Dandruff is incredibly common but, fortunately, easy to address. To tackle flaking on your scalp, the best dandruff shampoo deploys dedicated ingredients and provides some much-needed relief.
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Though dandruff is commonly mistaken for a dry scalp, the two conditions are quite different. « Dandruff is the result of increased oil production and yeast overgrowth on the scalp, » Texas-based board-certified dermatologist Heidi Prather, MD, previously told Allure. Accordingly, it makes sense that dandruff tends to develop on those with oily scalps rather than dry ones.
The yeast in question is called malassezia, and can be commonly found in the skin, according to New York City board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD. « It can contribute to the inflammatory response in seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis [the scientific name for dandruff] and feeds on sebum, so it, therefore, thrives in oily areas, » she adds.
Dandruff is limited to the scalp and typically presents itself as loose, white scales or plaques, as Dr. Prather explained, but it can evolve into seborrheic dermatitis. The latter can affect other seborrheic areas (like your face, chest, and back à la fungal acne) and manifests as yellow, greasy scales coupled with redness, itching, and irritation. Triggers such as buildup-causing styling products, stress, infrequent (or too much) shampooing, overproduction of sweat, and living in moist, humid, and warm environments can exacerbate dandruff, too.
While Dr. King says we can’t fully cure seborrheic dermatitis, there are ways to manage it, like through over-the-counter shampoo ingredients — that is, outside of topical corticosteroids that your board-certified dermatologist can prescribe. Dr. King calls out several anti-fungal (and some antimicrobial) ingredients like selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole, coal tar, and tea tree oil that can decrease malassezia, inhibit fungal growth, and calm an irritated, inflamed, and itchy scalp. According to Dr. King, pyrithione zinc-infused formulations are especially gentle yet still effective, making them great for sensitive scalps.
Joel Lamm, MD, a NYC-based board-certified dermatologist, says salicylic acid is another useful exfoliating ingredient that helps wash flakes away and reduces scaling when used in conjunction with other dandruff-specific treatments. With that in mind, it’s time to tackle your flaking concerns with the best dandruff shampoos that’ll upgrade your scalp-care and hair-care routines.