If you’re currently fighting flakes, you’re not alone. While dandruff isn’t necessarily a condition to be concerned about from a medical perspective, it can be annoying and embarrassing. “A combination of fungal growth on the scalp and inflammation causes skin cells to proliferate in an abnormal way, resulting in both flaking and itching,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield. It’s super common and often flares up with the change of seasons, adds board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rita Linkner.
When it comes to combating dandruff, your best bet is to pick up an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo; most of these use anti-fungal ingredients such as pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfate to get the root of the issue, says Dr. Greenfield (though there are other ingredients that can help too; more on those to come). Use one a few times per week, making sure to let it sit on your scalp for at least a few minutes before rinsing to let said ingredients do their thing, she adds.
Ready to add a dandruff shampoo to your hair care routine? We tapped two dermatologists and a trichologist for their expert recommendations and tried two dozen options at home in a comprehensive test. We evaluated each formula based on its cleansing ability, oil absorption, scent, and overall efficacy and performance. Ahead, find the dandruff-fighting shampoos that impressed us the most.
Head & Shoulders Clinical Dandruff Defense Intensive Itch Relief
Makes hair look shiny
We absolutely love this anti-dandruff shampoo, and so do dermatologists. “This shampoo contains 1 percent selenium sulfide, which helps prevent flaking, itching, irritation, scaling, and redness associated with dandruff,” says Dr. Michele Green, a New York City-based dermatologist. And she’s right—we found this shampoo to be highly effective at reducing itching, flakes, and oil production. After just one wash, it leaves the scalp flake-free and feeling balanced, but after consistent use over the course of a few weeks, it helped to almost completely eradicate flaking altogether. If you’re looking for an affordable and accessible shampoo to help tame dandruff, this is our top pick.
Price at time of publish: $10
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 13.5 fluid ounces
Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo With Build-Up Control
Elimites flakes quickly
Has a high concentration of actives
Bottle is pretty small
This formula is the true definition of an oldie-but-goodie. It’s been popular for a while, thanks to the star of the show, which is a three-percent concentration of salicylic acid. The beta-hydroxy acid is great at dissolving excess oil and helping to fight flakes. This fragrance-free shampoo is also suitable for more severe scalp conditions, like psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Though it’s highly effective, the formula is gentle enough to use daily without feeling too powerful or medicinal. Just FYI, this can be a bit drying if used on its own, so make sure to pair it with a conditioner. While we didn’t find that it made a huge improvement in the oiliness of the scalp over time, it did a fantastic job of stopping flakes fast. If you’re struggling with a super flaky scalp, this drugstore pick could make a serious difference for you.
Price at time of publish: $7
Hair Type: Oily, dandruff | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 4.5 fluid ounces
PHILIP B Anti-Flake II Relief Shampoo
Effectively reduced flakes and itchiness
Feels a bit drying on the strands
Tingling sensation from tea tree oil can feel slightly intense
Formulated with a blend of soothing botanicals, pyrithione zinc, and coal tar, this luxe shampoo formula offers relief from flaking and itching associated with dandruff. The brand suggests massaging it into the scalp and letting it sit for three minutes before rinsing, and we found that doing so works great—after three minutes, flakes are gone, itching is significantly reduced, and excess oil is mitigated. It’s a great pick for those with oily scalps, but note that it can be drying on the lengths of the hair, so we recommend applying a deep conditioner after using it. We also love that, unlike a lot of other shampoos created to treat dandruff, this one creates a nice big lather. And while some people might love the tingling sensation it creates, thanks to the inclusion of tea tree oil in the formula, it is a bit intense, so it might not be for everyone.
Price at time of publish: $55
Hair Type: Oily, dandruff | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 7.4 fluid ounces
Rahua Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo
Great for all hair types
Contains physical and enzymatic exfoliants
Leaves hair and scalp feeling refreshed and hydrated
Helps tame oiliness
Has a light, pleasant scent
Physical exfoliation bits can feel a bit odd to work through the hair
If you’re dealing with mild flaking rather than intense dandruff, we recommend trying this gently exfoliating formula. Though it doesn’t contain pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfate to target the root cause of dandruff, it does have a mixture of crushed star anise to scrub the scalp, as well as mango and passionfruit enzymes for a subtle peeling effect. These ingredients work to rid the scalp of dead skin cells and buff away flakes, making way for a smoother, more balanced scalp. We also appreciate that the formula has a blend of nourishing Amazonian oils for hydration. We were so impressed by how well this shampoo improved flakiness and reduced excess oil without stripping the hair. We also really enjoyed the light, earthy scent.
Price at time of publish: $40
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 9.3 fluid ounces
Best for Sensitive Scalps
Klorane Balancing Shampoo with Galangal for Flaky Scalp
Gentle enough for daily use
Effectively improves dandruff and excess oil
Could lather and spread better
Dandruff is often accompanied by scalp irritation and sensitivity, and if you experience this, finding a really gentle (but effective) formula may be the key to a more comfortable scalp. We love this shampoo because it relies on the extract of galangal, a plant native to Indonesia, to help improve dandruff as opposed to pyrithione zinc. The brand found through a comparative study that galangal removed flakes even faster than pyrithione zinc, making it an effective and gentle plant-based alternative.
Throughout our test, we found that the formula worked to significantly reduce flakes, tame excess oil, and relieve itching. One of our testers struggles with scalp psoriasis, and she shared that this formula was effective and even helped to lessen her flare-ups. While we wish that it lathered and spread better, we still highly recommend it for anyone on the hunt for a mild dandruff-fighting shampoo.
Price at time of publish: $24
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 13.5 fluid ounces
Best for Itch Relief
Jupiter Balancing Dandruff Shampoo
Suitable for all hair types
Relieves itchiness quickly
Could lather better
An itchy scalp can be seriously frustrating. If you’re dealing with consistent itchiness as a result of dandruff or dryness, this shampoo might be just the thing you need. Containing one percent zinc pyrithione, coconut oil, and algae extract, it works wonders for relieving flakes and itchiness. It also helps to balance the scalp, ensuring that it’s neither too dry nor overly oily.
While we noticed an immediate reduction in itchiness upon the first use, we were incredibly pleased by the fact that it completely eradicated itchiness after using it consistently for a few weeks. It doesn’t create the best lather, but considering how effective it is and that it can be used on all hair types as well as color-treated hair, this formula absolutely has the Byrdie stamp of approval.
Price at time of publish: $25
Hair Type: All| Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 4.5 fluid ounces
Best for Oily Hair
Canviiy Scalp Bliss Scalp Purifying Foam Treatment
Great for sensitive scalps
Treatment to be used weekly
Removes excess oil
Reduces itchiness and flaking
A bit drying on strands
Could be better at removing product buildup
If you have both dandruff and very oily hair, you know how frustrating it can be to deal with both issues simultaneously. However, this product helps to target flakes, excess oil, and itching to leave you with a more balanced, comfortable scalp. It features a lactic acid complex that works to cut through oil and dissolve flakes, as well as aloe vera, witch hazel, and tea tree extract to soothe.
Unlike a typical shampoo that you use whenever you wash your hair, this foaming formula is a treatment that’s meant to be applied once weekly. You just apply a few pumps of the foam to your scalp and let it sit for around five minutes before rinsing it out to reveal a clarified scalp. While we wish it did a better job at removing product buildup, it worked beautifully to reduce oiliness and prolong the period needed in between washes, making it a pick we recommend if oil control and dandruff relief are your goals.
Price at time of publish: $15
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 8 fluid ounces
R+Co Submarine Water-Activated Enzyme Exfoliating Shampoo
Chemical and enzymatic exfoliation
Creates invigorating sensation
A little bit goes a long way
Quickly reduces flakes
Very small bottle, especially for the price
In recent years, we’ve seen scalp care begin to mimic skin care—after all, the skin on our scalps is skin, too. So just like we exfoliate our faces to remove dead skin cells and reveal a smoother complexion, the same benefits apply to the scalp—especially if you struggle with dandruff. This chemically exfoliating shampoo formula works to remove dead skin cells thanks to a cocktail of enzymes and fruit AHA’s. It also contains a blend of plant extracts to help reduce inflammation, nourish the skin, and remove excess sebum.
Although it comes in a very small bottle, especially for the price, we were pleasantly surprised by how a little bit of product spreads nicely and goes a long way. It’s easy to massage into the scalp and after just one wash, it removes flakes and restores balance. Plus, we love that it creates a spa-like invigorating sensation.
Price at time of publish: $36
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Size: 3 fluid ounces
amika Reset Exfoliating Jelly Scalp Scrub
Physical and chemical exfoliation
Has needle nose applicator to target scalp
Reduces oiliness and itching quickly
Reduces flaking over time
Jelly texture takes some getting used to
Physical exfoliating bits aren’t concentrated enough to provide an even scrub
Scalp scrubs are hard to nail, and while this one isn’t perfect, we do really like it for those struggling with dandruff. It utilizes both chemical and physical exfoliation to rid the scalp of flakiness and reduce itching and excess oil. It also contains pink clay and charcoal to absorb dirt, odor, and impurities. We wish the sea salt bits were more concentrated in the jelly formula in order to create a more intense, even scrub, but we absolutely love that the packaging features a needle nose applicator which makes applying the formula directly to the scalp easy.
After just a couple of uses, we noticed a real improvement in itching and excess oil, and after using this formula consistently for a few weeks, flakes were significantly reduced. If you’re looking for a gentle scalp scrub that doubles as a chemical exfoliation, we recommend checking this one out.
Price at time of publish: $28
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 4.7 fluid ounces
Best for Natural Hair
Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo
Has needle nose applicator
Significantly improves flakes, itching, and oiliness over time
Because people with natural hair often have very dry scalps, it’s really important to find a dandruff-fighting formula that isn’t stripping—and this one blew us away. The clarifying formula relies on tea tree, peppermint, and black cumin seed, which are all known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, to reduce flakes and itching. This might just be the magic combination because one of our testers noted that this worked far better at relieving her daughter’s scalp issues than a medicated shampoo provided by a doctor. After using it consistently for a few weeks, it cleared up her seborrheic dermatitis, rid her scalp of flakes, and helped her kick her scratching habit as she was no longer itchy.
In addition to how effective it is, we love that the formula contains soothing and nourishing ingredients like argan, cocoa butter, and rosemary. Plus, it comes with a needle nose applicator that makes applying it to targeted areas on the scalp a breeze. If you have natural hair and you’re struggling with dandruff or itching, we urge you to try this formula.
Price at time of publish: $20
Hair Type: Natural | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 16.1 fluid ounces
Briogeo Scalp Revival Dandruff Relief Charcoal Shampoo
Effectively reduces dandruff
Doesn’t contain synthetic fragrance
Can be a bit drying on strands
Natural tea tree scent is a bit strong
Synthetic fragrance can be an irritant for those with sensitive skin or even people who are headache-prone, so we love that this dandruff-targeting shampoo doesn’t contain it. It does, however smell like tea tree due to the inclusion of the ingredient in the formula, so know that it’s not odorless.
As for the formula, it contains salicylic and glycolic acids to exfoliate the scalp, remove excess oil, and tamper itching. It also features charcoal to remove buildup and draw out impurities. It spreads easily, feels incredibly refreshing, and effectively reduces flaking, itching, and excess oil. If you’re looking for an anti-dandruff shampoo that’s free from synthetic fragrances, this one is a great option.
Price at time of publish: $42
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 8.4 fluid ounces
Bondi Boost Dandruff Repair Shampoo
Safe for color and chemically-treated hair
Feels cooling on the scalp
Effectively reduces flakes
Could be more hydrating
Contrary to popular belief, sulfates are not a negative thing. In fact, sulfates, which are detergents that cleanse and create a lather, can be really beneficial for those with oily hair. However, they can be stripping, especially for people with dry hair and scalps. If you’re dealing with significant dryness in addition to dandruff, using a sulfate-free formula like this one is wise.
It contains zinc pyrithione and peppermint oil to target flaking and itching, and it does a great job at lathering and giving the hair a thorough cleanse. It feels cooling and refreshing as you massage it in, it significantly reduces flakes with continued use, and it’s safe on color-treated and chemically-treated hair. Though it’s definitely less drying than a lot of other options we tested, it’s not the most hydrating formula on the lengths of the hair, so we still recommend using it in combination with conditioner.
Price at time of publish: $24
Hair Type: Dry, flaky | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 10.1 fluid ounces
Our favorite dandruff-fighting shampoo is the Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense Shampoo because it effectively removes flakes and excess oil, calms itchiness, makes the hair look shiny and is affordable and accessible at the drugstore. But if you’ve got just mild flaking and you’re looking for a luxe shampoo formula, we recommend the Rahua Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo.
How We Tested
To find the best anti-dandruff shampoos on the market, we researched popular and top-rated options, consulted with dermatologists, and had a group of testers who struggle with dandruff each try a formula at home over the course of twelve weeks. We evaluated each shampoo based on its cleansing ability, oil absorption, scent, and overall efficacy and performance, assigning them a score in each category. Those that scored the highest and therefore impressed us most appear on this list.
Meet the Expert
- Rita Linkner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
- Nava Greenfield, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, NY. She’s been published in many medical journals and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, Women’s Dermatologic Society, and the American Medical Association.
- Michele Green, MD, is a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. She’s worked with many global skincare brands developing and testing product launches, and addresses both medical and cosmetic issues with her patients.
- Trichologist Dominic Burg, PhD, is a published researcher with articles in numerous high-ranking journals, including the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Journal of Cancer Research, and the Journal of Proteome Research.
What to Look for in a Dandruff Shampoo
Trichologist Dominic Burg, MD, advises looking for antifungal ingredients to help curb the impact of the microorganisms that may be the culprits behind your dandruff. "Common ingredients like pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole, and selenium disulfide are antifungal and have shown some good results in reducing dandruff," he says. Our best overall pick, the Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense Shampoo, is a great option containing selenium sulfide.
"Rosemary oil, lavender oil, green tea extract, and mangosteen all have great antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties," Burg adds. When used alone, he notes that they may take a longer time than selenium disulfide to impact dandruff, but they can be as effective when used in the long term. The Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo has a blend of nourishing and soothing ingredients, including rosemary.
If you have color-treated hair, make sure to look for a color-safe option to keep your hue intact. Those aforementioned antifungal ingredients, while effective, can be pretty harsh on color and may cause premature fading. Using a color-safe formula can help to combat the toll they take on your highlights, extending the life of your hue while keeping flakes at bay. The Jupiter Balancing Shampoo and the Bondi Boost Dandruff Repair Shampoo are both great options for color-treated hair.
What causes dandruff?
“Fungal growth on the scalp and inflammation cause skin cells to proliferate in an abnormal way, resulting in both flaking and itching,” explains Dr. Nava Greenfield.
How can I tell if I have dandruff or dry scalp?
The key difference between dandruff and dry scalp is that dandruff is a medical condition, and a dry scalp is not. As such, Burg notes that simply shampooing your hair less might improve a dry scalp, while dandruff is unlikely to go away unless you treat it. Note: It's also possible to have both dandruff and a dry scalp.
How often should I use my dandruff shampoo?
This depends on how often you wash your hair, but you can opt to use your dandruff-fighting formula as often as you typically lather up or alternate between your go-to shampoo and the dandruff-specific option to see how your hair and scalp are affected by the latter.
Why Trust Byrdie
Alyssa Kaplan is an experienced writer in the beauty industry and product tester specializing in cosmetics. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied marketing and product development in the cosmetics industry as well as fashion business marketing. Alyssa has been a commerce writer at Byrdie since 2022, where she covers all things beauty.
RA Squire & K Goode (2002) A randomised, single-blind, single-centre clinical trial to evaluate comparative clinical efficacy of shampoos containing ciclopirox olamine (1.5%) and salicylic acid (3%), or ketoconazole (2%, Nizoral ® ) for the treatment of dandruff/seborrhoeic dermatitis, Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 13:2, 51-60, DOI: 10.1080/095466302317584395
Borda LJ, Wikramanayake TC. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. 2015 Dec;3(2):10.13188/2373-1044.1000019. doi: 10.13188/2373-1044.1000019. Epub 2015 Dec 15. PMID: 27148560; PMCID: PMC4852869.