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Buying guide for Best anti-dandruff shampoos

Dandruff is a very common scalp condition, but it can still leave you feeling self-conscious. The good news is that it isn’t usually a serious issue, which means you can treat it at home with the right products. That’s where an effective anti-dandruff shampoo comes in.

But there are so many formulas on the market that finding the right one can be a challenge. Which active ingredients work to banish the pesky flakes?

BestReviews is here to help. We do all the research so you don’t have have to. If you’re looking for the right anti-dandruff shampoo for your needs, you’ll find all the facts in our shopping guide.

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Dandruff can often be worse in the fall and winter when cold weather and indoor heating cause additional scalp dryness.

What is dandruff?

Dandruff is a fairly easy condition to spot. The oily, white flakes on your scalp often find their way into your hair and onto your shoulders. In many cases, your scalp might also be dry and itchy. Unless your scalp is red and swollen, though, it usually isn’t necessary to see a doctor. There are several factors that can cause dandruff, including the following.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This condition causes greasy, red skin covered with flaky, white scales. It’s a common cause of dandruff. It can affect the scalp and other areas of the body that have a large number of oil glands.

Fungus (Malassezia)

Malassezia is a fungus found on the skin. It can cause irritation that leads to the growth of flaky scales on the scalp.

Contact dermatitis

Sometimes a reaction to the ingredients in your hair care products can cause redness, itchiness, and scaling on the scalp.

Infrequent shampooing

If you don’t wash your hair often enough, oil, skin cells, and other residue can build up on your scalp and result in dandruff.

Who gets dandruff?

While anyone can get dandruff, certain people are more likely to experience the condition:

  • Men are more likely to have dandruff due to hormones.

  • Young adults and middle-aged adults are commonly affected by dandruff, though some people struggle with it all their lives.

  • People with oily hair are more prone to dandruff because the Malassezia fungus thrives in oily conditions.

  • People with certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, which affects the neurological system, and HIV, which affects the immune system, are more prone to dandruff.
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Did you know?
If left untreated, dandruff can sometimes cause temporary hair loss due to frequent scratching of the scalp.

Active ingredients

Anti-dandruff shampoos use a variety of active ingredients to treat existing dandruff and prevent it from recurring. Depending on your particular dandruff issue, some formulas may be a better option than others. The most common active ingredients in anti-dandruff shampoos include the following:

Salicylic acid shampoo

Salicylic acid is an exfoliating agent that helps eliminate dandruff flakes on the scalp. It can cause dryness, so it’s best for people with oily scalps and hair. Pairing a salicylic acid-based anti-dandruff shampoo with a moisturizing conditioner can help reduce some of the dryness.

Price: Salicylic acid-based anti-dandruff shampoos typically cost between $6 and $16.

Coal tar shampoo

Coal tar is used to slow down the process that causes skin cells on the scalp to die and slough off, enabling it to treat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Tar-based shampoos are best for dark-haired individuals because it can discolor blonde and other light-colored hair.

Price: Coal tar-based anti-dandruff shampoos generally run from $4 to $30.

Zinc pyrithione shampoo

Zinc pyrithione is an antifungal and antibacterial agent that helps counteract dandruff by killing the fungus on your scalp that can cause seborrheic dermatitis.

Price: Zinc pyrithione-based anti-dandruff shampoos typically cost between $3 and $24.

Selenium sulfide shampoo

Selenium sulfide shampoo slows down the natural process that causes skin cells on the scalp to die and flake off. It can also help counteract the Malassezia fungus that can cause dandruff. Selenium sulfide-based anti-dandruff shampoo can discolor light and dyed hair, so it’s important to rinse it out well.

Price: Selenium sulfide-based anti-dandruff shampoos generally run from $7 to $35.

Tea tree oil shampoo

Tea tree oil is an antiseptic, antifungal, and antimicrobial essential oil that can help kill the fungus that may cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

Price: Tea tree oil-based anti-dandruff shampoos usually range from $5 to $20.

Ketoconazole shampoo

Ketoconazole is a powerful antifungal agent that can help treat dandruff when other anti-dandruff ingredients fail. Ketoconazole-based dandruff shampoos are available in both prescription strength and OTC formulas.

Price: Ketoconazole-based anti-dandruff shampoos usually cost between $14 and $60.


The potent ingredients in anti-dandruff shampoo can sometimes give the product an unpleasant medicinal scent. That’s why some users prefer formulas with added fragrance that provides a fresh, clean scent. However, avoid formulas that are too heavily scented. These can irritate the scalp and cause further dryness.

A note about two-in-one anti-dandruff shampoos

Because anti-dandruff shampoos contain drying ingredients like salicylic acid, some formulas also include moisturizers for a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner product. This type of anti-dandruff shampoo can help save you time and money, but some users find that two-in-one formulas don’t moisturize enough. A separate conditioner might be a better option for some people.


  • Use shampoo daily if your dandruff is severe. If you’re suffering from a particularly bad case of dandruff, use an anti-dandruff shampoo daily to remove all of the oils and product buildup that can cause dandruff. Daily use also allows your scalp to receive a constant supply of the active ingredients that treat the issue.
  • Wash hair with non-medicated shampoo first. It’s often a good idea to use a non-medicated shampoo to wash your hair the  first time, then follow up a second time with an anti-dandruff formula to fully cleanse and medicate your scalp.
  • Rinse your hair thoroughly. Always rinse anti-dandruff shampoo from your hair completely. Any residue left behind can cause additional dandruff.
  • Use an anti-dandruff conditioner. For the best results, pair an anti-dandruff shampoo with an anti-dandruff conditioner to make sure that your hair is properly moisturized while still getting enough of the necessary ingredients to treat the problem.
  • Continue the treatment. Once you get your dandruff under control, continue to use an anti-dandruff shampoo at least once a week to prevent the problem from coming back.
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To get your dandruff under control, it helps to rotate the active ingredients. For example, use a ketoconazole-based formula one day, a coal tar-based shampoo the next, and a selenium sulfide-based product the next.


Q. Is it safe to use anti-dandruff shampoo daily?

A. In most cases, it’s perfectly safe to use an anti-dandruff shampoo daily until you get the problem under control. But there are some formulas that are particularly potent, including those that include ketoconazole, which don’t lend themselves to daily use. Instead, it’s usually recommended that you use these formulas two to three times a week. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions on the shampoo to determine the proper usage.

Q. How long does it take to see results from anti-dandruff shampoo?

A. It depends on the severity of your dandruff, the strength of the shampoo, and how often you use it. In general, you can usually expect to get your dandruff under control within four to six weeks. If you’re still experiencing persistent dandruff after a month or so of regular use, consult a dermatologist.

Q. Can children use anti-dandruff shampoo?

A. It depends on the formula of the shampoo, but most are safe for use on children 12 and older. Some formulas can be safely used on children who are younger than 12, so consult the manufacturer’s instructions for usage guidelines. If you have any doubts, ask your child’s pediatrician if a particular anti-dandruff shampoo is safe to use.

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