Whether it’s caused by a change in environment or the products you’re using, a tight and itchy scalp can stem from multiple factors. Though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact culprit without having an expert take a closer look, the good news is that there are a few helpful solutions. The first step? Finding the best shampoo for you. We asked five experts to share what we should look for when shopping for the right one.
The 21 Best Shampoos for a Dry Scalp, According to Dermatologists, Hair Stylists and Reviewers
So long flakes!
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The Top 5 Best Shampoos for Dry Scalp At a Glance
Meet the Experts:
- Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York. She's also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell New York Presbyterian Medical Center. She specializes in cosmetic and medical services including treatments for acne, psoriasis, skin cancer, wrinkles and more.
- Chiran Hayasaka is a hair stylist at FEKKAI at The Mark Hotel in New York. She specializes in styling, cutting and color services for women, men and kids. Her work can be seen in fashion shoots, bridal events and editorial.
- Dr. Kseniya Kobets is a board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care in New York. She specializes in cosmetic treatments for acne, rosacea, acne scarring and hair restoration.
- Helen Reavey is a celebrity hairstylist, board-certified trichologist and founder of Act+Acre. She has experience working in runway, editorial and brand campaigns. Her previous clients include Bella Hadid, Harry Styles, Sarah Snook and Marisa Tomei.
What Are the Main Causes Of a Dry Scalp?
There are a few factors that can cause a dry scalp. Here are some common ones:
- Overwashing: "While in some cases it can be helpful to wash every day, it is important to avoid overwashing the scalp and the hair," says Dr. Garshick. "This can actually strip the scalp of its natural oils and contribute to your dryness." You can try scaling back on how often you wash to two to three times a week, according to the dermatologist.
- Hot Showers: Speaking of washing your hair, you might want to check your water temperature. While a scalding hot shower might feel nice, it’s also incredibly drying on your hair and skin. Opt for a warm or even lukewarm shower when you can.
- Environment: "As the temperatures drop and there is less humidity, the scalp can experience more dryness and flaking as a result of decreased moisture in the environment," says Dr. Garshick. It's crucial during extreme weather to hydrate your scalp and hair using moisturizing products (like deep conditioners, hair oils, scalp serums, etc).
- Skin Conditions: From eczema to psoriasis, a dry scalp can result from allergic reactions to products and genetics. If you think you have any of these conditions, consult a dermatologist for further testing and treatments.
How Do You Know If You Have a Dry Scalp?
"[Identifying] a dry scalp tends to be confusing for patients since it can be caused by many things, and can feel dry and oily at the same time," says Dr. Kobets. "Sometimes, a dry scalp is caused by eczema, which can cause you to become sensitive to fragrances, preservative or other potential irritants in products. A dry scalp can also be caused by psoriasis, which presents as silvery, white patches or plaques. Other signs can include white flakes on the scalp, itching and irritation." Pay close attention to your scalp and ask yourself: Am I experiencing flakes, irritation, redness or all of the above? It's important to take note of these things and not ignore them because as Dr. Kobets explains, a dry scalp can also lead to many conditions like psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and sometimes hair loss.
Wait, What's the Difference Between Dandruff Versus a Dry Scalp?
"A dry scalp typically occurs when there's a bit of dead skin that hasn't been removed properly during your cleansing process. Dandruff is a bacterial growth that speeds up cell turnover, so you're losing more skin rapidly and it's building up on the scalp and combining with the sebum," explains Reavey.
How Do You Treat a Dry Scalp?
It all starts with a nourishing haircare routine. Dr. Garshick recommends using a shampoo and conditioner that won't strip away your natural oils. A helpful tip: Avoid drying ingredients like certain alcohols and sulfates and look for gentle formulas with ingredients like aloe, apple cider vinegar and coconut oil instead. "You'll want to focus the product on the back of your scalp, working your way up to the top of your head. From there, rinse and repeat," explains Reavey. "I also recommend double cleansing since the first cleanse removes buildup, while the second actually cleanses the scalp."
How Did We Choose the Best Shampoos for a Dry Scalp
We reached out to dermatologists and hairstylists to provide insight on the best shampoos for a dry scalp. We also scoured the internet for the top picks based on rave reviews from Amazon, Ulta and Sephora that highlighted key ingredients our experts recommended that cleanse, moisturize and soothe a dry scalp (like salicylic acid, zinc, jojoba oil).
We know that's a lot to remember. So if you need a little help shopping, we’ll get you started with 21 tried-and-true options ahead.
Best for Daily Use
- Why We Love It: great for chemically-treated hair, contains mustard seed oil, silicone-free
- What We Don't Like: doesn't lather easily
- Promising Review: "First, I love the pump dispenser. [It's] one of the easiest to use products with a reliable pump! The shampoo itself is light and clean (as it is intended) so I like that it leaves my hair soft and clean." — Matthew, a Harlinikken reviewer
Created by a Scandinavian haircare brand that treats hair loss and thinning, their mild shampoo gently removes excess oils and dead skin cells from your scalp, while balancing the pH, so it feels nourished and clean. Tip: After massaging the shampoo into your scalp, leave it in for 30 seconds before rinsing it out; repeat with a second shampoo for best results.
- Why We Love It: pleasant scent, reduces frizz, budget-friendly
- What We Don't Like: may cause allergic reaction/itchiness for some
- Promising Review: "This shampoo is perfect for a dry scalp. It doesn’t cost a fortune and works perfectly. My scalp literally says thank you when I use it as my regular shampoo. Dove has a whole line of scalp shampoos but this particular one is the only one that works for my scalp." — TT, an Amazon reviewer
Oftentimes, a dry scalp is accompanied by dandruff, and many dandruff shampoos that clear up flakes can also be drying on your strands. Luckily, the team at Dove cracked the code with this shampoo. It features pyrithione zinc, which effectively tackles dandruff and reduces flakes. The blend also has coconut oil and shea butter to hydrate the scalp. Plus, this flake fighter claims to be surprisingly mild and moisturizing on the rest of your hair.
Great for Fine Hair
- Why We Love It: hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, gentle formula
- What We Don't Like: finicky pump
- Promising Review: "If you struggle with buildup in your hair and also don't like fragrance, you should definitely try this shampoo from Briogeo! It's very gentle, even for the driest hair AKA me. I have dry thick curls so a shampoo that can both detox my curls and keep the moisture is a winner!" — Jessica, an Ulta reviewer
If your skin is easily irritated, you may appreciate this hypoallergenic and dermatologist-approved shampoo that was formulated for people with sensitivities to fragrance, essential oils, lactose, soy and gluten. With scalp soothing aloe vera and oat milk, it reduces dryness, itchiness or tightness. (Note: Reviewers have reported that this formula works best on fine hair, so if you have thicker strands, maybe skip to one of the others on the list.)
Great for Curly Hair
- Why We Love It: contains manuka honey, sulfate-free, great for thick and fine hair
- What We Don't Like: pricey, heavy fragrances
- Promising Review: "This will now be my new go-to for my curls. I love that it's sulfate-free, it's gentle on my hair and scalp and it smells amazing. It leaves my hair very soft & manageable." — A Sephora reviewer
This creamy shampoo gently cleanses your scalp of any residue or product buildup, while adding back moisture with manuka honey and ceramides. The rich formula is especially forgiving on dry, frizzy hair, and the warm tuberose and jasmine scent lingers until your next wash.
Great for Combination Scalps
- Why We Love It: contains micellar water and rose water, great for color-treated hair
- What We Don't Like: heavy fragrances
- Promising Review: "This has really helped my son's scalp psoriasis. He would have red irritations and terrible dry flakiness and this [shampoo] and the scrub have done wonders." — An Amazon Reviewer
If your scalp is both oily and dry, we feel your pain and we raise you this deep-cleaning scalp wash from salon favorite, Kevin Murphy. Made with micellar water (yes, like the makeup remover) and celery seed extract, it gently dissolves any buildup and extra oils from your scalp. Meanwhile rose water and coconut oil soothes any itchiness and hydrate dry ends.
- Why We Love It: silicone-free, pleasant scent, great for chemically-treated hair
- What We Don't Like: pricey
- Promising Review: "I have severe scalp psoriasis and always thought a clarifying shampoo would be too harsh on my scalp but after just one use, the build up, flakes and discomfort cleared up so much. I recommend this to anyone suffering [from] build up, especially with a sensitive scalp!" — Jordan, an Ulta reviewer
Reviews aside, this shampoo by Fekkai is a favorite among one of our experts—and we can tell by the ingredients list alone. "This is ideal for anyone struggling with dry scalp as it’s powered by ginger extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and apple cider vinegar, which gently clarifies, resets and balances your scalp microbiome," explains Hayasaka. "Bonus: it doesn’t smell like vinegar at all, but instead leaves your shower smelling of delicious green apples!"
- Why We Love It: great for color-treated hair, plant-based ingredients, offers 24-hour scalp comfort
- What We Don't Like: doesn't lather easily, thin formula
- Promising Review: "First off, the scent is great. It’s floral, but light [and not] over powering. From time to time, my scalp can be pretty drying and this [shampoo] helps. I use it every [third] wash to just clean my hair without it stripping my hair [dry]." — Anny, an Amazon reviewer
Like its name suggests, this sensorially-pleasing shampoo is made with—and thus, smells like—peonies. Shoppers say it's fresh, bright and lovely on their hair. Plus, the pH-balanced formula helps soothe irritated and sensitive scalps, while being gentle enough to use on color-treated hair.
- Why We Love It: offers UV protection, silicone-free, improves shine
- What We Don't Like: thick formula, finicky pump
- Promising Review: "My hair felt very clean and not dry whatsoever. My scalp feels like it can breathe for the first time. No more flakes on my shirts (thankfully). I realize how much build up product I had in my hair and scalp but after using this product it felt a lot lighter." — Dilliana, a Sephora reviewer
Shu Uemura’s clarifying oil shampoo is a fan favorite. As its name implies, it deeply cleanses the scalp and remove any product buildup, dirt and excess oil. In short, reviewers say it has a nice slip and believes to be incredibly gentle on the scalp. With a subtle citrus scent and loaded with hydrating plant and fruit oils, it leaves your scalp and strands in a state of blissful equilibrium.
Great for Itchy Scalps
- Why We Love It: contains jojoba oil, controls flakes, sulfate-free
- What We Don't Like: thick formula
- Promising Review: "Ive been using this shampoo for over a year and it made my dandruff go away like a charm! It's also gentle on the scalp and hair. I've been coloring my hair with purple and blue dyes, and the dyes don't wash out quickly as compared to other shampoos I've used. No more itchy scalp!" — Maggie, an Amazon reviewer
Formulated with a potent duo of sulfur and salicylic acid, this clarifying shampoo soothes itchy scalps, while clearing up any surface flakes. Add 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.
- Why We Love It: contains shea butter and avocado oil, silicone-free, great for thick or coarse hair
- What We Don't Like: might feel drying to other hair types
- Promising Review: "My natural curls stylist put me on to this when I got my first silk press and it is amazing. It gives my hair so much hydration and after every wash my hair feels super light, soft and [it provides] more volume [for my] fine baby hair. The smell is light and floral; not overwhelming at all. I also have sensitive skin and eczema and I have no irritation whatsoever." — Vannah, an Ulta reviewer
Who doesn’t want to indulge in a hydrating hairbath from time to time? This rich cream wash is packed with essential oils like sage and tamanu to balance your scalp, while emollients like avocado oil and shea butter smooth the cuticle of parched strands. Shoppers say the clean formula is hydrating, yet lightweight, and gets rid of grease without stripping hair dry.
- Why We Love It: contains moringa oil and rose hip oil, pleasant scent
- What We Don't Like: pricey, clumps up after awhile
- Promising Review: "I'm on my second tub of this G.Tox [scrub]. I love how it feels as it goes from a grainy scrub for your scalp to a wash. I suffer from a flakey scalp at times so this is a wonderful addition to my routine. [It also] helps with any build up too!" — A Sephora reviewer
Does one actually need a scalp scrub? Why yes, it turns out we do. This one has a whipped texture that lathers nicely as you massage it into your scalp. With Himalayan pink salt, cold-pressed moringa oil and unfiltered rosehip oil (this is GP, after all), it promises to make our hair feel shiny and new.
Great for Seborrheic Dermatitis
- Why We Love It: fragrance-free, contains salicylic acid, dermatologist-recommended
- What We Don't Like: small bottle
- Promising Review: "I have been using T-Sal for at least 30 years now for dry scalp. It works great and I use it now to maintain my condition." — Jason, an Amazon reviewer
With over 900 five-star reviews, this shampoo was made for scalp relief. Featuring three percent salicylic acid, the formula promises to cleanse the scalp and soothe common conditions such as psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. As Kobets explains,"In cases with a lot of scalp buildup and scaling, you should add on an exfoliating (or clarifying) ingredient such as salicylic acid or tea tree oil. This shampoo happens to have this key ingredient, which can help exfoliate dead skin."
Great for Thinning Hair
- Why We Love It: contains plant-based ingredients, promotes healthy hair growth
- What We Don't Like: heavy fragrance
- Promising Review: "My hair was thin after growing it out post chemo about 4 years ago. I’ve been using this shampoo for several months. I have short hairs sprouting all over my head. This is my third bottle ( and of course my husband has starting to use it too!)" — Cathie, an Amazon reviewer
Avid reviewers on Amazon (there are over 15,00o 5-star reviews as of writing) claim this shampoo reduces hair shedding and improves volume with continued use. Upon closer inspection of the ingredients, we see it includes biotin, vitamins, amino acids and over 17 DHT herbs that nourish, cleanse and protect your scalp with every wash.
Great for Chemically-Treated Hair
- Why We Love It: great for all hair types, pleasant scent, contains zinc
- What We Don't Like: pricey
- Promising Review: "I have struggled with dandruff on and off for years and this is the only shampoo that has given me a flake-free scalp without drying my hair out or giving me an oily scalp. My hair is literally able to be combed before any conditioner is used and [it’s] left looking amazing." — An Amazon reviewer
For those with chemically-treated strands and a perpetually dry scalp, this balancing shampoo will become your shower MVP. Zinc pyrithione tackles dandruff, while squalane and coconut oil softens and strengthens the mid-lengths and ends. FYI: We don’t mind the minty fresh aroma either.
Best Bar Shampoo
- Why We Love It: improves shine, safe for color-treated hair, clean brand
- What We Don't Like: distinct scent
- Promising Review: "I have honestly never used a shampoo bar like this before. I have heavily color-treated hair, and I'm super particular on what products I use in my hair. I decided to give this product a chance and I am so happy that I did. It smells incredible, it’s eco friendly, and my hair looks and feels healthier than ever." — A Sephora reviewer
If you’re really looking to cut down on space and waste, you’ll love this shampoo bar from Superzero. It's formulated with Brazilian ziziphus joaxerio extract to soothe the scalp and reduce flakes. Rosemary and tea tree oil further protect your scalp, while shea butter and avocado oil add moisture to your strands. The brand really (ahem) raised the bar with this plastic-free option.
Great for Kids
- Why We Love It: gentle formula, hypoallergenic, great for sensitive and eczema-prone skin
- What We Don't Like: might be too drying for some hair types
- Promising Review: "This is the absolute best baby wash I've seen! It has amazing natural ingredients, it doesn't irritate my baby's skin and it will last a long time. (I only use a pea size every time I bathe my baby.) I even use it on my face and it cleans really well without drying my skin out!" — An iHerb reviewer
Sometimes a dry scalp is caused by certain skin conditions like eczema. And as anyone with eczema knows, the key to preventing and treating flare-ups can be to pare down the number of potentially irritating ingredients that you encounter. This gentle formula has plant-based ingredients (like colloidal oatmeal, shea butter and cocoa butter) so you can cleanse your scalp (and your kiddo's) without worry.
- Why We Love It: gentle formula, silicone-free, hypoallergenic
- What We Don't Like: doesn't lather easily
- Promising Review: "If you suffer from dermatitis this is an excellent fragrance-free shampoo as it doesn’t cause any irritation to the scalp or skin. It doesn’t strip natural oils so it keeps skin and scalp hydrated." — Gerrilin, an Amazon reviewer
If you’re looking for a simple shampoo that is free of pretty much every possible irritant (from fragrance, parabens, sulfates and formaldehyde), this dermatologist-tested product promises to cleanse your scalp and strands sufficiently. A helpful tip: Shampoo twice, and really work it into your scalp, as the formula does not lather like conventional formulas do.
Great for All Hair Types
Act + Acre
- Why We Love It: plant-based ingredients, great for all hair types
- What We Don't Like: doesn't lather easily
- Promising Review: "This shampoo is my favourite product from Act + Acre!!! It doesn't leave any heavy feeling on my fine hair, and it makes my hair more wavy!! Not only that but my scalp feels moisturized after the shampoo alone." — Sophie, an Act+Acre reviewer
Whether you have straight, wavy or curly locks, this balancing shampoo promises to restore moisture and balance out a dry scalp. It's formulated with baobab oil for hydration, glycerin for balance and two percent of apple amino acids to cleanse and condition the scalp. "It's one of my absolute favorites since it strikes the perfect balance of cleansing without disrupting the hair’s natural moisture balance," adds Reavey.
- Why We Love It: safe for color-treated hair, aesthetically-pleasing packaging, contains salicylic acid
- What We Don't Like: pricey
- Promising Review: "I have a medical condition that results in broken and irritated skin on the scalp, and this shampoo helps to clear it up beautifully! Hair feels clear of product, soft and manageable. But the main benefit is the scalp care." — Dayna, an Amazon reviewer
We’re suckers for packaging, so when a product is as effective as it is good-looking, it’s a win-win. This salon-quality shampoo features gentle salicylic acid to slough away flakes, plus soothing active ingredients (like orange and lemon extract) to keep them from coming back. But the real game changer is the addition of botanicals like bilberry fruit and sugar maple extract, which maintain moisture and protect against free radicals when we lather up. (It’s like an anti-aging treatment for your scalp.)
- Why We Love It: budget-friendly, great for thin and fine hair
- What We Don't Like: heavy fragrance, doesn't lather easily
- Promising Review: "I've always had thin hair. I've been experimenting with shampoos for decades and I've tried quite a few that claim to make your hair thicker, to add body, etc. They usually don't perform as advertised, at least for me. I would describe the result this Aveeno shampoo delivered as increasing the volume of my hair, and [there's] a noticeable difference and a definite improvement in how my hair looks." — Mike, an Amazon reviewer
This budget-friendly shampoo is dermatologist-approved and we can definitely get behind it, too. Its hydrating blend of rosemary, peppermint and cucumber refreshes and restores your scalp. Plus, the core ingredient—colloidal oat extract—soothes and moisturizes your hair. "It's also 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," adds Dr. Garshick.
Best Gentle Formula
- Why We Love It: lightweight formula, contains AHAs
- What We Don't Like: sun sensitivity, finicky applicator
- Promising Review: "My scalp suffers from psoriasis, so it's always itchy and very dry, especially during the wintertime. I put [this] on my scalp after my shower and I'm so in love with it. My scalp is not dry and itchy. Finally got some relief." — Jan, an Amazon reviewer
Whether you have curly hair or color-treated locks, this sulfate-free shampoo is great for all hair types. It's enriched with coconut oil to add moisture back to the scalp, while glycolic acid deeply cleans and removes flakes, and xylitol strengthens strands. The calming lemongrass scent adds to the whole in-shower experience.
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Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet for the latest beauty trends (and testing the coolest products out herself), informing you on ways to be a better ally and offering a native New Yorker perspective on what to do in the Big Apple. When she's not writing, she's spearheading PureWow Cultures that focuses on uplifting and highlighting the BIPOC community.
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