzy and flyaway hair

If you have hair prone to flyaways, you may wish to try a ZPT-containing product.

One older study of women with dandruff asked them to use either a 1% ZPT solution or a 2% ketoconazole shampoo.

Researchers found that 75% of them preferred the ZPT-containing shampoo because it resulted in less frizz and flyaways compared with the ketoconazole shampoo.

Hair color

Coal tar shampoos can darken or stain the appearance of your hair. For this reason, doctors don’t usually recommend using it on light-colored hair.

Male vs. female response

Men are more likely than women to have dandruff due to differences in their skin barrier. A small study found that men’s dandruff responded better to a 1% ZPT shampoo compared with women who used the same shampoo.

The study’s authors also found women’s dandruff responded better to non-dandruff shampoos than male dandruff, which they thought was probably due to the detergent (cleaning) effects of shampoo on women’s hair.

Oily hair

Dandruff shampoos with selenium sulfide can make oily hair feel even oilier, according to a 2010 article. If you manage hair greasiness, you may want to try dandruff shampoos with other ingredients.

For this list, we aimed to select dandruff shampoos at various price points while keeping all hair types in mind. We tested several products. We also scoured online reviews, prices, and ingredients.

It’s important to note that choosing a shampoo may take trial and error. You also need to consider your hair type and color.

Give a medicated shampoo at least 3 weeks before deciding to move on. If you don’t notice a difference by that time, you can try using another ingredient.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = $10–$20
  • $$$ = over $20

Best organic dandruff shampoo

Neutrogena T/Gel

  • Price: $$
  • Pros: organic formula
  • Cons: While it’s very effective for relieving itching and flaking, it’s not suitable for those with light-colored hair, such as blond, bleached, or gray hair. Use with caution on tinted or color-treated hair.

This medicated shampoo from Neutrogena contains 0.5% coal tar. Use at least once weekly to maintain dandruff-free hair, leaving on the hair and scalp for several minutes before rinsing. You may need to use it twice a week if you’re having an especially bad dandruff episode.

Best for color-treated hair

Nizoral A-D

  • Price: $$
  • Pros: safe to use on all hair types, including color-treated and chemically processed hair
  • Cons: may be too strong for some users

While doctors recommend 2% ketoconazole shampoo for moderate to severe dandruff, this concentration is only available by prescription. You can purchase the Nizoral 1% solution over the counter.

Best for mild to moderate dandruff

Jason Dandruff Relief

  • Price: $
  • Pros: doesn’t contain sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or petrolatum, which can be damaging to hair
  • Cons: can’t be used daily

Salicylic acid–containing shampoo can help mild to moderate dandruff. This shampoo contains salicylic acid plus sulfur to help reduce the fungus that can cause dandruff. Apply three times a week, massaging it onto your scalp.

Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength

  • Price: $$$ (for a pack of 2)
  • Pros: safe for all hair types
  • Cons: may be too strong for some

Head & Shoulders clinical strength shampoo contains selenium sulfide to fight dandruff. Marketed for severe dandruff symptoms, the shampoos are labeled as safe for color-treated, curly, and textured hair types.

However, if you do have light-colored, gray, or permed hair, the brand cautions you to rinse out the shampoo for at least 5 minutes. Shake the shampoo bottle before use and massage onto hair and scalp. Rinse the shampoo and repeat.

Best sulfate-free dandruff shampoo

L’Oreal Paris EverFresh Sulfate-Free

  • Price: $
  • Pros: doesn’t contain sulfates, salts, or surfactants that may otherwise damage hair (especially color-treated hair)
  • Cons: Some users don’t love the consistency of the formula.

This antidandruff shampoo uses ZPT as its active ingredient. They also sell a sulfate-free conditioner if you’re looking to buy a two-part system. Shampoo at least twice weekly, rinsing thoroughly after each wash.

Best two-in-one dandruff shampoo

Harry’s Extra-Strength Anti-Dandruff 2 in 1 Shampoo & Conditioner

  • Price: $
  • Pros: various strength doses
  • Cons: scent may be overpowering for some

This two-in-one treatment is specially formulated to cleanse the scalp, without stripping it of its own natural, beneficial oils. It helps to keep your scalp clean, hydrated, and dandruff-free.

Each bottle contains 2% pyrithione zinc to fight off severe dandruff, but you can opt for a lower dosage on their site if your dandruff isn’t as severe.

Best affordable dandruff shampoo

Dove Dermacare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Pros: coconut and shea butter help to moisturize
  • Cons: some users want there to be a higher dosage of zinc

Gentle enough for any hair type, this antidandruff shampoo from Dove is an affordable option. Not only can it rid the scalp of visible flakes, but it helps to smooths strands for less frizzy hair. Each bottle is formulated with active pyrithione zinc to hydrate and soothe a dry and itchy scalp.

Best for sensitive scalps

Philip Kingsley Flaky Scalp Cleansing Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: mild enough for daily use
  • Cons: reports of fresh apple fragrance being too strong for some

Wash away dandruff with this gentle shampoo designed to soothe the most sensitive of scalps. It includes cocamidopropyl betaine, which gently cleanses without drying, and antimicrobial piroctone olamine which helps strengthen and protect. Additionally, none of the ingredients will strip or damage color-treated hair.

Best splurge

Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo with Jujube Bark Extract

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: formulated without parabens, phthalates, and silicone
  • Cons: pricier than other formulas on the market

Oily roots, dandruff, and sensitive scalps don’t stand a chance against this luxury purifying shampoo from Christophe Robin. It helps against flakes and stimulates hair growth for strands that are soft, shiny, and strong. Jujube bark extract soothes the scalp while cherry blossom extract moisturizes and softens.

Best nourishing dandruff shampoo

Philip B Anti-Flake Relief Shampoo Lite

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: soothes scalp redness and irritation
  • Cons: pricey

This shampoo provides instant relief from itching and flaking and leaves hair bouncy and gleaming. Troubled scalps don’t stand a chance against this blend of botanicals and actives like cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine and sodium cocoyl isethionate. The formula is weightless and is safe for color and keratin-treated hair.

Best dandruff shampoo with biotin

Beautiful Hair and Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Pros: sulfate-free
  • Cons: some reviews that the shampoo doesn’t lather well

This antidandruff shampoo combines biotin and other nourishing ingredients with 3% salicylic acid to help fight dandruff flakes as well as strengthen and moisturize the hair. The brand has a slew of different antidandruff products formulated for different needs like hair damage repair, frizz, strengthening, curls, and detox.

Best strengthening dandruff shampoo

Jupiter Balancing Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: proven to also reduce hair breakage by 30%
  • Cons: some users dislike the scent

This balancing shampoo from Jupiter is formulated with zinc pyrithione, a powerhouse active ingredient that gets to the root of your dandruff problems by preventing fungal growth. They also sell a nourishing conditioner that works to add needed moisture to your scalp and hair.

Best antifungal dandruff shampoo

Selsun Blue Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Pros: affordable
  • Cons: green tint may stain your shower

This affordable medicated antidandruff shampoo can help keep fungal overgrowth and flaking at bay. It’s formulated with 1% selenium sulfide and menthol to prevent and eliminate itchy scalp and visible flakes.

Best luxury dandruff shampoo

Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: color and keratin treatment safe
  • Cons: pricey

Myriad ingredients in this intensive treatment work together to exfoliate, balance, and defend skin — leaving the scalp calm and clear. It’s formulated with salicylic acid and caffeine, which gently exfoliate the scalp to eliminate dandruff flakes and rejuvenate hair follicles.

Best moisturizing dandruff shampoo

SACHAJUAN Scalp Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: suitable for all genders, for daily use
  • Cons: pricey

This scalp shampoo contains piroctone olamine and climbazole to remove dry dandruff and itchiness. Rosemary oil, menthol, salicylic acid, and ginger extract work in tandem to soothe the scalp and leave strands moisturized.

NamePriceActive IngredientsProsCons
Neutrogena T/Gel $$Neutar solubilized coal tar extract 4% (coal tar 1%)organic formulanot suitable for those with light-colored hair
Nizoral A-D$$ketoconazole 1%safe to use on all hair types, including color-treated and chemically processed hairmay be too strong for some users
Jason Dandruff Relief$sulfur 2.4%, salicylic acid 2.2%doesn’t contain sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or petrolatum, which can be damaging to haircan’t be used daily
Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength$$$selenium sulfide 1%safe for all hair types may be too strong for some
L’Oreal Paris EverFresh Sulfate-Free $zinc pyrithione 1%doesn’t contain sulfates, salts, or surfactants that may otherwise damage hair (especially color-treated hair)some users don’t love the consistency of the formula
Harry’s Extra-Strength Anti-Dandruff 2 in 1 Shampoo & Conditioner$zinc pyrithione 2%various strength dosesscent may be overpowering for some
Dove Dermacare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo$zinc pyrithione 1%coconut and shea butter provide moisturizationsome users want a higher dosage of zinc
Philip Kingsley Flaky Scalp Cleansing Shampoo$$$cocamidopropyl betaine mild enough for daily usethe fresh apple fragrance may be too strong for some
Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo with Jujube Bark Extract$$$sodium myreth sulfateformulated without parabens, phthalates, and siliconepricey
Philip B Anti-Flake Relief Shampoo Lite$$$zinc pyrithione 1%soothes scalp redness and irritationpricey
Beautiful Hair and Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo$salicylic acid 3%sulfate-freesome reviewers say the shampoo doesn’t lather well
Jupiter Balancing Shampoo$$$zinc pyrithione 1%proven to also reduce hair breakage by 30%some users dislike the scent
Selsun Blue Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo$selenium sulfide 1%affordablegreen tint may stain your shower
Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo$$$salicylic acidcolor and keratin treatment safepricey
SACHAJUAN Scalp Shampoo $$$salicylic acidsuitable for all genders, for daily usepricey

Hair conditioners can make hair softer and ideally more manageable. Some people advocate using conditioners specifically for people with dandruff. These conditioners often contain ingredients such as ZPT to further penetrate the hair and scalp.

Tips for making dandruff conditioners work effectively

  • Apply the conditioner from the scalp to the ends of your hair.
  • Leave the conditioner on your hair for at least 3 minutes.
  • Use the dandruff-specific conditioner on your hair every time you use a dandruff shampoo.
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In addition to conditioners, it’s important to avoid certain hair products that may be drying to the scalp.

A dry scalp can cause an overproduction of oil that further contributes to dandruff. Products to avoid include hair sprays or regular shampoos that have a high alcohol content.

According to HairClub Hair Health Expert and Trichologist Shab Reslan, “A dandruff shampoo is essential in clearing your scalp better than your daily shampoo, which typically offers a more gentle cleansing.”

She recommends choosing a dandruff shampoo that has cleansing agents that can break down sebum and product buildup, environmental debris, and flakes caused by Malassezia fungus. Your scalp should feel clean and clear of any dandruff after one or two uses.

If you have tried various dandruff shampoos for at least a month and your flakes persist, we recommend seeing a medical professional such as a dermatologist or a trichologist, a specialist who focuses on diseases or problems related to the hair and scalp. We also recommend visiting a doctor if there is redness, pain, crusting, or pus.

Which antidandruff shampoo actually works?

A shampoo that has a mix of these ingredients should help rid the scalp of dandruff: ciclopirox, coal tar, salicylic acid, sulfur, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole.

How can I permanently get rid of dandruff?

Dandruff — or seborrheic dermatitis — is a chronic and relapsing condition of the scalp. Using medicated shampoos two to three times a week should help give some relief and temporary resolution, but chances are that the use of the shampoo will have to continue with scalp flare-ups.

How do I get rid of dandruff fast?

If your dandruff is mild, try brushing the scalp and shampooing more often. If your dandruff is more severe, switch to using a medicated dandruff shampoo.

For a significant number of people, OTC dandruff shampoos help treat symptoms.

If your dandruff is more severe, a dermatologist may need to prescribe stronger treatments to help you manage your dandruff. Talk with your doctor if OTC dandruff shampoos aren’t giving you the results you desire.