The Best Dandruff Shampoos for Soothing Itchy Scalps

Nizoral's Shampoo is formulated with ketoconazole to control flaking

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Dandruff can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable condition. It "is caused by the buildup of Malassezia organisms that lower immunity in areas of the skin that have sebaceous glands like the scalp, chest, eyebrows, and beard, as well as around the nose," says Orit Markowitz, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. This can lead to inflammation that causes flaking and redness—but dandruff shampoos can offer an effective treatment.

Reviewed & Approved

Formulated with 1% ketoconazole, Nizoral's Anti-Dandruff Shampoo controls flaking and itching. Selsun Blue's Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo has salicylic acid to fight dandruff and is an affordable option.

When looking for dandruff shampoo, look for ingredients like pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, and salicylic acid, which are all great for combating dandruff. Pay attention to your hair type, too. Some dandruff shampoos may be better for thicker hair while some may have ingredients that best suit those with thin, fine hair.

You'll also want to pay attention to how frequently the shampoo should be used and then use it accordingly. If you wash your hair daily, you don't want to select a shampoo intended for use only once a week. We assessed dozens of dandruff shampoos, evaluating them based on their ingredients and scent, uses for different needs and hair types, method, and price.

Below, you'll find the best dandruff shampoos on the market.

Best Overall: Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

4.9
Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Gentle on the skin

  • Good for sensitive skin

Cons
  • Scented, which some may find irritating

We selected Nizoral's Anti-Dandruff Shampoo as our top pick because it contains ketoconazole, which is a potent anti-fungal also found in prescription-grade dandruff medications. The formula controls flaking and irritation and is safe for color-treated hair. It also leaves a fresh scent behind, so you can rest easy knowing that your hair will have a clean appearance and smell.

You should use Nizoral every 3 to 4 days for up to 8 weeks for best results. If you're still not seeing improvement, contact your dermatologist for further instructions.

Key Ingredient: Ketoconazole 1% | Scent: Fresh | Usage: Every 3-4 days for up to 8 weeks

Best Budget: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo

Selsun Blue

Courtesy of Rite Aid

Pros
  • Salicylic acid helps fight tougher dandruff cases

  • Affordable

  • Gentle enough for daily care

Cons
  • Moisturizing ingredients can create oily appearance

When other formulas fall short, Selsun Blue Medicated Shampoo controls itching and flaking caused by the most challenging cases of dandruff. It also helps prevent the recurrence of seborrheic dermatitis. Still, it’s gentle on hair and affordable for most budgets.

Because of its intensive moisturizing properties, this shampoo is best for dry hair, as it can make oily hair types look greasy. It's recommended to use this shampoo twice a week for best results.

Ingredients: Selenium sulfide 1%, aloe | Scent: Scented | Usage: Twice a week or as directed by doctor

Best Luxury Buy: ORIBE Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Oribe Serene Scalp Shampoo

 Dermstore

Pros
  • Hydrating

  • Sulfate-free

  • Safe for color-treated hair

Cons
  • Moisturizing ingredients can create oily appearance

Keep pesky flakes at bay with Oribe’s hydrating Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. The salicylic acid in this shampoo gently exfoliates the scalp, while the caffeine rejuvenates hair follicles to help alleviate and prevent dandruff.

This shampoo is sulfate-free, so the suds are soothing to your dry, itchy, and irritated scalp. While it comes with a higher price tag than most other shampoos on our list, we love that it's safe for color treated hair and fresh, clean scent.

Ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, bilberry fruit and sugar maple extracts | Scent: Cote d’Azur | Usage: Can be used as frequently as needed

Best for Oily Hair: Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo

Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo

Amazon

Pros
  • Affordable

  • Medical grade strength

  • Safe for color treated hair

Cons
  • Unscented

Neutrogena's T/Gel is a go-to for oily and dandruff-prone scalps. Its formula, which has the Seal of Recognition from the National Psoriasis Foundation, treats chronic scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and dandruff with coal tar extract.

You should use this shampoo at least twice a week for the best results. Its formula won't dry out your hair but will leave it feeling silky and soft. However, the formula is scentless, so you may need to find a conditioner that can give you that fresh, clean scent.

Ingredients: 2% Neutar solubilized coal tar extract | Scent: Unscented | Usage: At least twice weekly or as recommended by doctor

What Our Editors Say

"This shampoo has worked wonders for me. In one wash I noticed a difference. I like to use it before using my regular, scented shampoo, so that I get the fresh scent when I get out of the shower." — Christina Oehler, Health Commerce Editor

Best for Women: Biolage R.A.W. Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Biolage R.A.W. Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Safe for color treated and chemically treated hair

  • Good for all hair types

Cons
  • May not work for more severe dandruff cases

Stressed out by flakes and dry scalp? This wholesome shampoo (plus conditioner and treatment system) de-stresses tresses and purifies the scalp to eliminate dandruff and calm itching. You won’t believe it’s a dandruff fighter until you see the effect of 2.9 percent salicylic acid and willow bark extract.

It smells and feels like a luxe spa treatment atop your head with rosemary. While it may not be strong enough for all dandruff cases, it's a great option for color treated and chemically treated hair that needs moisture and protection while still fighting flakes.

Ingredients: 2.9% Salicylic acid, rosemary, willow bark extract | Scent: Rosemary | Usage: Can be used as frequently as needed

Best for Men: BosleyMD Scalp Relief Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

BosleyMD Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Courtesy of Bosley

Pros
  • Controls the appearance of current flakes

  • Helps prevent future flakes

Cons
  • Similar ingredients to cheaper products

The active ingredient in this shampoo, pyrithione zinc, reduces Malassezia yeast on your scalp, a driving force behind flakes. With extended use, you’ll notice a scalp free of buildup, in addition to a healthy, dandruff-free head.

The formula also contains rosemary extract, which treats and reduces scalp inflammation and improves circulation, and pumpkin seeds which encourage hair growth. Following a limited trial, 100 percent of participants reported improved scalp conditions in only two weeks, according to the brand.

Ingredients: Pyrithione Zinc, pumpkin seed extract, rosemary extract | Scent: Rosemary | Usage: At least twice a week or as directed by a doctor

Best for Cradle Cap: Mustela Foam Shampoo for Cradle Cap

Mustela
Pros
  • Made of 99% plant-based ingredients

  • Paraben and phthalate-free

  • Tear-free

Cons
  • Unscented

Cradle cap is a form of seborrheic dermatitis in infants that can create greasy, scaly dandruff on the scalp. Thankfully, the active ingredients that fight flakes in adults are also safe for children, per Dr. Markowitz. This Mustela Foam Shampoo is many parents’ go-to for infants to kids under 9 years old. You can feel good about using it on your little ones because it’s preservative-free (think parabens and phthalates).

While it doesn't have much of a scent, its tear-free formula can be used as often as needed, which is great for babies with more severe cases of cradle cap.

Ingredients: Avocado perseose | Scent: Unscented | Usage: Can be used as frequently as needed

Final Verdict

Nizoral A-D (view at Amazon) is one of the best options for fighting pesky flakes. It contains ketoconazole, a potent anti-fungal also found in prescription-grade dandruff medications. A luxurious alternative, the Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo (view at Amazon) makes treating dandruff feel like a high-end spa treatment. The combination of salicylic acid to gently exfoliate the scalp and soothing ingredients is hard to beat.

What to Look for in a Dandruff Shampoo

Ingredients

The common ingredients found in anti-dandruff shampoos are pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, and coal tar. These can all effectively reduce dandruff, according to Dr. Markowitz. Finding the right ingredient for you may take some trial and error. Your scalp may react differently to each.

If you prefer more natural ingredients, there are also options for that, such as tea tree oil, and apple cider vinegar. Craig Ziering, M.D., founder of Ziering Medical and hair restoration specialist, also recommends tea tree oil, which he says is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory and can help dandruff. Dr. Ziering also points out that typical ingredients used to treat hair loss, such as pyrithione zinc and selenium sulphide are typically found to help restore hair growth to boot. You can tackle dandruff and ensure your hair is growing healthily and happily at the same time.

Hair Type

You should factor in your specific hair type when choosing a dandruff shampoo. There are a variety of formulas designed for color-treated, dry, and curly hair types. For example, your hair and scalp may need an extra boost of moisture, so hydrating ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and aloe vera are just as important as the flake-fighters above. If you’re unsure what type of hair you have, reach out to your stylist or dermatologist.

Method

How you wash your strands can either enhance or diminish the effects of the dandruff shampoo creating all the suds. The frequency of and style of your scrubbing method play a role. Dr. Markowitz recommends starting by shampooing two times a week, and if your condition remains unchanged, you can add one or two weekly washings to your schedule. When you do scrub up, note the instructions on the bottle and in general scrub it in with your fingertips and let it sit for five minutes or more before rinsing. This allows the active ingredients to penetrate better and more likely to stick around post-shower.

Pair anti-dandruff shampoos with anti-dandruff conditioners, too. The conditioner adds to the active ingredients left by the shampoo instead of washing it away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does dandruff shampoo work?

    Dandruff shampoo works to curb a flaky and itchy scalp. What they target depends on the ingredients. Dandruff shampoos usually contain antifungals or corticosteroids. Antifungals keep fungus from growing, which, in turn, reduces the fungi that cause dandruff. Some common antifungals in dandruff shampoo are ketoconazole, bifonazole, selenium sulfide, ciclopirox olamine, and zinc pyrithione. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory, which helps reduce irritation and thus flaking. Fluocinolone is a common corticosteroid in dandruff shampoos. Coal tar is yet another common ingredient that acts as an antifungal and anti-inflammatory.

  • Is dandruff shampoo bad for your hair?

    Some dandruff shampoos, such as tar-based shampoos and selenium sulfide shampoos can cause discoloration of the hair and scalp. Read the instructions carefully to see how long (or short) the shampoo should stay in before rinsing thoroughly.

  • Can you use dandruff shampoo every day?

    It depends. It’s always best to read the shampoo’s instructions for how often it should be used. It may be best to mix and match regular shampoo with dandruff shampoo. For example, try using a dandruff shampoo two or three times a week and a regular shampoo in between times. If you have dry hair, you may benefit from less shampooing overall.

  • How long can dandruff last?

    Dandruff can last for weeks. If you’ve been using a dandruff shampoo for several weeks and aren’t seeing an improvement in the flakiness, itchiness, or irritation of your scalp, talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist. They can point you in the right direction for a better shampoo or other skin-based treatments. Sometimes, even after treatment was successful, dandruff may come back. Thus, you may need to restart dandruff treatment every once in a while.

Why Trust Verywell Health

As a seasoned health writer, Jennifer Nied understands how vital quality product recommendations are for treating symptoms safely and effectively at home. For over 10 years, she has reviewed products, interviewed experts, scrutinized ingredients, and pored over research studies and claims to help readers like you understand what works for your specific conditions. She selected every product in this piece by taking into account recommendations from doctors, published research, and real customer reviews.

Additional reporting by Brittany Leitner

As a health writer with over 8 years of experience, Brittany Leitner understands how important access to information is when it comes to making educated health decisions. She has interviewed dozens of medical experts, tested out hundreds of products, and aims to provide quality recommendations that won't break the bank.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Psoriasis Foundation. Seal of Recognition. 2021

  2. Park M, Cho Y-J, Lee YW, Jung WH. Understanding the mechanism of action of the anti-dandruff agent zinc pyrithione against malassezia restricta. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):12086. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-30588-2

  3. Borda LJ, Wikramanayake TC. Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff: a comprehensive reviewJ Clin Investig Dermatol. 2015;3(2). doi:10.13188/2373-1044.1000019

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