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Dryness, itching, sometimes even flakes—having a dry scalp is no fun. And there’s no shortage of factors that might be causing the issue: “Dry scalp can be something as simple as a result of the products you’re using, overall body dehydration, or a more complex condition like dandruff or psoriasis,” says certified trichologist and colorist Bridgette Hill. “Any kind of abnormality with your scalp can be caused by one or more of these factors: genetics, lifestyle, diet, hairstyling habits, environmental, health, stress, hormones, medications,” she adds.
That being said, if it’s just straight-up dryness you’re dealing with, there are a few simple things you can do to help remedy the situation. First, try to minimize how often you wash; overwashing further strips both the scalp and hair of natural oils, which are likely already lacking if you’re dealing with dryness, points out Gina Rivera, hairstylist, and creator of Phenix Salon Suites. When you do wash, choose your shampoo (and all hair products for that matter) carefully. Steer clear of drying alcohol and sulfates, and look for formulas rich in moisturizing ingredients.
Meet the Expert
- Bridgette Hill is a colorist and trichologist at the Paul Labreque Salon & Spa. Also known as ‘The Scalp Therapist,’ she helps her clients deal with a wide array of scalp care issues, focusing on education, tools, and solutions based on the science of trichology.
- Gina Rivera is a stylist and the creator of Phenix Salon Suites and Colours By Gina. She grew up in the hair and salon industry and has a vast array of knowledge on a variety of hair and scalp issues.
These best shampoos for dry scalps, as recommended by the pros, are a great place to start.
Best Overall: LivSo Moisturizing Shampoo
Works for all hair types and textures
Light lemongrass scent
“This is a great everyday shampoo and is especially choice for anyone tackling scalp issues,” says Rivera. The xylitol in the dermatologist-developed formula does a great job of protecting the scalp’s delicate moisture balance, she adds. Coconut oil adds hydration while glycolic acid gently exfoliates, and it also works beautifully on all hair types and textures.
Active Ingredients: Xylitol, coconut oil, glycolic acid | Size: 8.5 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: Aveeno Scalp Soothing Fresh Greens Blend Shampoo
Safe for color-treated hair
Drugstore-favorite Aveeno may be best known for its soothing body lotions that heal dry and itchy skin, but it also boasts a line of shampoos that are ideal for sensitive, irritated scalps. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick explains that this shampoo incorporates colloidal oat extract, so not only does it help with dryness, but it’s super soothing on the scalp. “It works to thicken the hair, too, making it especially good for those with fine or thin hair,” she says. “It’s sulfate-free and free of parabens, making it a good option for those with dry or sensitive skin as well as those with color-treated hair.”
Active Ingredients: Colloidal oat extract | Size: 12 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Itch: Rene Furterer Astera Fresh Soothing Freshness Shampoo
Delivers a refreshing and soothing sensation
Can be used daily
As anyone who’s ever experienced scalp dryness will tell you, itchiness and the constant need to scratch are a big part of the issue. That’s why Hill likes and recommends this entire line, including the shampoo specifically. “It protects the scalp’s microbiome, as well as soothes itchiness,” she says. Credit Asteraceae extract (a plant-based ingredient) that combats irritation almost instantly, as well as peppermint and eucalyptus oil that delivers a pleasantly cooling sensation.
Active Ingredients: Asteraceae extract, peppermint, eucalyptus oil | Size: 6.7 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Curly Hair: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleansing Shampoo
Can weigh down fine hair
While this shampoo will work on all hair types, it’s an especially good pick for those who have both a dry scalp and curly hair. It touts a loooong list of hydrating ingredients that get the job done, moisturizing both scalp and hair—think shea butter, argan oil, and jojoba oil just to name a few. At the same time, it’s also loaded with soothing ingredients to calm dryness and irritation—tea tree oil, aloe, and more. Rivera is a big fan of the brand, lauding them for the many natural extracts they use to help promote both a healthy scalp and hair.
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, argan oil, jojoba oil | Size: 13 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Regardless of your scalp sitch, curls are naturally prone to being dryer than straight hair; the shape of the hair makes it harder for natural oils to get from the root down to the tip.
Best Splurge: Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
Works for all hair types and textures
Must scoop out of jar
As mentioned, exfoliating is an important step when you have a dry scalp, but if you don’t want to use a separate scrub and shampoo, reach for this multi-tasker. “This scalp scrub shampoo helps to reduce dryness and flaking by eliminating dead skin and product buildup, and it can be used on all hair types,” explains Dr. Garshick. Micro-exfoliators do the sloughing, tea tree oil soothes irritation, and coconut oil hydrates. It also contains charcoal which is thought to help remove impurities (though it's important to note that there isn't enough clinical evidence to support these claims).
Sure, it may be a bit splurgy, but it gives your scalp everything it needs in one fell swoop—bonus points for the addition of panthenol, an ingredient that’s great for conditioning your hair.
Active Ingredients: Micro exfoliators, tea tree oil, coconut oil, charcoal | Size: 8 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Thick Hair: Abhati Suisse Yamuna Nourishing Shampoo
Filled with protective antioxidants
If your dealing with a dry scalp and your hair density is on the medium to thick side, certified trichologist Shab Reslan recommends this nourishing shampoo from Abhati Suisse. “This shampoo will cleanse, hydrate, and strengthen your hair and scalp with its unique combination of rare oils, amino acids, and powerful antioxidants,” she says. “Himalayan wild cherry oil, which is particularly rich in omegas 6 and 9, oleic acid, and linoleic acid, helps maintain healthy hair.”
Active Ingredients: Himalayan wild cherry oil | Size: 10.1 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Strengthening: Klorane Strengthening Shampoo with Quinine and Edelweiss
Promotes hair growth
If you’re dealing with a dry scalp and thinning or breaking hair, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King recommends reaching for this strengthening and revitalizing pick from Klorane. “It’s formulated with quinine, a vitamin B complex, and caffeine to support microcirculation for a healthy scalp and healthy growth,” she says. “Studies show that edelweiss, when used topically, has anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, cleansing and soothing the scalp to further benefit overall scalp health.”
Active Ingredients: Quinine, caffeine, edelweiss | Size: 13.5 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dandruff: Philip Kingsley Flaky Scalp Cleansing Shampoo
Light green apple scent
Safe for color-treated hair
Not ideal if your scalp is just dry
“Flaky scalps are almost always oily, not dry,” explains trichologist Anabel Kingsley. “Dandruff is an oily scalp condition—it’s also called seborrheic dermatitis, with seborrhoeic referring to sebaceous (aka oil) glands.” That’s why she recommends this pick for targeting the root cause of flaking and itching.
“Dandruff occurs when certain yeasts (called Malassezia yeasts) naturally found on your scalp overgrow," she says. "These yeasts thrive in an oily environment, so cleansing your scalp regularly with a gentle targeted shampoo is important. This shampoo is formulated with piroctone olamine, an anti-microbial active that specifically targets Malassezia yeasts. It’s mild enough for daily use, smells of fresh green apples, and it won’t dry your hair or strip it of color.”
Active Ingredients: Piroctone olamine | Size: 8.45 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: No | Cruelty-Free: Unknown | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dandruff, Runner-Up: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo
No matter whether your dandruff is mild or severe, celebrity hairstylist Danielle Priano says that this formula is choice. Selenium sulfide helps to combat the root cause (pun intended), though the shampoo also contains aloe, a nice option to help keep the scalp and hair hydrated, too. Plus, it has a nice coconut scent that doesn’t smell medicinal at all.
Active Ingredients: Selenium sulfide | Size: 11 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: No | Cruelty-Free: Unknown | Byrdie Clean: No
Best No Rinse: Design Essentials Scalp & Skin Care Detoxifying Tonic
Method of use can take getting used to
Yes, you’ll want to minimize how often you wash your hair, but loading up on dry shampoo instead isn’t the best move; too much product build-up can exacerbate dryness as well as flaking. Enter this alternative, another one of Hill’s picks: “It purifies and cleanses the scalp to remove dirt particles and product build-up that leads to dryness, while also delivering moisture to the hair.” Just work it into the scalp; you can rinse out if you want to, but there’s no need.
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, eucalyptus, peppermint oil | Size: 4 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Scrub: dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub
Safe for color-treated hair
Must scoop out of jar
Just like you’d need to use a face scrub to slough off dead, dry skin from your face or body, you also need one for your scalp. Rivera says this one is ideal, touting pink Himalayan sea salt for exfoliating purposes, plus ACV. “Apple cider vinegar is rich in vitamins, especially vitamins B and C, which are great for both the hair and scalp,” she explains. The formula is also packed with hydrating avocado oil and soothing aloe and is safe for color-treated hair. Use it once a week, before shampooing.
Active Ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, pink Himalayan sea salt, avocado oil | Size: 9 ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Pre-Shampoo: Sexy Hair Calm Sexy Hair Clear the Hair Soothing Scalp Treatment
Easy-to-use targeted applicator tip
If shampoo alone isn’t quite cutting it, you may want to consider incorporating a hydrating pre-‘poo treatment a few times per week. Priano says this is a good option to reach for any time you notice that your scalp is starting to get dry. “It works by maintaining a moisture balance to keep the scalp comfortably hydrated,” she says. Credit a combo of avocado and macadamia oils, alongside soothing CBD. Priano adds that you can also use the accompanying shampoo and conditioner in the line to up the effects.
Active Ingredients: CBD, avocado oil, macadamia oil | Size: 3.9 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Fine Hair: Kerastase Specifique Bain Vital Dermo-Calm Shampoo
Light and refreshing scent
Another of Priano’s recommendations, she says this formula has been very effective for her clients who have both dry scalp and fine hair. Alpha hydroxy acids help to gently exfoliate and purify the scalp, while vitamin B3 (AKA niacinamide) imparts hydration to both the skin and the hair. It’s also silicone-free, a huge boon for those with fine hair since silicones can often weigh down the hair.
Active Ingredients: AHAs, vitamin B3 | Size: 8.45 fluid ounces | Sulfate-Free: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Hands down, LivSo’s Moisturizing Shampoo (view at Amazon) is one of the best shampoos to use if your scalp is dry and itchy. Not only does it tackle moisture issues with ingredients like xylitol and coconut oil, but it gently exfoliates away flakes with glycolic acid. For a wallet-friendly pick, you can’t go wrong with Aveeno’s Scalp Soothing Fresh Greens Blend Shampoo (view at Amazon), which nourishes and soothes a dry scalp with colloidal oat extract. And because we’re huge fans of scalp scrubs for sloughing away dead skin and buildup, we highly recommend giving dpHUE’s Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub (view at Sephora) a shot. It scrubs with gentle pink Himalayan sea salt while apple cider vinegar infuses the scalp and hair with vitamins—just be sure to use it more as a treatment than a daily shampoo.
What to Look for in a Dry Scalp Shampoo
First and foremost, Hill says it’s important to first identify what scalp condition needs to be treated before choosing a product. If your scalp is dry—meaning it lacks lipids and moisture—she recommends reaching for a shampoo that’s moisturizing and rich in fatty acids. “This will help restore lipids and moisture to the scalp’s microbiome,” she explains. However, if your scalp is simply dehydrated, meaning it lacks water (and not lipids), she recommends opting for a normal, gentle shampoo.
If your scalp is dry and plagued by flakes, Hill recommends using a shampoo with active ingredients such as selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or zinc. “Shampoo as often as needed, yet alternate between dandruff-fighting active ingredients and gentle daily shampoos to maintain the balance of the scalp’s microbiome,” she says. “It’s important to slow down the cellular turnover of the scalp when managing dandruff.”
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with flakes but your scalp is greasy, she recommends reaching for a shampoo with one of the above ingredients but alternating it with an oil-fighting shampoo, such as a clay-based formula.
While this isn’t a must, Hill says that when it comes to flakiness or itchiness, an applicator bottle with a nozzle (think: a condiment bottle) is a great way to apply shampoo directly to problem areas for thorough cleansing. “The applicator bottle allows for the active ingredients to work directly on the scalp for a deeper, penetrating cleanse before emulsifying with water,” she says. Of course, if your shampoo comes packaged in a regular bottle, you can always buy an empty refillable container and transfer it.
What are the benefits of shampoos for dry scalps?
Shampoo for dry scalps can help to balance out the natural pH of the scalp and sometimes even help regulate sebum production so that the scalp produces more oils, says Priano.
How often should you use shampoos for dry scalps?
The answer varies based on your hair type and how dry your scalp is, says Priano. For example, fine hair clients tend to need to shampoo more frequently than those with thick hair. If you’re dealing with actual dandruff, she recommends using one daily until you notice a change in your scalp. Otherwise, keep tabs on your hair and scalp—if they’re starting to feel oily at the end of the day, cut back to using the shampoo for dry scalp every other time, she suggests.
How long do shampoos for dry scalps take to work?
According to Priano, you’ll usually see at least some results immediately. “It will vary from person to person, but the symptoms of dry scalp, itching, and dandruff will typically subside right after the first wash. With more extreme cases it may take a few washes to see results.” And if you’re still not seeing an improvement, that’s when you’ll want to go see a dermatologist, she points out.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Her scalp alternates between dry and oily, so the discovery of scalp scrubs has been a true game-changer for her.
Meet the Expert
- Shab Reslan is a certified trichologist, hairstylist, and hair health expert. She’s the founder of soon-to-launch haircare brand Leona and the host of the Hair Like Hers podcast.
- Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in general medical dermatology and cosmetic dermatology.
- Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She is also a Clinical Instructor in Dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
- Anabel Kingsley is a consultant trichologist and the brand president of the Philip Kingsley Clinics and product ranges.
- Danielle Priano is a celebrity and editorial hairstylist based in New York City.