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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 Bridgette Hill, a trichologist and colorist at Paul Labreque Salon and Skincare Spa. “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.
These best shampoos for dry scalps, as recommended by the pros, are a great place to start.
Best Overall: LivSo Moisturizing Shampoo
“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.
Best for Itch: Rene Furterer Astera Fresh Soothing Freshness Shampoo
As anyone who’s ever experienced scalp dryness will tell you, itchiness and the constant need to scratch is 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 deliver a pleasantly cooling sensation.
Best Purifying: Aveda Pramasana Purifying Scalp Cleanser
Generally speaking, many purifying shampoos might be too intense for a dry scalp, but not this one. “It works to balance sebum levels while also exfoliating dead skin and removing excess product build-up,” says Rivera. At work, a seaweed extract that normalizes oil production along with a fermented bacteria that preserves the scalp’s barrier to keep natural moisture locked in. “Washing with this sets the stage for applying a good moisturizing scalp treatment or using a deep moisturizing conditioner afterward,” adds Rivera.
Best Natural: Innersense Organic Beauty Hydrating Cream Hairbath
If you’re in search of a shampoo with a clean formula, consider this one. “Sage and tamanu essential oils promote healthy oil levels in the scalp and also deeply hydrate, all while leaving behind minimal residue,” says Rivera. FYI, it is best for those who have thick, coarse, or dry hair.
Best for Curly Hair: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleansing Shampoo
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 strands—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.
Regardless of your scalp sitch, curls are naturally prone to being dryer than straight strands; the shape of the hair makes it harder for natural oils to get from the root down to the tip.
Best Drugstore: Aveeno Scalp Soothing Fresh Greens Blend Shampoo
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. This formula contains soothing colloidal oat extract and helps promote a healthy scalp. Plus, the nourishing formula is sulfate-free and contains no dyes or parabens.
Best Splurge: Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
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. 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.
Best for Thick Hair: Abhati Suisse Yamuna Nourishing Shampoo
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.”
Best Scent: Act + Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse Shampoo
Let’s get real for a second—yes, we all want a shampoo to work well for our scalp and hair issues, but we personally don’t know anyone who is going to use something if it doesn’t smell good. We’re especially into the fragrance of this shampoo, a go-to for Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue. It’s a mix of subtle florals such as iris and violet, balanced with more grounding cedar, sandalwood, and leather, resulting in a blend that’s relaxing and totally spa-like. And per the dry scalp part of things, the fact that they use cold-pressed technology ensures the ingredients stay in their rawest form and with the most benefits, notes Rivera; she especially likes the addition of moisturizing moringa oil here.
Best Leave-In: Dr. Hauschka Revitalizing Hair and Scalp Tonic
Hill is quick to note that shampoo alone may not necessarily help completely alleviate your dry scalp; step up your game by also using a leave-in treatment, more specifically, this one. A combo of different plant extracts balances your scalp’s moisture levels, meaning it actually works well for either dry or oily scalps. It also removes flakes and maintains the scalp’s pH, Hill notes. Plus, it does great things for your strands, too, imparting both shine and volume.
Best Pre-Shampoo: Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment
To the point of shampoo alone not cutting it, you may want to consider incorporating a hydrating pre-‘poo treatment a few times per week. Rivera recommends this one: “It’s a great treatment because it’s infused with argan oil, as well as geranium, lavender, and essential oils. All of these items work to soothe and moisturize a dry scalp,” she explains. There’s also a little bit of exfoliating salicylic acid in the mix, great for combating flaking.
Best No Rinse: Design Essentials Scalp & Skin Care Detoxifying Tonic
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 detoxifies 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.
Best Scrub: dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub
Just like you’d need to use a face scrub to slough off dead, dry skin from your face or body, so too do you 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.
Best for Dandruff: As I Am Dry & Itchy Scalp Care Shampoo
If your dry scalp is precursor to dry, textured hair, then this solution is for you. Users with dandruff, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis report major itch relief and less frustrating flakiness. It gently removes product build up and impurities while treating the scalp with olive oil and tea tree, leaving you with hair that is healthier and more manageable.
For ultimate relief, follow up with the Olive & Tea Tree Oil Treatment in between washes.
Hands down, LivSo’s Moisturizing Shampoo 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, 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 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.
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.
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.