Common Dandruff Shampoo Active Ingredients

If you've suffered with dandruff in the past, then you've probably gotten familiar with ingredients like "zinc pyrithione," "salicylic acid," and other sciency words. Or maybe not? Let's take a quick look at the active ingredients found in various dandruff shampoos on the market, and how they compare to each other.

Salicylic Acid

This is an active ingredient whose main function is to remove scales and scalp build up. It works as a keratolytic, which is a fancy way of saying that it loosens the proteins that form the structure of skin. Salicylic acid can also be helpful in treating scalp build up, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. It helps to relieve scalp irritation and itching. Products with this ingredient should be used 2-4 times per week, or as needed, on alternating days with another everyday product, such as a shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione. Salicylic acid is available in over-the-counter and prescription forms.

Coal Tar

Shampoos that use coal tar as an active ingredient are aimed at ‘thick crust’ problems, addressing dandruff as well as psoriasis and eczema. Coal tar works by slowing the production of skin cells, reducing redness, inflammation, and irritation. It is very effective, but make sure to rinse thoroughly; the treated scalp area can be sensitive to sunlight. Coal tar also helps to relieve itching. Products with this ingredient should be used 2-4 times per week, or as needed, on alternating days with another everyday product, such as a shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione. Coal tar is available in over-the-counter and prescription forms. Denorex has a product that combines coal tar and menthol that work together to soothe and solve serious scalp problems.

Zinc Pyrithione

This is an antifungal as well as an ingredient that targets dead skin cells. It is gentle enough for everyday use, but it needs to be used more often until the dandruff is under control. Zinc pyrithione does not decrease sebum emission like ketoconazole does, but it is an effective over-the-counter solution.

Ketoconazole

This is a fungicide aimed at treating yeast infections on the scalp. Ketoconazole is a strong active ingredient. Products with this ingredient should be used 1-2 times per week for up to 8 weeks, or as directed by a medical doctor, on alternating days with another everyday product, such as a shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione. Consulting a doctor is recommended before using it. Some studies show that it can slow hair loss, but it is typically not marketed as a hair growth product. For dandruff shampoos, ketoconazole is available in both over-the-counter and prescription form.

Selenium Sulfide

Shampoos with selenium sulfide target the yeast on scalps that can result in dandruff. This active ingredient can slow down cell turnover, but it can also discolor light-colored hair (or chemically treated hair). It is available in both prescription and over-the-counter strengths.

As you can see, there are a variety of different ingredients available to fight dandruff and other serious scalp issues.

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