Caring for your hair should make you feel good—even if you have dandruff. While traditional drugstore dandruff shampoos are effective for many, using them isn’t the most spa-like experience. Plus, they can be too harsh depending on the cause of your dandruff and your hair type. But luckily, more and more brands are taking on dandruff care in an innovative, less clinical way.
“Because these tried-and-true products have been around for so long, a lot of people don’t necessarily get excited to be using them,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “They think, ‘Oh, my grandmother told me I should use that.’ And so the fact that different brands are now approaching the space in a way that has a more visually pleasing, sensorial effect with it, I think it helps to de-stigmatize this idea of using something that’s medicated.”
Brands like Oribe, Briogeo, and Act+Care carry high-quality products that nourish the hair and scalp while using tried-and-true dandruff-fighting ingredients that you’d typically find in OTC treatments, like salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione. Salicylic acid helps to remove dead skin build-up while zinc pyrithione (ZPT) has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties to stop dandruff in its tracks.
“A lot of brands that have put out these newer formulations are still including these ingredients but also recognizing that we still want to be gentle,” says Dr. Garshick. “We don’t want to be simultaneously irritating or drying out the scalp.”
This new crop of dandruff-care products also includes ingredients like sugar cane extract, tea tree oil, and ginger extract to soothe inflammation. “For many people when they experience seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff there is an inflammatory component, so incorporating ingredients that are designed to help reduce inflammation and that are calming on the scalp and the skin can be helpful to reduce symptoms of itching and discomfort that can go along with dandruff,” says Dr. Garshick.
There are also options that are gentle enough to use on chemically-treated hair.
“The main ingredient in dandruff shampoos is usually salicylic acid or tar,” says Michelle Cleveland, a hairstylist in New Jersey. “While they may resolve the flaming symptoms that come with dandruff they will also strip the color or keratin from your hair. Many of the salon-quality brands take this into consideration and balance the ingredients to address both.”
Dr. Garshick still recommends the classics to her patients. But she’s pleased that there are now more choices.
“I definitely don’t discourage people from using the original formulations. If they’re working for people, they’re fine to continue with them,” says Dr. Garshick. “But if you’re using one and you’re experiencing irritation or you’re developing worsening redness or discomfort, or you feel like your hair is becoming dry as a result, or your scalp is becoming more oily—so basically you’re just experiencing an outcome that you’re not pleased with—I think that’s when it’s nice to know we now have lots of different options to choose from.”
If you’re interested in trying out new dandruff products, keep in mind that at-home solutions aren’t your only option.
“It’s important to note that if you are experiencing dry flakey scalp and it doesn’t resolve after using a dandruff shampoo, it may be a good idea to speak with a physician,” says Cleveland. “There are other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or dermatitis), that have those same symptoms but may require a prescription medication.”
8 collections of the best dandruff treatments that are *actually* exciting to use
Comprising five products, the Oribe Serene Scalp line focuses on soothing and balancing your scalp to leave it nourished and flake-free. The shampoo ($46 or $167), leave-on treatment ($48), and scalp scrub ($52) contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid to remove dry skin and build-up. The conditioner ($48 or $168) contains strengthening biotin, hydrating shea butter, and energizing caffeine. Finally, the thickening spray ($76) contains ingredients like peptides to fortify the scalp to promote fuller, healthier-looking hair and polymers to instantly make the hair instantly appear thicker.
Briogeo expanded its Scalp Revival line with the launch of the Dandruff Relief Shampoo ($42) in March 2022. It’s made with salicylic acid, lactic acid, and binchotan charcoal to gently exfoliate and detoxify the scalp. It’s a nice complement to the brand’s four other scalp-health products: the Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo ($42), the Charcoal + Tea Tree Cooling Hydration Scalp Mask ($34), the Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment ($32), and the Charcoal + Biotin Dry Shampoo ($25).
BHS, or Beautiful Hair and Scalp, is a new anti-dandruff line that hit shelves at Walmart during Spring. With every product priced at $8, it proves that drug-store dandruff products can be effective and nourishing. It offers six different formulas for dandruff relief: curl moisture, smooth frizz, vibrant color, damage repair, full & strong, and fresh detox.
Phyto’s dandruff line blends powerful botanicals with active ingredients to help treat dandruff. Start by using the Intense Exfoliating Treatment Shampoo ($26), made with black pepper, Guyana wood, and salicylic acid to purify and soothe the scalp, every day for two weeks. Then, switch to one of the two maintenance shampoos—Moisturizing Maintenance Shampoo ($26) or Purifying Maintenance Shampoo ($26)—to keep up your results without overdoing it. Weekly, you can use the Phytopolléine Botanical Scalp Treatment ($40) as a pre-shampoo oil to help loosen flakes and scale.
Created by Helen Reavey, a trichologist (AKA a certified-scalp expert) and hairstylist to celebs like Harry Styles, Act+Acre is here to address your hair and scalp needs. The Essentials Renew collection ($85) features three products. The first is Scalp Renew ($32), a pre-shampoo treatment made with 0.15 percent salicylic acid and 0.10 percent papaya extract to dissolve and digest the dry skin cells. Next up is Hair Cleanse ($32), a cleanser made with 2 percent apple amino acids to gently cleanse and condition, 1.5 percent glycerin to hydrate while reducing itchiness, and 0.045 percent baobab oil to balance the scalp. Finally, the Conditioning Hair Mask ($38) uses 2 percent castor oil, vitamin B5, and shea butter to deeply moisturize and hydrate the hair.
Head and Shoulders stepped up its classic anti-dandruff formula with over 80 variations that include ingredients like hydrating aloe vera and balancing apple cider vinegar. The Supreme Nourish & Smooth line ($18) includes an anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner that both include ZPT along with moisturizing ingredients like jojoba and argan oils.
Get First Aid Beauty’s Anti-Dandruff Shampoo with 1% Pyrithione Zinc (ZPT) ($30) and Anti-Dandruff Scalp Serum 2% Salicylic Acid (ZPT) ($32) separately or in a duo ($53) to save $9. Formulated to be safe for sensitive skin and color-treated hair, the shampoo uses ZPT to target the root cause of dandruff while removing flakes and minimizing irritation. The treatment uses salicylic acid to purify the scalp and slough off flakes. Both are also made with soothing ingredients like calendula, vitamin E, aloe juice, colloidal oatmeal, and charcoal powder.
Composed of three products, Sachajuan’s scalp line will leave your head feeling nourished and relieved. The scalp scrub ($52) uses sugar, soybean, and shea butter oil to exfoliate and unclog the scalp’s surface from dandruff, oil build-up, and dead skin while also promoting new cell growth. The shampoo ($15 to $95) and conditioner ($34 to $105) are made with piroctone olamine and climbazole to remove dandruff and soothe the scalp while rosemary oil, menthol, salicylic acid, and ginger extract relieve irritation and maintain a healthy moisture balance of hair and scalp.
Keep it simple with this set from Dove’s Dermacare line. For $18, you can get a moisturizing anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner. Both the shampoo and conditioner are made with ZPT to treat and prevent flakes along with nourishing sweet almond oil and aloe vera juice.
Get just the Jupiter Balancing Shampoo ($24) and use it on its own to manage dandruff or get the “Gotta Get” Set ($48) which includes the shampoo along with Nourishing Conditioner. The shampoo uses ZPT to manage dandruff by tackling flaking, irritation, and oil overproduction. Pair it with the conditioner to add much-needed moisture, leaving you with a clean, hydrated scalp and healthy, shiny hair.