About half the world's population will deal with dandruff at some point, but that doesn't mean it's any less annoying. This buildup of shedding, dead skin might not be as problematic as lice, but it's definitely something you want to handle fast. The good news is that there are tons of products on offer in any shampoo aisle that will help tackle this condition quickly and discreetly.
Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Dove DermaCare Anti Dandruff Shampoo
Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo
Best Scalp Treatment
Kerasilk Activating Scalp Foundation
Best Moisturizing Option
Nioxin Scalp Recovery Anti-Dandruff Cleanser Shampoo
Best for Irritated Scalp
Kératase Symbiose Anti Dandruff Shampoo Crème
Briogeo Scalp Revival Exfoliator Charcoal Shampoo
Best for Maintenance
Head & Shoulders Clinical Dandruff Defense + Dry Scalp Rescue Shampoo
Best Clinical Strength
Ouai Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Best Gentle Formula
Selsun Blue Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo With Menthol
Best for Itchy Scalp
But before you rush out to buy the first product you see claiming to fight the symptoms of an itchy, flaky scalp, take a few minutes to read our guide. We combed through — pun intended — a list of products and ran them past Yahoo's shopping experts, dermatologists and hair stylists to see which ones worked best. Our top-rated picks not only help stop dandruff, but they also soothe and hydrate your scalp.
What ingredients should a dandruff shampoo contain?
“Zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, selenium sulfide and salicylic acid are all ingredients I tell my patients to look for when they have trouble with dandruff, because they have antifungal properties,” said Dr. Jaliman, a New York City dermatologist.
“Salicylic acid is a very good ingredient to look for,” the doc added, "because it helps the exfoliation process and gets rid of the dead skin cells on the outermost layer of the skin. While zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide help eliminate the fungus on the skin called Malassezia, ketoconazole decreases the growth of the fungus that causes the dandruff."
Other key players: Coal tar and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), according to Michelle Henry, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. They both address the root causes of dandruff: “Coal tar slows down the growth of skin cells and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) helps regulate the production of sebum.”
What causes dandruff?
According to Dr. Graf assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, “Dandruff is caused by seborrheic dermatitis — a very common condition precipitated by increased oil production in the scalp. In response to the oil, our fungal microflora — part of our protective microbiome — rapidly multiplies as it loves the oily environment. As it continues, it can result in what seems like dry scalp with redness, scaling bumps, patches on the scalp and flaking along hair and shoulders.”
Another reason you may suffer from dandruff is from an overgrowth of Malassezia — a yeast-like fungus that occurs naturally on the scalp. “When this fungus proliferates, it can trigger an inflammatory response in some individuals, leading to the characteristic flakes and itching,” Dr. Henry told Yahoo Life.
What is the difference between dandruff and dry scalp?
While you may think they are the same thing, celebrity hair stylist Harry Josh explains, “Dry scalp is caused by the lack of moisture on the scalp, whereas dandruff is caused by excess oil,” so they are two very different problems. Dr. Graf added, “While both dandruff and dry scalp cause the scalp to flake off, dandruff flakes tend to be large, have a yellow hue and are oily to the touch. A dry scalp produces small, white flakes of skin. Since the fungus is part of our normal flora, dandruff is not curable but can be controlled.”
How often should you use dandruff shampoo?
While washing your hair every day can strip away oils, if you have dandruff, doing the deed daily can actually help (depending on the severity of your case). “If you’re experiencing dandruff, the more exposure to the active ingredients in the shampoo, the quicker the condition will resolve. Washing your hair daily is completely fine and encouraged,” said Dr. Nazarian. If your case is less severe, Dr. Jaliman says that, in most cases, "using a dandruff shampoo two to three times a week should be sufficient. Once dandruff is under control, the frequency can be reduced to once a week or as needed to maintain results.”
How long does it take to work?
Dr. Nazarian recommends “giving it a full week to notice improvement. But many of my patients experience relief after one wash.” Just remember that results can vary from person to person: Some individuals may notice an improvement after a few washes; others might require several weeks of consistent use to see full results.
Debra Jaliman, MD, a NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist
Michelle Henry, MD, FAAD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College
Jeannette Graf, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, a NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist
Harry Josh, celebrity hairstylist