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Our experts weigh in: The best dandruff shampoos of 2023

Decrease unwanted flakes with the right shampoo for this frustrating skin condition.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Best Dandruff Shampoo
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best, so our team of licensed dermatology providers reviews and assesses countless products on the market to offer a few recommendations. So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our rigorous standards.

Dandruff may just be a harmless health condition, but those white, flaky specks can really be a nuisance. It’s a prevalent condition that touches the lives of up to 50% of the population at one time or another.¹ But what exactly causes this common scalp concern? And more importantly, how can you combat it effectively? 

We’re here to help. Here, Curology’s licensed dermatology providers will explain the origins of dandruff, share the key ingredients that are proven effective against it, and present 8 options for the best dandruff shampoo you can consider trying in the comfort of your home.

What causes dandruff?

Dandruff is a widespread issue, affecting as many as half of all individuals at some point in their lives.² While these flakes can be bothersome, the good news is that they don’t come with visible inflammation, which means that the scalp might be itchy and flaky but won’t show any obvious signs of redness or swelling.³

A common misconception about dandruff is that it’s caused by infrequent shampooing. However, this is not always the case. While not washing your hair regularly might make dandruff more apparent, it’s not the root cause of the condition.⁴ Instead, dandruff is understood to be a milder, non-inflammatory form of a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis.⁵ Both dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis are somewhat mysterious in their origins, as researchers and dermatologists haven’t pinpointed an exact cause.⁶ 

That said, there are a few potential contributors. One of these is a type of yeast called Malassezia.⁷ Although this yeast naturally resides on the surfaces of many people’s skin, it’s believed that it might, in some cases, play a role in dandruff development. However, the exact relationship between Malassezia and dandruff remains a bit cloudy.⁸ Genetics might also have a hand in whether or not you develop dandruff. This means that if family members have struggled with dandruff, you might be more likely to experience it as well.⁹ 

What ingredients to look for in a dandruff shampoo 

When battling dandruff flakes, a trip to the local pharmacy or supermarket may be the solution. For most people, there’s no need for medical intervention. Instead, the right shampoo can make all the difference in managing those pesky flakes.¹⁰ But with all of the products on the market, how do you know which one to pick? Here’s a breakdown of some key ingredients to look for when selecting a dandruff shampoo:

Salicylic acid: This ingredient is often found in acne skincare products for its exfoliating properties. In dandruff shampoos, salicylic acid helps to shed dead skin cells from the scalp, reducing the appearance of flakes.¹¹

Sulfur: Sulfur is an age-old remedy for various skin conditions. When it comes to dandruff, sulfur can help remove dead skin cells and combat the microbes that might exacerbate dandruff.¹²

Zinc pyrithione: A favorite in many dandruff shampoos, zinc pyrithione is an antifungal agent. It helps reduce Malassezia yeast growth on the scalp, a factor that can lead to dandruff. It also helps to heal the scalp by normalizing the skin cell turnover and sebum production.¹³

Tar: While it might sound unconventional, coal tar has been used for ages to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis. It slows down the growth of skin cells on the scalp, reducing flakiness. However, it may also be staining and have an unpleasant odor, limiting its use.¹⁴

Selenium sulfide: This ingredient limits cell turnover and can also reduce the number of natural oils your scalp produces. Its best dandruff control property seems to be its ability to stop the growth of Malassezia yeast, though. However, for some people, it can make the scalp feel greasy. So it may not be the best choice if you already have an oily scalp.¹⁵

Ketoconazole: Found in both prescription shampoos and also in some over-the-counter options, ketoconazole is an antifungal medication. That makes it most effective for those whose dandruff is caused by yeast. Ketoconazole can also help treat seborrheic dermatitis.¹⁶

So if you’re scouring the aisles for dandruff shampoo, keep an eye out for these ingredients. They each offer unique properties that may help you combat an itchy, flaky scalp. If you’re not sure of the best ingredients for you, consult a dermatology professional for guidance. 

Our picks for best dandruff shampoo 

With so many anti-dandruff shampoos on the market, it can be tough to know which one might work best for your dry scalp. So we reviewed many of the popular brands and selected a few as our picks for the best dandruff shampoo. Each one is formulated with ingredients designed to soothe your scalp and eliminate those pesky flakes. 

We chose shampoos with a variety of active ingredients. That’s because everyone’s scalp is unique and what works best for one person might not be right for another. We also included picks appropriate for all different types of hair. So without further ado, here are our top picks for the best dandruff shampoos.

**The products recommended may not be the right fit for everyone. If you start experiencing breakouts near your hairline, you may want to consider a different dandruff shampoo. 

Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Contains ketoconazole, a potent anti-dandruff ingredient

  • A good choice for dandruff caused by fungus or yeast

  • Safe to use on chemically processed or color-treated hair

  • May help stubborn or persistent dandruff

Bondi Boost Dandruff Repair Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Fights dandruff with a blend of zinc pyrithione and peppermint essential oil

  • Safe for color-treated or chemically-treated hair types

  • Formulated without many ingredients that can be overly drying for hair

  • Vegan-friendly and cruelty-free

Dove DermaCare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Uses zinc pyrithione to fight dandruff flakes

  • Helps moisturize hair and scalp to prevent dryness

  • Refreshing coconut and lime scent

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Formulated with 3% salicylic acid to relieve itching and flaking

  • No added colors, preservatives, or fragrances

  • May also help manage seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis on the scalp

Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dry Scalp Rescue Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Uses 1% selenium sulfide to provide dandruff relief

  • May help manage severe dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis

  • Formulated with honey to help moisturize scalp and hair

  • A good choice for those with dry scalp

Selsun Blue Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo 

What we like about it:

  • Formulated with 1% selenium sulfide to fight dandruff

  • Contains menthol to provide a soothing and invigorating sensation

  • Low price point and drugstore availability

  • May be better for those with dry hair

Biolage Scalp Sync Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Active ingredients are a blend of zinc pyrithione and mint leaf

  • Suitable for all hair types

  • Also contains soothing ingredients to help with scalp irritation

  • Certified 100% vegan and cruelty-free

Vanicream Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

What we like about it:

  • Uses zinc pyrithione to control and reduce the symptoms of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis

  • Free of dyes and fragrances for sensitive scalps

  • Protein and gluten-free for those with allergies

  • A good choice for those with sensitive skin

Accessible, personalized skincare with Curology

Most people will be able to manage a dry, flaky scalp with an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. Only a small few will need to visit a licensed dermatology provider for treatment of severe dandruff. 

While Curology doesn’t currently treat dandruff, we do offer accessible, personalized Hair Formulaᴿˣ for hair loss. On top of that, you can explore our Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne or Future-Proofᴿˣ formula for anti-aging.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If Curology is right for you, one of our licensed dermatology providers will prescribe one of our custom formulas to help you meet your skincare or hair care goals. They’re also available to answer questions and recommend other products to complement your custom formula. Your formula can even be adjusted over time. 

FAQs

Is dandruff considered a fungus?

Dandruff is a common scalp concern, and while its exact causes are not entirely understood.¹⁷ It’s considered a milder form of a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis.¹⁸ However, a type of yeast known as Malassezia may play a role in dandruff development for some individuals, but the exact relationship between this yeast and dandruff is still being studied and isn’t crystal clear.¹⁹ So, while yeast might be involved, it’s an oversimplification to say dandruff is purely a fungal issue.

How often should I wash my hair if I have dandruff?

If you’re battling dandruff, the frequency of washing your hair can make a difference. For white and Asian individuals, dermatologists advise washing daily with a regular shampoo and incorporating a dandruff shampoo into the routine twice a week.²⁰ On the other hand, if you’re of African descent, it’s recommended to shampoo just once a week, ensuring you use a dandruff shampoo during that wash.²¹ Adjusting your hair-washing routine based on these guidelines may help manage and reduce dandruff effectively.

What is the strongest ingredient for dandruff?

When it comes to tackling dandruff, there are several over-the-counter ingredients at your disposal. Two of the most common and potent are zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole.²² However, if you find that your dandruff is stubborn and not responding to multiple OTC shampoos, don't fret! Prescription-strength ingredients are available through a healthcare provider.

What is the best shampoo to get rid of dandruff?

While there’s no single best dandruff shampoo that works for everyone, there are some ingredients that have proven to be very effective at combating flakes. You’ll want to look for anti-dandruff shampoos with active ingredients like salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole.²³ You may have to try a couple before you find the one that works for you.

What is the best product for severe dandruff?

For most people, using a drugstore anti-dandruff shampoo 1-2 times per week is enough to banish a dry, flakey scalp. However, if you’ve tried several different shampoos with different active ingredients and you’re still not seeing the results you want, it may be time to see a licensed dermatology provider.²⁴ They can diagnose any medical conditions that might be contributing to your dandruff and prescribe stronger treatments.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Gary, G. Optimizing Treatment Approaches in Seborrheic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (February 2013).

  2. Gary, G. Optimizing Treatment Approaches in Seborrheic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  3. Borda, L.J. and Wikramanayake, T.C. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. (December 2015).

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat dandruff. (n.d.).

  5. Gary, G. Optimizing Treatment Approaches in Seborrheic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  6. Borda, L.J. and Wikramanayake, T.C. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  7. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. (April-June 2010).

  8. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  9. Borda, L.J. and Wikramanayake, T.C. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat dandruff. Ibid.

  11. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  12. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  13. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  14. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  15. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  16. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  17. Borda, L.J. and Wikramanayake, T.C. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  18. Gary, G. Optimizing Treatment Approaches in Seborrheic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  19. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  20. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat dandruff. Ibid.

  21. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat dandruff. Ibid.

  22. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  23. Ranganathan, S. and Mukhopadhyay, T. Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. Indian J Dermatol. Ibid.

  24. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat dandruff. Ibid.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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