The Best Dandruff Shampoos to Cleanse a Flaky Scalp

If you've ever looked down at your black top to find "snowflakes" dusting your shoulders beyond winter, you know just how embarrassing and uncomfortable dandruff can be.

"A lot of people are ashamed of dandruff and think it's a reflection of poor hygiene, but that doesn't have anything to do with it," says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital and board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.

So, what exactly is dandruff? "Dandruff is essentially scalp flaking caused by inflammation," explains board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. "This inflammation is driven by our skin reacting to yeast on the scalp. Yeast lives on everyone's scalp, but some people react to it, leading to inflammation, itching, and flaky skin."

The good news is that using the right anti-dandruff shampoo—and the right washing technique—can make all the difference, says Dr. Fusco.

How to choose (and use) the best dandruff shampoo

Scan for active ingredients: Pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, salicylic acid, and coal tar can all work to reduce dandruff, says Dr. Zeichner, but you may need to experiment a bit to find the one your scalp reacts to the best. As an added bonus, look for ingredients that will also moisturize your scalp and strands, like shea butter, glycerin, and aloe vera.

Wash effectively: For best results, rub your dandruff shampoo into your scalp with your fingertips, letting it sit for at least five minutes before rinsing, Dr. Zeichner says. Make sure you pick up an anti-dandruff conditioner, too. Once you rinse, some of the dandruff-fighting ingredients are left behind to continue working, so using a regular conditioner might actually buff those active ingredients away, he notes.

Mind your frequency: Start by washing at least twice a week, says Dr. Fusco. Take note of how your scalp and hair looks and feels. If you don't see results, work up to three or four days if needed. You might even find that you get the best results by washing daily—it all depends on how your scalp reacts to the product.

Now, ready to banish those pesky flakes for good? One of these eight anti-dandruff shampoos should do the trick.


Best overall

Dove Dermacare Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo


Both Dr. Fusco and Dr. Zeichner recommend the Dove Dermacare line. It utilizes the ingredient pyrithione zinc, which works to reduce the inflammation-causing yeast on your scalp, a driving force behind flakes. On top of that, this shampoo includes hydrating ingredients, like shea butter, which many anti-dandruff products lack, says Dr. Fusco. The result? Flake-free hair that looks shiny and healthy.


Rave reviews

Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo $17.17

$11.16 (35% off)

Nizoral contains ketoconazole, a potent anti-fungal that's often used in prescription-grade dandruff medications, Dr. Zeichner explains. But unlike some stronger formulas, Nizoral is still gentle enough to use on color-treated hair and offers a thick lather that leaves a clean scent behind. With more than 3,500 raving reviews on Amazon, testers say it truly makes a difference. "This stuff is absolutely amazing. I was one step away from going to the dermatologist," one reviewer wrote. "I had severe dandruff that was so bad I could shake my head and it would come off. With just a few uses per week, I got rid of all of my flakes."


Best for exfoliation

Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo Scalp Build-Up Control $9.63

$5.94 (38% off)

You've heard of salicylic acid for its acne-fighting properties, but your scalp can reap the benefits of this ingredient, too. It acts as an exfoliant, breaking down the crusty build-up associated with itching and flaking. "Salicylic acid is commonly used to help remove excess oil from the skin and flakes on the scalp," says Dr. Zeichner. Keep in mind that while this dandruff shampoo is effective for some people, it can be too harsh and drying for others, especially if you have color-treated hair, Dr. Fusco says.


Best value

Head & Shoulders 2-in-1 Anti-Dandruff Shampoo


Head & Shoulders is a go-to anti-dandruff shampoo for a reason. It's formulated with pyrithione zinc to keep flakes, dryness, and itchiness at bay. Plus, this 2-in-1 formula provides additional conditioning action and a crisp green apple scent, which leaves your locks feeling and smelling fresh. And at two bottles for roughly $11, the price is hard to beat.

5 Selsun Blue Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo $8.69

$6.98 (20% off)

Selsun Blue contains selenium sulfide, which combats the overproduction of yeast on your scalp, Dr. Zeichner explains. Plus, this moisturizing formula contains calming aloe vera, which will help nourish your hair and soothe your dry, itchy scalp. Pro tip: Make sure you give your hair an extra thorough rinse if it is permed or colored. This will help your hair retain its shape and hue.



Redken Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo


If you can't stand the smell of medicated shampoos, look no further. This dermatologist-tested formula from Redken has a clean, minty scent and takes advantage of pyrithione zinc's flake-fighting abilities to reduce dandruff. It also includes moisturizing glycerin and lavender oil to condition and leave you with beautiful, soft, shiny strands.

7 Nioxin Scalp Recovery Medicated Cleanser


Thanks to a blend of 1 percent pyrithione zinc and moisturizing green tea polyphenols, your flakes won't know what hit 'em once they're slathered with this soothing anti-dandruff shampoo. It also contains peppermint oil and menthol to offer some cooling relief as you wash.


Best scalp treatment

Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo $20.58

$15.96 (22% off)

This shampoo should be used more like a scalp treatment in conjunction with a mild dandruff shampoo and conditioner, Dr. Zeichner says. It contains tar, which helps reduce scalp inflammation (and can even relieve seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis) but doesn't really clean or moisturize hair. For best results, apply and gently massage the T-Gel into your scalp for five minutes. Then, thoroughly rinse your hair, and wash again as you would normally.

Health Editor, Alisa Hrustic has spent her entire career interviewing top medical experts, interpreting peer-reviewed studies, and reporting on health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness trends for outlets like Women's Health and Men's Health, where she both interned and worked full-time.

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