{"id":556377931849,"title":"Does Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Actually Work?","created_at":"2022-04-09T12:00:32-04:00","body_html":"\u003cscript type=\"application\/ld+json\"\u003e\/\/ \u003c![CDATA[\n{\n \"@context\": \"https:\/\/schema.org\",\n \"@type\": \"Article\",\n \"headline\": \"Does Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Actually Work?\",\n \"keywords\": \"does anti dandruff shampoo actually work\",\n \"description\": \"Our MD and research team reviews medical research on what causes dandruff, whether the leading anti-dandruff shampoo brands are likely to be effective based on their active ingredients, and we highlight some natural dandruff alternatives with safer formulations than commercial products.\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/illuminatelabs.org\/blogs\/health\/does-anti-dandruff-shampoo-actually-work\",\n\"author\": {\n \"@type\": \"Person\",\n \"name\": \"Taylor Graber MD\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/illuminatelabs.org\/pages\/taylor-graber\",\n \"sameAs\": \"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/taylor-j-graber-md-81351642\/\",\n \"jobTitle\": \"Content Partner\",\n \"knowsAbout\": \"medicine, health, anesthesiology, iv therapy, science, drugs, pharmaceutical, medical research, scientific research, medical journals, entrepreneurship, healthcare, orthopedic surgery, biomedical engineering\",\n \"alumniOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"EducationalOrganization\",\n \"name\": [\n \"University of California San Diego\",\n \"Arizona University\",\n \"University of Arizona College of Medicine\"\n ]\n },\n \"memberOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"Organization\",\n \"name\": \"Illuminate Labs\"\n }\n},\n\"contributor\": {\n \"@type\": \"Person\",\n \"name\": \"Calloway Cook\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/illuminatelabs.org\/pages\/calloway-cook\",\n \"sameAs\": \"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/calloway-cook\/\",\n \"jobTitle\": \"President\",\n \"knowsAbout\": \"entrepreneurship, dietary supplements, herbal supplements, eCommerce, medical research\",\n \"alumniOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"EducationalOrganization\",\n \"name\": \"S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University\"\n },\n \"memberOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"Organization\",\n \"name\": \"Illuminate Labs\"\n }\n},\n\"editor\": {\n \"@type\": \"Person\",\n \"name\": \"DJ Mazzoni\",\n \"honorificSuffix\": [\n \"M.S.\",\n \"R.D.\",\n \"C.D.N.\",\n \"C.S.C.S.\"\n ],\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/illuminatelabs.org\/pages\/dj-mazzoni\",\n \"sameAs\": \"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/dj-mazzoni-rd-cdn-cscs-00a33038\/\",\n \"jobTitle\": \"Medical Reviewer\",\n \"knowsAbout\": \"exercise, drugs, pharmaceutical, health, workout, strength and conditioning, nutrition, dietetics, medicine, medical research, scientific research, scientific method, healthcare, patient care, wellness\",\n \"alumniOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"EducationalOrganization\",\n \"name\": [\n \"State University of New York College Oswego\",\n \"D’Youville College\"\n ]\n },\n \"memberOf\": {\n \"@type\": \"Organization\",\n \"name\": \"Illuminate Labs\"\n }\n},\n\"image\": {\n\"@type\": \"ImageObject\",\n\"url\": \"https:\/\/cdn.shopify.com\/s\/files\/1\/0047\/1524\/9737\/files\/Does_Anti_Dandruff_Shampoo_Actually_Work_Thumbnail_Optimized.png?v=1649520847\",\n\"width\": \"2500\",\n\"height\": \"2500\"\n},\n\"citation\": [\n\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC4852869\/\",\n\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC2887514\/\",\n\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/3158327\/\",\n\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC6092343\/\",\n\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/32006369\/\",\n\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/28478814\/\",\n\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/34259066\/\",\n\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC8012655\/\",\n\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/29465391\/\"\n],\n\"mentions\": [{\n \"@type\": \"Thing\",\n \"name\": \"seborrheic dermatitis\"\n},\n{\n\"@type\": \"Thing\",\n \"name\": \"selenium sulfide\"\n},\n{\n\"@type\": \"Thing\",\n \"name\": \"pyrithione zinc\"\n},\n{\n\"@type\": 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\"https:\/\/www.uschamber.com\/\"\n },\n {\n \"@type\": \"Organization\",\n \"name\": \"Certified B Corp\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/www.bcorporation.net\/en-us\/\"\n },\n {\n \"@type\": \"Organization\",\n \"name\": \"Natural Products Association\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/www.npanational.org\/\"\n }\n ], \n \"logo\": {\n \"@type\": \"ImageObject\",\n \"url\": \"https:\/\/cdn.shopify.com\/s\/files\/1\/0047\/1524\/9737\/files\/Illuminate_Labs_Favicon_48x48_7595c3cc-e27b-47b8-a4fe-edcc7ed9b29a.png?v=1666502785\", \n \"width\": 48,\n \"height\": 48\n},\n \"foundingDate\": \"2019-01-30\",\n \"sameAs\": [\n \"https:\/\/www.instagram.com\/illuminatelabs\",\n \"https:\/\/twitter.com\/illuminatelabs\",\n \"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/company\/illuminate-labs-supplements\",\n \"https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/channel\/UCpgSJAsIPb-fZ25djtTxBEA\"\n ]\n }\n}\n\/\/ ]]\u003e\u003c\/script\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cimg src=\"https:\/\/cdn.shopify.com\/s\/files\/1\/0047\/1524\/9737\/files\/Does_Anti_Dandruff_Shampoo_Actually_Work_Header_Image.png?v=1649521145\" alt=\"\"\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e\u003cspan class=\"dc\"\u003eA\u003c\/span\u003enti-dandruff shampoo is becoming more popular, as more consumers are afflicted by dandruff, but many consumers ask us whether there’s legitimate science backing this category of products or if it’s just a marketing gimmick.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eIn this article we’ll review medical research on what causes dandruff, whether the leading anti-dandruff shampoo brands are likely to be effective based on their active ingredients, and highlight some natural dandruff alternatives with safer formulations than commercial products.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003ch2 style=\"text-align: center;\"\u003e\u003cb\u003eWhat Causes Dandruff?\u003c\/b\u003e\u003c\/h2\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eDandruff is a condition caused when seborrheic dermatitis affects skin on the scalp. Medical research \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC4852869\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003edocuments\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e that this skin condition that can affect any other part of the body; it’s just called “dandruff” when it affects the scalp. It tends to be more noticeable on the scalp because the flaky dry skin can get caught in hair.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eAs the linked research review details, one of the main causes of dandruff is an overgrowth of a specific type of yeast on the skin called \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ci\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eMalassezia\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/i\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e. This yeast is a natural part of the skin ecosystem; it’s only a problem when its numbers increase beyond normal limits.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eThe strength of a patient’s immune system and their genetics are also reported as factors which can increase likelihood of dandruff. \u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eGiven that dandruff is caused by localized inflammation and an overgrowth of a specific type of yeast, logical solutions are anti-inflammatory compounds which have an antifungal effect.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003ch2 style=\"text-align: center;\"\u003e\u003cb\u003eWhich Compounds Reduce Dandruff?\u003c\/b\u003e\u003c\/h2\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eA \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC2887514\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical review\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e of compounds used to treat dandruff, published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, highlighted some of the research-backed treatments. \u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cb\u003eSelenium sulfide\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e is a topical antifungal medication which is proven in medical research to reduce levels of the yeast which causes dandruff. It’s the active ingredient in many popular dandruff shampoo formulations like CVS Health Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo and Selsun Blue Medicated Antidandruff Shampoo.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eAs documented in the linked research study, selenium sulfide not only reduces levels of yeast on the scalp which cause dandruff, but also is proven to reduce cell turnover, which is a secondary benefit which can further reduce dandruff.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cb\u003ePyrithione zinc\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e is another ingredient which is proven to reduce dandruff when included in a shampoo formulation. This is the active ingredient in Head \u0026amp; Shoulders Classic Clean Dandruff Shampoo.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eA \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/3158327\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical trial\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e from 1985 proved that pyrithione zinc shampoo reduced dandruff levels over time. The researchers also noted that there was a reduction in the level of various microorganisms on the scalp with use of the zinc shampoo.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eA more recent \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC6092343\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical study\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e analyzed why pyrithione zinc was so effective against dandruff. It appears to have three mechanisms of action against the yeast which causes dandruff: it increases cellular zinc levels in the scalp, inhibits mitochondrial function of the yeast, and makes the scalp environment less favorable to growth of the yeast.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eFrom the available research we can conclude that anti-dandruff shampoo does actually work, but there are some health considerations to keep in mind when choosing commercial anti-dandruff shampoo products.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003ch2 style=\"text-align: center;\"\u003e\u003cb\u003eQuestionable Additive Ingredients\u003c\/b\u003e\u003c\/h2\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e\u003cimg src=\"https:\/\/cdn.shopify.com\/s\/files\/1\/0047\/1524\/9737\/files\/Head_And_Shoulders_Anti_Dandruff_Shampoo_Ingredients_480x480.png?v=1649520626\" alt=\"Head and Shoulders Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ingredients\" style=\"display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;\"\u003e\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eWhile most over-the-counter (OTC) anti-dandruff shampoo products do contain effective active ingredients, they also contain questionable additive ingredients which may be unsafe.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eThe Head \u0026amp; Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo mentioned in the previous section is a great example. It contains pyrithione zinc as an effective active ingredient, but it also contains two separate synthetic dyes: \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cb\u003eBlue 1\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e and \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cb\u003eRed 33\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eWe know from \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/32006369\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical research\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e that artificial dyes contain neurotoxic chemicals which aggravate mental health issues, and while the risk is lower for topical products like shampoo than for ingestible products like processed food, we still believe the risk is too high to recommend these products. We recommend avoiding artificial dyes entirely, and we don’t understand why a product formulated for sensitive skin would contain ingredients that can aggravate skin.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eHead \u0026amp; Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo also contains \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cb\u003efragrance\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e, which encompasses a broad category of compounds, some of which have proven to be harmful to human health in \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/28478814\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical studies\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e. Unless the manufacturer lists which specific fragrance chemicals were used (Head \u0026amp; Shoulders does not), we can’t assess their safety, which is why we recommend avoiding all personal care products containing fragrance.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eThe Head \u0026amp; Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo also contains a harsh preservative ingredient called \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cb\u003emethylisothiazolinone\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e, which has proven risks in \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/34259066\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical data\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e at concentrations as low as 16 parts per million (ppm). The concentration in the anti-dandruff shampoo product may be below that level, but the manufacturer doesn’t list the concentration so we don’t know. We generally don’t see the need for preservatives this harsh in products as simple as shampoo.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eThe Head \u0026amp; Shoulders product is just an illustrative example; we’ve found questionable additive ingredients in nearly every commercial anti-dandruff shampoo we’ve reviewed, which is why we don’t recommend any commercial anti-dandruff shampoo. The manufacturers seem to care more about efficacy than safety, and we only recommend products that prioritize both.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003ch2 style=\"text-align: center;\"\u003e\u003cb\u003eNatural Alternatives for Dandruff\u003c\/b\u003e\u003c\/h2\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cb\u003eCoconut oil\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e may be an effective natural anti-dandruff treatment. A \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/pmc\/articles\/PMC8012655\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003emedical review\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e of coconut oil’s effect on the scalp, published in the Scientific Reports journal in 2021, found that topical coconut oil application increased the levels of healthy bacteria in the scalp (\u003c\/span\u003e\u003ci\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eMalassezia globosa\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/i\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e), and reduced levels of harmful bacteria associated with dandruff formation (\u003c\/span\u003e\u003ci\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eMalassezia restricta\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/i\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e).\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eThe study authors noted that coconut oil application also increased skin hydration on the scalp, which has an anti-dandruff effect.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eWe recommend unrefined coconut oil, sometimes referred to as “virgin” coconut oil, applied topically after a shower. It’s best to apply coconut oil to the scalp and leave it in to absorb, because the effects are longer-lasting and because coconut oil can congeal and clog shower drains.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eShampoo products containing \u003c\/span\u003e\u003cb\u003efireweed\u003c\/b\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e (\u003c\/span\u003e\u003ci\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eEpilobium angustifolium\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/i\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e) extract are another promising natural alternative for treating dandruff.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eA \u003c\/span\u003e\u003ca href=\"https:\/\/pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov\/29465391\/\"\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eclinical trial\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/a\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003e found that fireweed extract at a concentration of 1.5% in a shampoo formulation reduced dandruff by over 50%. Sebum (natural oils on the scalp) production also decreased by 67%, and the researchers concluded that this botanical extract offered “a new innovative approach to dandruff reduction.”\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eOur general guidance is that trying natural compounds first seems logical for cosmetic issues like dandruff, since commercial products have potentially harmful additive ingredients.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003ch2 style=\"text-align: center;\"\u003e\u003cb\u003eConclusion\u003c\/b\u003e\u003c\/h2\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eAnti-dandruff shampoo does work, but it tends to include additive ingredients like artificial dye and fragrance which may be harmful to human health. We don’t recommend any of the popular commercial anti-dandruff shampoos like Head \u0026amp; Shoulders.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eSince ingredients like selenium sulfide and pyrithione zinc are proven to be effective for dandruff, we recommend using products with those active ingredients but without harmful additive ingredients.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eUsing botanical ingredients like unrefined coconut oil and fireweed extract is also a safe and non-toxic choice for treating dandruff.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cspan style=\"font-weight: 400;\"\u003eWe hope that in the future more commercial brands clean up their formulations.\u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e","blog_id":49281925193,"author":"Calloway Cook","user_id":26601750601,"published_at":"2022-04-09T16:19:09-04:00","updated_at":"2022-10-23T02:01:30-04:00","summary_html":"We review medical research on what causes dandruff, whether the leading anti-dandruff shampoo brands are likely to be effective based on their active ingredients, and we highlight some natural dandruff alternatives with safer formulations than commercial products.","template_suffix":"","handle":"does-anti-dandruff-shampoo-actually-work","tags":"_related:hair, _related:personal-care-products"}

Does Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Actually Work?

Does Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Actually Work?


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Anti-dandruff shampoo is becoming more popular, as more consumers are afflicted by dandruff, but many consumers ask us whether there’s legitimate science backing this category of products or if it’s just a marketing gimmick.

In this article we’ll review medical research on what causes dandruff, whether the leading anti-dandruff shampoo brands are likely to be effective based on their active ingredients, and highlight some natural dandruff alternatives with safer formulations than commercial products.

What Causes Dandruff?

Dandruff is a condition caused when seborrheic dermatitis affects skin on the scalp. Medical research documents that this skin condition that can affect any other part of the body; it’s just called “dandruff” when it affects the scalp. It tends to be more noticeable on the scalp because the flaky dry skin can get caught in hair.

As the linked research review details, one of the main causes of dandruff is an overgrowth of a specific type of yeast on the skin called Malassezia. This yeast is a natural part of the skin ecosystem; it’s only a problem when its numbers increase beyond normal limits.

The strength of a patient’s immune system and their genetics are also reported as factors which can increase likelihood of dandruff. 

Given that dandruff is caused by localized inflammation and an overgrowth of a specific type of yeast, logical solutions are anti-inflammatory compounds which have an antifungal effect.

Which Compounds Reduce Dandruff?

A medical review of compounds used to treat dandruff, published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, highlighted some of the research-backed treatments. 

Selenium sulfide is a topical antifungal medication which is proven in medical research to reduce levels of the yeast which causes dandruff. It’s the active ingredient in many popular dandruff shampoo formulations like CVS Health Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo and Selsun Blue Medicated Antidandruff Shampoo.

As documented in the linked research study, selenium sulfide not only reduces levels of yeast on the scalp which cause dandruff, but also is proven to reduce cell turnover, which is a secondary benefit which can further reduce dandruff.

Pyrithione zinc is another ingredient which is proven to reduce dandruff when included in a shampoo formulation. This is the active ingredient in Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Dandruff Shampoo.

A medical trial from 1985 proved that pyrithione zinc shampoo reduced dandruff levels over time. The researchers also noted that there was a reduction in the level of various microorganisms on the scalp with use of the zinc shampoo.

A more recent medical study analyzed why pyrithione zinc was so effective against dandruff. It appears to have three mechanisms of action against the yeast which causes dandruff: it increases cellular zinc levels in the scalp, inhibits mitochondrial function of the yeast, and makes the scalp environment less favorable to growth of the yeast.

From the available research we can conclude that anti-dandruff shampoo does actually work, but there are some health considerations to keep in mind when choosing commercial anti-dandruff shampoo products.

Questionable Additive Ingredients

Head and Shoulders Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ingredients

While most over-the-counter (OTC) anti-dandruff shampoo products do contain effective active ingredients, they also contain questionable additive ingredients which may be unsafe.

The Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo mentioned in the previous section is a great example. It contains pyrithione zinc as an effective active ingredient, but it also contains two separate synthetic dyes: Blue 1 and Red 33.

We know from medical research that artificial dyes contain neurotoxic chemicals which aggravate mental health issues, and while the risk is lower for topical products like shampoo than for ingestible products like processed food, we still believe the risk is too high to recommend these products. We recommend avoiding artificial dyes entirely, and we don’t understand why a product formulated for sensitive skin would contain ingredients that can aggravate skin.

Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo also contains fragrance, which encompasses a broad category of compounds, some of which have proven to be harmful to human health in medical studies. Unless the manufacturer lists which specific fragrance chemicals were used (Head & Shoulders does not), we can’t assess their safety, which is why we recommend avoiding all personal care products containing fragrance.

The Head & Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoo also contains a harsh preservative ingredient called methylisothiazolinone, which has proven risks in medical data at concentrations as low as 16 parts per million (ppm). The concentration in the anti-dandruff shampoo product may be below that level, but the manufacturer doesn’t list the concentration so we don’t know. We generally don’t see the need for preservatives this harsh in products as simple as shampoo.

The Head & Shoulders product is just an illustrative example; we’ve found questionable additive ingredients in nearly every commercial anti-dandruff shampoo we’ve reviewed, which is why we don’t recommend any commercial anti-dandruff shampoo. The manufacturers seem to care more about efficacy than safety, and we only recommend products that prioritize both.

Natural Alternatives for Dandruff

Coconut oil may be an effective natural anti-dandruff treatment. A medical review of coconut oil’s effect on the scalp, published in the Scientific Reports journal in 2021, found that topical coconut oil application increased the levels of healthy bacteria in the scalp (Malassezia globosa), and reduced levels of harmful bacteria associated with dandruff formation (Malassezia restricta).

The study authors noted that coconut oil application also increased skin hydration on the scalp, which has an anti-dandruff effect.

We recommend unrefined coconut oil, sometimes referred to as “virgin” coconut oil, applied topically after a shower. It’s best to apply coconut oil to the scalp and leave it in to absorb, because the effects are longer-lasting and because coconut oil can congeal and clog shower drains.

Shampoo products containing fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) extract are another promising natural alternative for treating dandruff.

A clinical trial found that fireweed extract at a concentration of 1.5% in a shampoo formulation reduced dandruff by over 50%. Sebum (natural oils on the scalp) production also decreased by 67%, and the researchers concluded that this botanical extract offered “a new innovative approach to dandruff reduction.”

Our general guidance is that trying natural compounds first seems logical for cosmetic issues like dandruff, since commercial products have potentially harmful additive ingredients.

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Conclusion

Anti-dandruff shampoo does work, but it tends to include additive ingredients like artificial dye and fragrance which may be harmful to human health. We don’t recommend any of the popular commercial anti-dandruff shampoos like Head & Shoulders.

Since ingredients like selenium sulfide and pyrithione zinc are proven to be effective for dandruff, we recommend using products with those active ingredients but without harmful additive ingredients.

Using botanical ingredients like unrefined coconut oil and fireweed extract is also a safe and non-toxic choice for treating dandruff.

We hope that in the future more commercial brands clean up their formulations.




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