A stray flake wedged between hair strands here and there is enough to cause alarm. Dandruff can be a mortifying skin condition but, rest assured, experts say it's more common than not. If you're suffering from a flaky, itchy scalp, there are over-the-counter shampoos for dandruff that wash away excess oil and dead skin. We drew up a list of expert-approved products to help you tackle a scaly scalp at home, with pro advice.
"Our skin is always renewing itself, shedding dead skin cells in the process, and the same renewal happens on the scalp, as well," explains Zahra Darwish, a trichologist at the Vivandi Trichology Centre in Dubai, who treats hair loss and scalp disorders. "In some people, this turnover is faster than the normal rate, so the dead skin cells collect on the surface becoming dandruff. Everybody has little dandruff that goes away when we shampoo, but those with serious flaking might need to see a specialist."
Dandruff can also affect other areas besides the scalp, such as the beard, eyebrows, skin around the ears and on the torso, says Dr Samar Khalil, general and cosmetic dermatologist at Skin Experts Polyclinic in Dubai. "The most common cause of dandruff is the skin condition seborrheic dermatitis, which could appear with mild symptoms, like only dandruff, or severe symptoms where redness and itching are involved."
Dr Khalil says why one develops seborrheic dermatitis is not clear, but there could be a link to the fungus malassezia. This yeast lives on everyone's scalp and is part of a healthy skin microbiome. However, an oily scalp can lead to an overgrowth of the oil-feeding fungus. "Stress can exacerbate the condition and so can sensitivity to certain hair care products," she added.
Then, it's no surprise that anti-dandruff shampoos contain antifungal properties. If your scalp condition is severe, consult your dermatologist, who may resort to topical steroids or oral antifungal tablets. Ingredients to look for in shampoos are antifungals like ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide and ciclopirox. Dr Khalil says these shampoos can also include keratolytics, agents used to treat scaly skin, such as salicylic acid and coal tar.
Or, you might be suffering from an especially dry scalp, causing something called dry dandruff, says Darwish: "Dandruff is just a symptom - you need to figure out what's causing it to treat it. While oily seborrheic dermatitis is a long-term condition, you could have dry dandruff, where the sebaceous glands in the scalp aren't producing enough oil or sebum.
"Reasons for this could be showering with hot water, bleaching the hair, excessive shampooing or a weakened immune system. In this case, nourishing shampoos like Eva Professional's Capilo Oxygenum N.06 for dry scalp and hair can help".
Does dandruff ever fully go away? If you're prone to the condition, then, it could be a seasonal stressor in your life, says Dr Swetha Kurian, a specialist dermatologist in aesthetic and medical dermatology, with Dr Sunny Medical Centre in Sharjah.
"In general, anti-dandruff shampoos are used long-term. There will be a few months of relief in between and then you'll find yourself switching shampoos again," said Dr Kurian, who adds that it's important to have a number of good anti-dandruff shampoos in your corner for dry winter and sweaty summer months, when there is more oil production on the scalp.
Dr Kurian also explains that the best way to make the most out of your shampoo, is to double-wash your hair with the same product. The first wash helps with removing dirt, product buildup and excess oil from the scalp. During the second time round, "you have to massage the shampoo in gently and leave it on the scalp for five to seven minutes" for it to do its job. But, do note that anti-dandruff shampoos are quite strong, which is why they're only used once or twice a week.
Our experts suggest the following shampoos to treat dandruff, so go ahead and add them to your Amazon cart. Make sure you subscribe to Prime for free, same- or next-day delivery.
1. Best Overall: Vichy Dercos Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, 390ml
Voted in by two of our dermatologist experts, the Vichy Dercos anti-dandruff shampoo is great for those with mild flaking. This line comes in three formulations to target different hair types - from dry hair to this bottle for normal to oily hair. It carries a one per cent concentration of selenium disulfide to treat seborrhoeic dermatitis and another one per cent of salicylic acid to eliminate flakes. According to Vichy Laboratories, the shampoo is to be used three times a week in the treatment phase and only once a week as a preventative measure. Five-star reviews pour in for this anti-dandruff formula by long-term buyers. If you have dry hair, check out this variant.
2. Best Treatment Shampoo: Nizoral Anti Dandruff Shampoo, 7oz
There's a good chance that you've heard of Nizoral miracles in dandruff forums and the like. Dr Khalil picks this ketoconazole formula for its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Find relief for an itchy and scaly scalp with the popular Nizoral anti-dandruff shampoo. It's suitable for colour-treated and chemically processed hair. The brand suggests shampooing with Nizoral twice a week, and you can continue to use your regular shampoo in between. Reviewers say they noticed results from the first wash itself, and mention how quickly the flakes disappeared right after, with no signs of itching.
3. Best for Dry Scalp: Eva Professional Capilo Oxygenum Dandruff Shampoo N.06
Darwish says her clients always revert with positive responses to Eva Professional's Oxygenum line, especially for dry dandruff. The N.06 variant is formulated for dry scalps, meaning it creates a hydrolipidic barrier and regulates the sebaceous glands. Raspberry vinegar delivers mineral salts, vitamins and acids to the hair follicles, to purify and nourish the scalp at the same time. It's free of silicones, parabens and sulfates.
4. Best Maintenance Shampoo: Sebamed Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, 200ml, Pack of 3
Dr Kurian recommends the Sebamed anti-dandruff shampoo for maintenance to prevent relapses. It has the same pH value as that of a healthy scalp, making it "soothing for irritated skin". While most medicated shampoos can be drying to an extent, the Sebamed formula is gentle and mild enough for regular use. Its main active ingredient is piroctone olamine, which has antifungal properties, and is soap- and alkali-free. This pack comes with three 200ml bottles.
5. Best for All Hair Types: Bioderma Node DS+ Anti Dandruff Intense Shampoo Hair Scalp Care, 125ml
Bioderma offers Node DS+ anti-dandruff shampoo in its line, designed to limit the growth of malassezia on the scalp. Dr Khalil highlights ingredients salicylic acid and zinc gluconate that reduce sebum levels, besides the antifungal active piroctone olamine. Bioderma advises a double-wash, with the second application to be left on for five minutes. Reviewers say it produces the best results when the instructions are followed to a tee, and some note how it doesn't dry out the hair.
6. Best for Severe Dandruff: ACM Laboratoire Dermatologique Novophane.K Anti-Dandruff Treatment Shampoo, 125ml
For stubborn, fungus-related dandruff, Dr Kurian picks the ACM Novophane.K shampoo. Its unscented formula is great for those sensitive to fragrance, as well. Novophane.K combines pyrithione zinc, piroctone olamine and salicylic acid to come up with a complete anti-dandruff plan. These ingredients target severe dandruff, scaly scalp, itchiness and irritation. Dr Kurian says you'll notice less itching and redness within the first couple of washes.
7. Best Budget: Ducray Kelual DS Anti-Dandruff Treatment Shampoo, 100ml
Ducray's Kelual DS treatment shampoo is only to be used once a week, since it aims to eliminate dandruff with long-lasting results. Dr Khalil says it has four active ingredients, from piroctone olamine to keluamid, a mild keratolytic. Many reviewers have shopped this on their dermatologist's recommendation, saying that they prefer the mild formula and that they've stopped experiencing itching and flaking. Some also add that little product lathers very well.
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