Most of us have had dandruff at some point in our lives. As Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City explains: “Dandruff flare ups are common when the weather turns cold and dry, and stress can trigger it as well.”
The 11 Best Natural Dandruff Shampoos
What are the most common causes of dandruff?
“The most common cause of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis, which is an inflammatory condition often found on the scalp,” says King. “However, it can also affect other areas including the ears, eyebrows, center of the face, eyelids, upper chest, upper back, armpits and groin area. The symptoms often come and go, but when they’re present, the affected area looks red, dry and flaky.”
“We don’t know exactly what causes seborrhea, but it seems to be multifactorial. These factors may include a yeast that normally lives on our skin (more on this below), our genes, living in a cold and dry climate, stress, and a person's overall health,” she adds.
“Certain medical conditions—like HIV, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, Parkinson's Disease, alcoholism, depression and eating disorders— can increase your risk of seborrheic dermatitis, as can some medications like interferon, lithium and psoralen,” explains King.
What are the best ways to treat it?
Remember what Dr. King said about the yeast that lives on our skin? It’s called Malassezia, and it’s fairly harmless until it proliferates and causes an inflammatory response.
“While we can’t completely cure seborrheic dermatitis, we can manage it,” assures King. “There are several over the counter shampoo ingredients with antifungal properties that can help clear up the symptoms.”
What ingredients should you look for in dandruff shampoo?
- Selenium sulfide has antifungal properties and can decrease Malassezia. It also can cut down on any irritation and itching.
- Pyrithione zinc is another common anti-dandruff shampoo ingredient. It has antimicrobial and antifungal properties and it also helps with inflammation and itch.
- Salicylic acid may be useful when used in conjunction with other treatments. Its main benefit is that it helps to reduce scaling on the scalp.
- Ketoconazole is an antifungal that inhibits fungus growth. It also has mild anti-inflammatory properties.
- Coal tar suppresses fungus, decreases inflammation and may reduce sebum production (excess oils are like food for the yeast).
And if you’re looking for some natural remedies, here are three ingredients Dr. King approves:
- Tea tree oil is an ingredient that’s often found in dandruff shampoos because it has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Burdock root is another natural option that has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties that help prevent the build-up of yeast and bacteria on the scalp.
- Malabar kino bark, which is derived from the dark sap of the Indian kino tree, has been used for centuries in Indian, Arabian, and homeopathic medicines for its antimicrobial, antifungal and astringent properties that helps regulate scalp pH and balance oil production.
On that note, what exactly does it mean when a shampoo says it's "natural"?
“Natural is a term that does not have a regulated definition when it comes to personal care products, but in general, it refers to ingredients that are derived more from nature and less from a lab,” explains King.
Do you have any product recommendations for treating dandruff?
“I like Dove's Dermacare Scalp Dryness and Itch Relief Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. It's a mild, pH-balanced formulation with pyrithione zinc that can decrease yeast on the skin without causing irritation,” shares King.
“I’m also a fan of the RE-fresh Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, which contains apple cider vinegar and salicylic acid to exfoliate and offer anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, as well as moisturizing ingredients that keep the scalp and hair from getting dried out,” she adds.
And if you’re looking for more dandruff shampoo options that use natural ingredients, we’ve got you covered below.
But before we shop, here’s a final word of advice from Dr. King: “If you’ve been using an antifungal shampoo or treatment for a few weeks and it still isn’t sufficiently controlling the symptoms of your seborrhea, that’s when it’s time to see a dermatologist. They can prescribe a topical cortisone for the affected areas.”
The Best Natural Dandruff Shampoos
1. Collective Laboratories Detoxifying Shampoo
The Derm Pick
“These formulations contain burdock root, which can be helpful for dandruff because of its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain malabar kino bark, which also has antifungal properties, and additional ingredients such as panthenol and pumpkin seed oil can help soothe, hydrate and moisturize the scalp,” says King.
2. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Scalp Scrub Shampoo
This is not your average shampoo—the formula includes vegetable-derived micro-exfoliators to physically remove dead skin cells and product buildup from the scalp. It not only sounds cool, it feels cool, too, thanks to the soothing tea tree oil, which pulls double duty to eliminate flakes. And because it's made with all-natural ingredients, it's totally safe for both color-treated and chemically processed locks.
3. Jason Dandruff Relief Treatment Shampoo
Formulated with a potent duo of sulfur and salicylic acid, this clarifying shampoo soothes itchy scalps while clearing up any surface flakes. Add to that rosemary oil, which helps to rebalance your skin, and olive and jojoba oils to condition the lengths, and we never want to be without it.
4. Avalon Organics Anti-dandruff Itch & Flake Shampoo
Best for Itching
A blend of two percent salicylic acid, aloe vera, tea tree and chamomile oils work in tandem to relieve any dryness, itchiness or flakiness that’s caused by contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis on your scalp. Longtime fans praise its fresh woodsy scent and the fact that it doesn’t dry out their hair whenever they use it.
5. Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Repair Shampoo
Though it’s not specified as a dandruff shampoo, it has many dandruff fighting ingredients like apple cider vinegar to remove extra buildup, and while castor oil, which is quells inflammation. Add to that soothing ingredients like aloe vera and hydrating shea butter and it’s easy to see why this shampoo has a cult following. Plus, the sulfate-free formula is gentle on color and processed hair.
6. Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo
Best for Sensitive Skin
With over 12,000 reviews on Amazon, this sulfate-free shampoo is favored for being highly effective at easing itchiness and irritation, while clearing up excess oil and flakes. A closer look at the ingredient list and you’ll find a combo of tea tree, rosemary and lavender oils, as well as jojoba oil to condition the ends.
7. Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo
Best In-Shower Experience
If you’re looking for a bit of tingle in your dandruff shampoo, you’ll appreciate this potent tea tree oil-based formula. With a dash of peppermint oil (for that aforementioned zing) and lavender oil to help soothe any inflammation on your scalp, the shampoo whisks away excess buildup from your strands, while filling your shower with a nose-clearing crisp scent.
8. Dermaharmony Zinc Therapy Soap
Best for All-Over Use
As Dr. King mentioned above, seborrheic dermatitis can affect other parts of your body from your head to your face, upper chest, upper back, armpits and groin. If you’re experiencing flakes on multiple areas, you may want to try this soap. Formulated with two percent pyrithione zinc and other skin-soothing ingredients like oatmeal and olive oil, it’s also fragrance-free, making it a better pick for those with sensitive skin. To use, create a lather using warm water, gently massaging it into any affected areas for at least 30 seconds before rinsing thoroughly.
9. Mineral Fusion Anti-dandruff Shampoo
If, on the other hand, you prefer a little scent to your shampoo, you’ll appreciate Mineral Fusion’s formula, which reviewers have described as having a “fruity” or “citrus” scent and “doesn’t have a weird smell” that’s common with, say, tar-based dandruff shampoos. Salicylic acid breaks down any buildup and clear away flakes on the scalp, while clay absorbs excess oils.
10. Artnaturals Therapeutic Scalp 18 Shampoo
Admittedly, “Scalp 18” is a funny-sounding name for a shampoo, but the fans of this coal and tar-infused formula swear by its dandruff clearing prowess. It also includes jojoba oil, which is known for its hydrating and anti-bacterial properties, as well as argan oil to soothe any irritation on your scalp. The end result? Flake-free, soft hair that’s easier to style and manage.
Buy it ($15)
11. Christophe Robin Purifying Shampoo For Oily Or Flaky Scalp
Best for Dry Ends
This is about as sexy as dandruff shampoo gets. Hailing from Paris, this French import uses a blend of jujube bark and cherry-flower extracts to calm any itchiness and irritation upon contact. When used regularly, it also reduces excess sebum and is particularly noteworthy in that it somehow leaves your roots feeling refreshed and clean without making the rest of your hair feeling like straw (as is often the case with clarifying formulas). The sulfate-free formula is also free of parabens, phthalates and formaldehydes.