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Best Dandruff Shampoo

By: Angela Stringfellow on March 07, 2018

Medicated shampoos do an excellent job of clearing up dandruff

Dandruff is a common condition characterized by white skin flakes throughout the hair. It can pop up for various reasons, including simple dry skin, sensitivity to hair products, fungal infection, and seborrheic dermatitis, which causes oily, irritated skin on the scalp. Dandruff shampoos use a variety of ingredients to combat these problems. Some contain antifungal agents, such as zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole, to kill the fungi that can cause dandruff and seborrehic dermatitis. Others combat skin flaking by slowing the rate at which skin cells die and peel off.

Because dandruff has different causes, you may need to try several different products before finding the one that does the best job of controlling your dandruff. If you've tried several over-the-counter shampoos and nothing seems to work, or if you have symptoms like intense scalp itching or burning, talk to a doctor; you may need a prescription-strength anti-dandruff shampoo, or possibly a steroid cream.

The dandruff shampoo that most consistently works for reviewers is Nizoral (Est. $14 for 7 oz.). Its main dandruff-fighting ingredient is ketoconazole, an antifungal medication that experts say often works when other treatments fail. Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Centers in New York, tells Reader's Digest's Denise Mann, MS that she recommends Nizoral for its anti-fungal ingredients as well as its ability to ease itching and combat dandruff. It also earns a nod from Health's Anthea Levi, after a recommendation from Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD.

But it's not just the pros who recommend Nizoral for combating dandruff; thousands of consumers at Amazon, Walmart and Walgreens consistently give Nizoral high overall ratings, saying it's very effective not just for dandruff but also for other skin conditions that affect the scalp, like eczema and psoriasis. Many users say they tried every dandruff product on the market, and Nizoral was the only one that worked for them. And, in addition to clearing up dandruff, users say this shampoo lathers nicely, is easy to spread, and generally does a good job getting the hair and scalp clean.

As a bonus, some users say that since they started using Nizoral, their hair has actually become thicker and stronger. Nizoral does have its disadvantages, however. For a start, it's much more expensive than most dandruff shampoos on the market. Also, many reviewers say it has an unpleasant, medicinal smell, and some complain that it's harsh and drying to the hair. However, Nizoral is designed to be used only once or twice per week, so you can use other products to combat dry, frizzy hair for the remainder of the week. Some users also worry about the safety of the powerful antifungal agent in Nizoral, though expert feedback indicates that used topically, ketoconazole is relatively safe. In any event, most are happily willing to deal with those tradeoffs in exchange for an effective dandruff treatment.

However, for those who don't want to pull out the big guns right away, there are other dandruff shampoos on the market that are less powerful, but also less expensive. One of the best known is Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis Shampoo (Est. $14 for two 13.5 oz. bottles), which earns high ratings in hundreds of reviews. This shampoo's formulation combats not only dandruff but also seborrheic dermatitis, helping to prevent itching, redness and irritation as well as the flaking and scaling caused by these conditions.

Reviewers are split on the scent of Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength; some love it, while others say it has a strong, medicinal scent (a common issue among most clinical-strength dandruff shampoos). One thing the majority of reviewers do agree on is how well it works, with many reporting a noticeable difference in dandruff flakes and other symptoms such as redness and itching dissipating after a few days to a few weeks. Users also appreciate Head & Shoulders' pH-balanced formula, which is gentle enough for everyday use without drying the hair or scalp. Although selenium sulfide, the active ingredient in Head & Shoulders, isn't as consistently effective as ketoconazole, it works for many users and costs much less.

If neither Head & Shoulders nor Nizoral works for you, one product that might offer relief is Neutrogena T/Gel Dandruff Shampoo, Original (Est. $13 for 16 oz.). New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD tells Health's Anthea Levi that she recommends Neutrogena T/Gel because it contains a key ingredient, coal tar, which combats skin flaking by slowing the turnover rate of skin cells. It also contains salicylic acid to help balance the scalp and remove sebum and other buildup that can contribute to flaking.

Users say Neutrogena T/Gel is very effective against dandruff and eczema, even when every other product -- including Nizoral -- has failed. On the downside, users consistently find that this shampoo smells terrible -- reviews compare it to motor oil, mothballs, and burning rubber -- and that it can be very harsh and drying. In addition to the original formula, Neutrogena offers an extra-strength formula, Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo – Extra Strength (Est. $10 for 6 oz.), Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo - Stubborn Itch (Est. $13 for 6 oz.) for people with persistent itching, and a formula specially designed to combat scalp build-up, Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo - Scalp Build-Up Control (Est. $9 for 4.5 oz.), as well as a shampoo and conditioner in-one and a stand-alone conditioner.

If your dandruff problem is mild and doesn't yet warrant a medicated shampoo, Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Shampoo (Est. $9 for 32.1 oz.) is a good choice that not only wards off dandruff but also restores the scalp back to a normal, balanced and clean environment, according to TotalBeauty's readers. It's also recommended by New York City-based Debra Jaliman, MD, who tells Health's Anthea Levi that Head & Shoulders contains zinc pyrithione, an ingredient that can help kill fungus and bacteria on the scalp. Unlike stronger dandruff shampoos, Head & Shoulders Classic Clean can be used daily, which some dermatologists recommend as a first step in warding off dandruff, followed by gradually introducing your regular shampoo after dandruff symptoms subside.

Hundreds of users offer positive feedback for Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Shampoo, with many noting that their scalp feels cool and refreshed immediately after washing with it. It also lacks the medicinal scent that turns many users off from other dandruff shampoos, and it relieves itching and redness in addition to reducing dandruff flakes. Most users say it leaves their hair soft and shiny, although a few note that the effects were too drying on their hair, so they switched to using this shampoo every other day and have maintained the dandruff-fighting benefits.  

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