Dandruff isn’t exactly the most glamorous of all hair topics, but hey, it happens. If you notice flaking on your scalp, you’ll want to use one of the best dandruff shampoos to wash those flakes away. These shampoo treatments will provide some much-needed relief in your future. But first off, let’s dive into a bit of background.
Though dandruff is commonly mistaken for a dry scalp, the two conditions are actually quite different. “Dandruff is the result of increased oil production and yeast overgrowth on the scalp,” Texas-based board-certified dermatologist Heidi Prather, MD, previously told Allure. Accordingly, it makes sense that dandruff tends to develop on those with oily scalps rather than dry ones.
Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, explains the yeast in question is called malassezia and can actually be commonly found in the skin. “It can contribute to the inflammatory response in seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis [the scientific name for dandruff] and feeds on sebum, so it, therefore, thrives in oily areas,” she adds.
Dandruff is limited to the scalp and typically presents itself as loose, white scales or plaques, as Dr. Prather explained, but it can evolve into the aforementioned seborrheic dermatitis. The latter can affect other seborrheic areas (like your face, chest, and back à la fungal acne) and manifests as yellow, greasy scales coupled with redness, itching, and irritation. Triggers such as buildup-causing styling products, stress, infrequent (or too much) shampooing, overproduction of sweat, and living in moist, humid, and warm environments can exacerbate dandruff, too.
While Dr. King says we can’t fully cure seborrheic dermatitis, there are ways we can manage it through over-the-counter (or OTC) shampoo ingredients — that is, outside of topical corticosteroids that your board-certified dermatologist can prescribe. Dr. King calls out several anti-fungal (and some antimicrobial) ingredients like selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole, coal tar, and tea tree oil that can decrease malassezia, inhibit fungus growth, and calm an irritated, inflamed, and itchy scalp. According to Dr. King, pyrithione zinc-infused formulations are especially gentle yet still effective, making them great for sensitive skin.
Joel Lamm, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist at Ever/Body, says salicylic acid is another useful and powerful exfoliating ingredient that helps wash flaskes away. This ingredient is known for reducing scaling when used in conjunction with other dandruff-specific treatments.
Now that you’re fully filled in about the nature of dandruff, it’s time to tackle your flaking concerns. Ahead, we tapped some of our dermatologist friends to provide us with the best dandruff shampoos that’ll upgrade your scalp-care routine.