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Ah, dandruff. It's annoying, tricky to treat, and like all skin issues, fairly complex. Although several factors can cause it to crop up (like gut health, hair products, stress, and the environment), it all boils doing to one thing: “For many, dandruff occurs when the microbiome of their scalp becomes imbalanced,” explains Anabel Kingsley, a London-based trichologist (scalp specialist). “Yeasts naturally live on our scalps and usually do not cause any problems. However, when a certain species of yeast (Malassezia yeast) overgrows, it can cause skin cells to divide too rapidly, leading to tell-tale flakes and itching.”
One of the most important things you can do to treat it, according to Kingsley, is shampoo regularly. “This removes excess oils, which helps to keep yeast levels in check and makes it harder for them to over-proliferate," she explains. If you're prone to more severe forms of it, Kingsley suggests using a weekly targeted scalp mask and a daily anti-microbial scalp toner, in addition to shampooing with an anti-dandruff shampoo every other wash.
Not sure where to start? Read on for Byrdie’s best dandruff shampoos for men.
Best Overall: Larry King City Life Shampoo
The man behind many celebrities' cool coiffures knows the importance of strong scalp care, which is why he formulated City Life, a purifying shampoo, this year. Designed to tackle the buildup of pollution, hard water, product, and harsh minerals, the shampoo strips away all toxins that cause irritation and itch. The formula is also infused with zinc, vitamin E, and centella asiatica—all fortifying, hydrating ingredients that calm excess oil production and nourish the natural microbiome. It’s one of few shampoos that doesn’t strip the hair to deal with dandruff, which makes it a real King in the category. See what I did there?
Best Budget: Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo
This shampoo may be our favorite budget buy, but it's anything but watered down.T/Gel is strong—so strong, in fact, that it can be stripping with overuse, which means you should only use it bi-weekly. The unique formula is actually made up of coal tar (yes, coal tar) which has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, and even anti-itch properties, making it the all-around dream if your dandruff is being particularly difficult.
Best Drugstore: Head & Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo
A classic in most men’s grooming arsenals at one point or another, Head & Shoulders is the familiar face when it comes to dealing with dandruff. Perfect for someone who is just experiencing a touch of frost (or flake, really) on the shoulders, the gentle and efficient formula does the job without drying out your scalp or destroying your hair. It's also particularly good at soothing an itchy or raw scalp due to natural calming agents like almond oil, tea tree oil, and peppermint.
Best Splurge: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub
This Byrdie favorite skincare brand has migrated north to handle your hair in its recent product drop. In the case of this divine scalp scrub, the exfoliation is two-fold, dislodging hair with granules as well as AHAs, which slough away dead skin for a smoother scalp. The nozzle also allows you to apply it in the hairline accurately so you aren’t smothering your hair in acids. A total indulgence in every sense.
Best Medicated: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Treatment
Given that The Inkey List is known for its concise formulas and (almost) clinical results, this exfoliating scalp treatment was a welcome launch for a category that can get a bit, well, boring. Its hero ingredient is salicylic acid, which is known for dissolving oil. This means that it thoroughly tackles any stubborn sebum and bacteria, both of which can cause dandruff. A real personal favorite of mine.
Best Scent: Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo
While fragrance isn’t something you should opt for with an irritated scalp, scent is entirely different. Scent refers to the smell caused by natural ingredients, whereas fragrance is the result of synthetic ingredients; the latter can be irritating while the first is harmless. Where scent is concerned, we love Christophe Robin’s Purifying Shampoo, which contains a heavenly blend of jujube bark and cherry blossom that gently rebalances the scalp. If you suffer from light dandruff but your scalp gets irritated easily, this is your go-to.
Best for Sensitive Scalps: Philip Kingsley Flaky Scalp Cleansing Shampoo
You could say that Philip Kingsley pioneered dandruff treatment, with the man and the brand catering to scalp health before it became en vogue. His iconic brand is now helmed by his daughter, Anabel, who is equally as prolific in the trichology field. The brand's Itchy Scalp Shampoo is one of its best-sellers, thanks to a soothing base of aloe vera and anti-microbial piroctone olamine. Overall, it's an effective and easy option for anyone whose flakes flare up using regular products.
Best for Dry Scalps: Living Proof Dry Scalp Treatment
While oily scalps tend to be the cause of dandruff, dry scalps can still bear unwanted fruit if they're irritated and inflamed. A lot of scratching on a dry scalp can lead to falling flakes, which is why hydration and moisture are so key to a healthy microbiome. Not so much a regular shampoo as it is a leave-in shampoo, Living Proof’s Dry Scalp Treatment contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin B3, and a host of other humectants to draw in water and keep it there. After one use, you’ll notice instant relief; after a few, your itching will be obsolete.
Best for Oily Scalps: Virtue Labs Exfoliating Scalp Treatment
If the word scrub still scares you, then be at peace—Virtue’s Exfoliating Scalp Treatment is more of a soap, removing impurities with a formula of rice beads and fruit enzymes for gentle, dual-action exfoliation. What makes this unique is the inclusion of botanical oils (remember, only oil can remove oil) so the treatment takes away unhealthy buildup and rebalances it with nourishing extracts—the dream if you're really struggling with a greasy scalp.
Best Serum: Dr. Barbara Sturm Scalp Serum
The queen of skincare (or the duchess, at least) knows her way around a serum, so when she launched the Scalp Serum earlier this year, it was a big deal. This product acts as a regular serum would—apply it post-cleansing and before any thicker, more occlusive products like masks or creams. Intended to alleviate irritation from dryness and promote the natural microbiome, this serum blends ATP (basically cellular energy), algin, and papaya extract while humectants like panthenol, purslane, and hyaluronic acid replenish moisture.
Best Hair Mask: Malin & Goetz Detox Scalp Mask
Sometimes you just need a proper scalp detox, which Malin+Goetz’s new mask more than promises—it delivers. A slightly odd foaming sensation occurs, but it releases a dose of BHA and AHAs to exfoliate dead skin and excess oil. The mask is also packed with fatty acid-rich oils that work to condition and cure any dryness. Really work it in with your fingers, letting it foam up to reach all areas and settle for five minutes, and boom—an instant refresh.
Best Cream: Harry’s Scalp Cream
Why nourish, soothe, and hydrate your scalp then let it all evaporate? Harry’s Scalp Cream seals in all that goodness with a lightweight, instantly-absorbable formula that also works to reduce irritation or inflammation (thanks to soothing aloe vera and squalane). With good packaging and an even easier-to-use nozzle, this is the perfect gym bag or briefcase addition if you flare up throughout the day.