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How To Choose The Best Shampoo For Dry Scalp And Dandruff: Tips & Tricks


About 50 million people in the United States suffer from dandruff, and many more experience dry scalp.

Misery may love company, but companionship does not solve your problem. 

Even knowing that you are not alone does not solve the irritation and pain you may feel from a dry, itchy scalp or the embarrassment of seeing flakes of skin all over your dark clothing.

Luckily, dandruff and dry scalp are easily treatable with OTC shampoos and hair treatments. There are so many options out there for dandruff treatment that it can be difficult to know which one is right for your hair. 

If you’re looking for the best shampoo for dry scalp and dandruff, here are five things to look out for.

Table of Contents:

  • Does it Treat Both Dry Scalp and Dandruff?
  • What Are the Active Ingredients?
  • How Harsh Is the Product?
  • Is it Safe for All Hair?
  • Is it Comfortable to Use?

Does it Treat Both Dry Scalp and Dandruff?

Many people use dry scalp and dandruff interchangeably. The two conditions have the same symptoms: dry scalp, itchiness, irritation, and even flaking from the scalp.

However, they are different conditions caused by different factors. A dry scalp is caused by the skin losing moisture, which in turn makes it irritated and flaky. 

By contrast, dandruff is caused by seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that causes the scalp to become very oily, or an excess of Malassezia, a common scalp fungus.

scalp scratch, inflamed scalp, dandruff

Although dry skin and dandruff can feel similar, they are completely different conditions. Treating one could exacerbate the other. 

For example, if you buy an anti-dandruff shampoo that strips the skin of its natural oils, that could only make your dry skin worse.

A clarifying shampoo can alleviate both dandruff and dry scalp by clearing away scalp buildup that is irritating your skin. 

However, be careful that you do not buy a shampoo that is too harsh and will throw your scalp out of balance.

What Are the Active Ingredients?

Certain active ingredients are prevalent in shampoos used to treat dandruff and dry scalp. Looking for these ingredients on a label can help you determine whether the product is effective or not.

Common ingredients in shampoos that fight dandruff include pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, and coal tar. 

In shampoos that treat dry scalp, coco-glucoside, glycolic acid, and natural, hydrating ingredients are very common.

However, you should be cautious when buying anti-dandruff shampoos because many of the active ingredients are very harsh. 

They can strip your hair of moisture and exacerbate your condition, particularly if what you thought was dandruff was a dry scalp.

If you want to avoid harsh chemicals, there are plenty of natural ingredients that are also effective in fighting an irritated, flaky scalp. 

Apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and coconut oil are naturally clarifying substances that also protect your hair and do not strip your strands of moisture the way that some dandruff drugstore shampoos might.

apple cider vinegar shampoo

Look for these natural ingredients when shopping for a gentle anti-dandruff shampoo.

How Harsh Is the Product?

Although you may think that you need the strongest product possible to get rid of buildup, a shampoo that is too harsh could make the problem worse. 

Many anti-dandruff shampoos contain strong chemicals that strip your scalp and hair of necessary oils and moisture. Drying out your scalp could cause more irritation and flaking.

Start with a product based on natural ingredients, as they tend to be gentler on hair while still fighting buildup. 

washing hair

An ingredient such as apple cider vinegar in a clarifying shampoo clears out buildup without stripping your hair follicles of all of their natural oils.

Besides the active ingredient, look at the other ingredients in the shampoo as well. Does the product have hydrating ingredients such as almond oil, argan oil, or coconut oil? 

The best shampoo for dry scalp and dandruff will clear out buildup without leaving you with limp, dry hair. Invest in a product with a formula that is beneficial to the long-term well-being of your hair.

Is it Safe for All Hair?

Most over-the-counter shampoo that is anti-dandruff is formulated for specific hair types only, but the labels won’t tell you that. 

The harsh, moisture-stripping properties of these shampoos affect certain types of hair more than others. 

If you have curly hair or a natural hair texture, then these shampoos could strip your hair of the moisture and natural oils that it needs to maintain its texture, leaving you with frizzy and limp tresses.


To get rid of buildup, look for a shampoo based on natural ingredients and with plenty of hydration. Your hair needs moisture more than most, so be sure to give it what it needs.

If you dye your hair, look out for shampoo that is safe for color-treated hair. Most anti-dandruff shampoos and clarifying products do not differentiate between color particles and oily buildup when stripping your hair, which could lead to your hair losing color. A shampoo based on natural ingredients such as apple cider vinegar will be gentler on your color.

Is it Comfortable to Use?

Finally, your shampoo should be a product that you feel comfortable using. Many dandruff shampoos have strong odors and textures that make for an unpleasant shower experience. 

By contrast, shampoos based on natural ingredients have a pleasant smell and are nicer to use.

Even when choosing a clarifying shampoo without harsh chemicals, you should follow instructions carefully. 

Most clarifying shampoos recommend that you use them once or twice a week at most and switch out with a different shampoo if you wash your hair more often than that. 

Even the gentlest clarifying shampoo could strip your hair of necessary oils if used too often, leading to hair loss, dry hair, and other problems.

Both dandruff and dry scalp can easily be treated with shampoos that you can get over the counter.

However, it can be complicated to identify which condition is causing your itchiness, irritation, and flaky skin and then find the right shampoo to treat it. 

These tips can hopefully help you identify the right product that will help you clear away buildup without dehydrating your hair and scalp further. 

Look for natural active ingredients, hydrating oils, and labels that say their product is safe for all hair textures.

Radhika Bhatia

I'm a content writer, copywriter, and blogger with a background in marketing, planning, and eCommerce. I specialize in beauty writing, including skincare, cosmetics, wellness, aesthetics, and health. Classically trained and idea-savvy, I love living in the present.

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