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While there’s no current “cure” for dandruff, many find a clarifying treatment key for managing and easing the symptoms (itching, scaling, and the like). You can of course opt for an OTC medicated shampoo (which tends to have lab-derived ingredients), but there are some pretty potent natural-leaning numbers that also do the trick.
Better yet, the latter treatments are modern, sophisticated, and easy on the eye. If you’ve ever scoured drugstore aisles for a dandruff shampoo, you likely know that most medicated options can look cold, clinical, and, well, medical. They work just fine (great, even!) but why should you sacrifice a fun shower experience for a few flakes?
Allow us to introduce you to the treasure trove of natural dandruff shampoos: These incorporate plant-based actives known for fighting off flakes, and they sure do put in the work.
What ingredients should you look for?
Natural dandruff shampoos tend to have at least one of these key players:
- Salicylic acid: “[Salicylic acid] helps to reduce scaling on the scalp,” board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., tells us about dandruff treatments. “It can help to gently remove buildup from styling products, pollution, and hard water, as well as gently exfoliate to reduce scaling, without stripping the hair of its natural oils.” That’s why the BHA (and it’s botanical cousin, willow bark) is formulated into many purifying shampoos.
- Tea tree oil: The potent essential oil has impressive antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s superb at dissolving and removing oil and buildup on the scalp. One study even found that using shampoo that contained tea tree oil was an effective way to improve mild to moderate dandruff; specifically, participants who used the oil for four weeks had a 41% improvement in itchy, scaly symptoms.
- Apple cider vinegar: “Because apple cider vinegar is an antimicrobial, anti-yeast, and antifungal, it helps to clean bacteria and other organisms from the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D. (Translation: When the dandruff-causing bacteria don’t like the acidic environment, they tend to stop multiplying.) “When used for short contact, such as in a shampoo, it is generally safe and well tolerated.”
Best natural dandruff shampoos.
You’ve got the ingredients down pat—now let’s discuss the products. We put in all the legwork for you, so you can focus on soothing your scalp.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but these shampoos are pretty potent, so you don’t want to use most of them every single day. Even without traditionally stripping ingredients, like sulfates, these lathers can dry out the skin when used with every rinse. Lay off once the dandruff subsides, or continue to use with your weekly (or biweekly) clarifying cadence.
Biolage R.A.W. Scalp Care Antidandruff Shampoo
Salicylic acid is the star ingredient here, formulated at a 2.9% concentration—the highest allowed by the FDA. It’s paired with willow bark extract (the BHA’s cousin, remember?), just in case you wanted even more of a scrub.
R.A.W. Scalp Care Antidandruff Shampoo, Biolage ($25)
Beekman 1802 Apple Cider Hair Rinse
OK—not technically a shampoo. But you technically could use an apple cider vinegar rinse in place of your wash, especially if you have really dry hair (just be sure to follow with your regular conditioner). Simply pump the spray over your scalp, massage in the product, let it sit for a couple minutes, then thoroughly rinse.
Apple Cider Hair Rinse, Beekman 1802 ($30)
Uncle Funky’s Daughter Squeaky Clarifying Cleanser
The combination of tea tree and menthol can help soothe an itchy, inflamed scalp (as Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative doctor and mbg Collective member, once told us), so if you’re scratching your skin raw, try this blend for welcome relief. It also packs in willow bark extract for extra flake control, as well as castor oil for moisture.
Squeaky Clarifying Cleanser, Uncle Funky’s Daughter ($12.99)
SheaMoisture African Black Soap & Tea Tree Oil 2-IN-1 Shampoo & Conditioner
This number features African Black Soap (an A+ cleansing agent), tea tree oil, and shea butter for a potent-yet-moisturizing experience. A bunch of other nourishing oils make the list, like avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, and olive oil—it’s perfect for those with itchy scalps who also want soft and shiny strands.
African Black Soap & Tea Tree Oil 2-IN-1 Shampoo & Conditioner, SheaMoisture ($6.99)
AG Hair Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo
ACV is the workhorse here, with argan oil and aloe vera to hydrate and smooth the strands. The essential oil blend of rosemary, lavender, lemongrass and clary sage also offer a fresh, elevated scent.
Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo, AG Hair ($30)
Derma E Scalp Relief Shampoo
With salicylic acid and the tea tree and menthol power couple, this shampoo simultaneously replenishes the scalp and cools on contact. The brand also includes their “Therapeutic Psorzema Herbal Blend,” which is a combination of neem, burdock, and bearberry extracts to further soothe the skin.
Scalp Relief Shampoo, Derma E ($10.99)
ACURE Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
It’s not the most popular essential oil for flakes (tea tree certainly earns the top spot), but rosemary oil has a ton of healthy hair benefits. In fact, research has found that rosemary oil can help an itchy scalp and dandruff. Along with the potent EO, this shampoo features argan oil and CoQ10 to coat the strands with moisture and help them shine.
Curiously Clarifying Shampoo, ACURE ($9.99)
Brickell Daily Strengthening Shampoo
It’s marketed towards men, but really anyone can benefit from this tea tree-peppermint oil number. It contains 97% natural ingredients, including aloe vera, panthenol, vitamin E, and silk amino acids for one healthy head of hair.
Daily Strengthening Shampoo, Brickell ($20)
Jupiter Balancing Shampoo
This lather features zinc pyrithione, an antifungal active, along with some plant-based botanicals to punch up some of the scalp-relieving benefits. Like garlic extract, for example, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties: “As an antifungal, garlic is most effective in the extract form,” says naturopathic doctor Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., about the ingredient.
Balancing Shampoo, Jupiter ($23)
Aveda Scalp Remedy Dandruff Solution
Not a shampoo, but a leave-in treatment: It features salicylic acid rosemary leaf extract to gently slough off scales. Spray the solution on your most affected (itchy) areas, and let it do the work.
Scalp Remedy Dandruff Solution, Aveda ($33.50)