Products for Itchy, Flaky or Bumpy Scalps

Below is a list of medicated shampoos and conditioners for troubled scalps, sorted by product type and active ingredients. If you have dry scalp - see the end of this post for ideas (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Many of these shampoos have herbal ingredients which can either soothe, or irritate (or do absolutely nothing). Proteins may soothe a dry scalp, but can also be irritating for some people.
Essential oils like tea tree, rosemary, thyme, sage, (neem oil is going in small letters because it's so stinky) can be antifungal if used in adequate concentrations. But they can also cause sensitivity reactions or allergic reactions. Peppermint oil can create a cooling sensation, but can also irritate sensitive skin.

Sometimes detergents in dandruff shampoos can irritate already-irritated skin, however, there are some detergent-free options in this post and there are medicated conditioners at the bottom of the page for people whose skin or hair does not tolerate detergents. You can wash your hair and scalp with medicated conditioners.
Not everybody with itching will have flakes, not everybody with flakes will have itching. Some people get painful or itchy bumps instead - but the treatments are usually the same.
If you're not getting relief from any of these treatments, you may be reacting badly to fragrances, preservatives or some other ingredient in hair products. Or you may be dehydrating your scalp too much - see the final paragraph after the list.
And if you're trying lots of medicated shampoos and conditioners and topical treatments with no relief, please see a doctor or dermatologist if that is an option available to you. They may be able to prescribe medications that may be more effective.

Lets talk about rotating treatments! If you are a frequent customer in the itchy or flaky or bumpy, scaling, patchy scalp department, there is a good chance you need to have 2 or 3 different medications that work on standby. Why?

1) Because the fungus (Malasezzia) that is strongly implicated in scaling and flaking and itchy, unhappy scalps has many different variations, if not true sub-species, then like sub-species. For example, you might use a zinc pyrithione shampoo and it works now, but it may not work as well later on. It's possible that some fungi on your scalp that were causing the itch and inflammation were not affected by that medication - or they developed some resistance to it. Each medication has a slightly different method of "attacking" fungi or assisting skin in recovering from a flare-up. If one treatment stops working, you may need a different medication to control these fungi the next time around. Some fungi will be controlled with zinc pyrithione, others will be controlled with ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. Sometimes sulfur will get the job done and sometimes salicylic acid (with or without sulfur) works best.

2) Some people need to rotate between different outbreaks or flare-ups. Some people need to rotate every time they wash their hair. It's not fun, but it helps. Maybe in summer or winter you have more flaking and need a treatment that helps remove flakes and during other seasons, you don't need the same product.

3) Maybe you need the benefit of 2 different products. Such as topical hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation right now and a pyrithione zinc shampoo to help skin return to normal as a longer-term goal. Or maybe you need to alternate a salicylic acid shampoo to remove flaky, ready-to-slough-away skin so that the medication from a ketoconazole shampoo or pyrithione zinc shampoo can actually have contact with the skin it needs to be treating with medication.

4) Massage the scalp well! Don't scrub too hard, but do use enough physical exfoliation with your fingers or a scalp brush to help loosen dead skin cells.

If you need to use medicated shampoo often and your scalp is not oily, or all the shampooing dries skin and hair - consider using a medicated conditioner as a "shampoo" - it won't lather but it might provide some relief. If you have dry or curly hair - you might love it.
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The Active Ingredients: Look for the listed concentration. If concentration is not listed on the bottle - be wary, but it might still work.
  • Zinc pyrithione: Antifungal, may reduce scaling, may relieve inflammation to allow skin to heal. Effective at 1%, also effective at 0.5%, response may be slower than 1% (or not).
  • Tar: Slows proliferation of skin cells. Skin cells proliferate too quickly with dandruff - so you end up with scaling and flaking. Effective as 0.5% active tar.
  • Salicylic acid: Anti-scaling (remove scales and reduces flaking), can be anti-inflammatory and anti-septic. Effective at 1% to 1.5% and greater, sensitive skin may need 0.5% to avoid irritation. This exfoliates, so it may help with bumpy cysts if your scalp tolerates it.
  • Selenium sulfide: Antifungal, effective at 1%
  • Sulfur: Mild antifungal and antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, mild exfoliant. Effective at 2%
  • Ketoconazole: Antifungal. Effective at 1%, 2% is the most-effective, prescription dose (non-prescription outside the USA). Ideal for Pityrosporum folliculitis.
  • Tea tree oil: Anti-fungal, anti-septic when the concentration is adequate.
  • Rosemary oil, thyme oil, cedar oils: Anti-fungal, anti-septic, may promote healing.
  • Hydrocortisone: Inflammation is a critical part of the itchy-flaky scalp issue. Hydrocortisone reduces inflammation and relieves itching. Effective at 1%.
  • Piroctone Olamine: Antifungal, Effective at 1%, though I also find mention of effectiveness at 0.1% to 0.3%. 
Note: This is organized by active ingredients. Also indicated are: Sulfate-freesilicones. Sulfates ("sulfate detergents," a class of anionic detergents) and silicone emollients/detanglers are not necessarily bad for itchy or scaly scalps, but some people avoid them so I'm just trying to help you narrow the field. "Sulfate-free" shampoos are not necessarily milder or non-drying. 

Medicated Shampoos


Tea Tree

Zinc Pyrithione
  • AG Control Anti-Dandruff Shampoo : Zinc Pyrithione 2%
  • Aveeno Nourish + Dandruff Control: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Avlon KeraCare Dry & Itchy Scalp Moisturizing Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Clear Scalp Therapy shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Derma Zinc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2% Fragrance-free
  • Dead Sea Spa Magik Mineral Shampoo:  Zinc Pyrithione, Salicylic acid (concentration unspecified)
  • Derma Doctor Calm, Cool and Corrected Tranquility Cleanser: Zinc Pyrithione 2%
  • DHS Zinc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%, 
  • DHS Body Wash (can use on the scalp): 0.5% Fragrance-free
  • DS Laboratories Danderene High Performance Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%: Sulfate Free
  • Dr. Miracle's Cleanse & Condition 2-in-1 Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2% sulfate-free Fragrance-free
  • Head and Shoulders Shampoos: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Jason Dandruff Relief 2-in-1 Shampoo+Conditioner:  Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified)
  • L'Oreal EverFresh Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 0.98%, sulfate-free, contains silicones
  • Kenra Dandruff Shampoo : Zinc Pyrithione 1.9%
  • Malin & Goetz Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1.9% (also tea tree oil)
  • Mane N Tail Daily Control Anti-Dandruff shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Matrix Scalptherapie Antidandruff Shampoo:  Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified) contains silicones
  • Neutrogena Daily Control 2-in-1: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, water-insoluble siliconewater-soluble silicone+wheat protein
  • Nioxin Scalp Recovery Cleanser: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Noble Formula Zinc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%, fragrance-free
  • Redken Scalp Relief Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified, appears to be at least 1%)
  • Suave Dandruff Solutions Anti Dandruff Shampoo Coconut and Shea Butter: Zinc Pyrithione, contains silicones
  • Suave 2-in-1 Anti-Dandruff Classic Clean Shampoo & Conditioner contains silicone
  • Selsun Blue Zinc Pyrithione 1%: "Itchy Dry Scalp, Sensitive Scalp, Full and Thick" contains silicone
  • Zincon: Zinc Pyrithione 1% (Not sulfate-free, but "sulfate" detergents are present in low concentration - listed at the end of the ingredients)

Salicylic acid
  • Avalon Organics Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: Salicylic acid 2%, 
  • Denorex Extra Strength: Salicylic acid 3%, sulfate-free
  • Giovanni Don't Be Flaky Soothing Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: 2% Salicylic acid: Sulfate Free
  • Home Health Everclean Shampoo: 1.8% Salicylic acid, available in scented and unscented
  • Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo: Sulfur 2%, Salicylic Acid 2%: Sulfate free
  • MG217 Therapeutic 3% Salicylic Acid Shampoo + Conditioner
  • Mineral Fusion Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: 2% Salicylic acid: Sulfate Free
  • Neutrogena T-Sal: Salicylic acid 3%, sulfate-free
  • Pure & Basic Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Tea Tree and Rosemary: 2% Salicylic acid, sulfate-freewater-soluble silicone
  • Sebex Shampoo (generic for Sebulex): Salicylic acid 2%, Sulfur 2% 
  • Selsun Blue Naturals: Salicylic acid 3%
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Deep Cleansing Shampoo: Salicylic acid, concentration unknown, also tea tree oil. Sulfate Free (this contains soap which may or may not leave some residue if you have hard water)
  • Thicker, Fuller Hair Dandruff Sulfate-Free Shampoo: 1.8% Salicylic Acid: Sulfate Free

  • Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo: Sulfur 2%, Salicylic Acid 2%: Sulfate free
  • Sulfur 8 shampoo: Sulfur
  • Sebex Shampoo (generic for Sebulex): Salicylic acid 2%, Sulfur 2%
  • L'emarie Intensive Hair Growth Shampoo: Ketoconazole 1%
  • Nizoral: Ketoconazole 1%, sulfate free
  • Regenepure DR: Ketoconazole 1%, sulfate-free, not suitable for vegetarians
  • Boots Anti-Dandruff Ketoconazole shampoo: Ketoconazole 2% - this is a UK brand
Selenium sulfide
  • Davine's Purifying Shampoo: Selenium sulfide. Sulfate-free
  • Head And Shoulders Clinical Strength: Selenium sulfide 1%, silicone
  • Selsun Blue Medicated Dandruff Shampoo: Selenium sulfide 1%
    • Selsun Blue Moisturizing
    • Selsun Blue Normal to Oily
    • Selsun Blue 2 in 1
  • Vichy Decros Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for Dry hair
  • Dr. Marder's Total Relief Shampoo: 1% Hydrocortisone, Sulfate-free
    • See the "Spray, liquids, gels and DIY list below for more treatments with hydrocortisone
Piroctone Olamine
  • Alpecin Dandruff Killer Shampoo, also contains salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione
  • As I Am Cleansing Pudding
  • Davine's Natural Tech Purifying Gel: Zinc Pyrithione 0.48%, Piroctone Olamine
  • Eucerin Dermo Caplillaire cream shampoo for dry dandruff: Piroctone olamine with Climbazole (antifungal)
  • Eucerin Dermo Caplillaire gel shampoo for "oily" hair: Piroctone olamine with Climbazole (antifungal)
  • Hairology Itchy Flaky Scalp Treatment (cream, not shampoo - UK brand)
  • Klorane Shampoo with Peony
  • Moo Goo Milk Shampoo (Australian brand)
  • Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Scalp shampoo
  • Pilfood Dandruff Shampoo 
  • SebaMed Anti Dandruff Shampoo 
  • Hegor Shampoo for Persistent Dandruff (European brand): Piroctone Olamine and Pyrithione zinc
  • The Body Shop Ginger Dandruff Shampoo
  • Vichy Decros Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for Sensitive Scalps: Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic acid Sulfate-free
  • Vichy Decros Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for Oily Hair

Medicated Conditioners and Co-washes: Note, you can leave these on for 10-15 minutes before washing your hair (you might want to dampen it first), then cleanse with your usual cleanser.
  • Avalon Organics Medicated Anti-Dandruff Conditioner: Salicylic acid 2%
  • Avlon KeraCare Dry & Itchy Scalp Moisturizing Conditioner: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, Contains silicone
  • Collective Well Being Salicylic Acid Scalp Conditioner: Contains silicone
  • Dr. Marder's Total Relief Conditioner: Zinc Pyrithione 1%contains an "evaporating" silicone - less likely to build up on hair
  • Giovanni Don't Be Flaky Nourishing Conditioner: Salicylic acid 2%
  • Head and Shoulders Conditioners - not "2-in-1 shampoo plus conditioner," that is shampoo (Itchy Scalp Care, Classic Clean, Damage Rescue, Green apple, Instant Relief): Zinc Pyrithione 0.5%contains silicones
  • Head and Shoulders Moisture Care Co-Wash: Zinc Pyrithione 0.5% Contains silicone
  • Jason Normalizing Tea Tree Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Mane N Tail Daily Control Anti-Dandruff Conditioner:  Zinc Pyrithionecontains silicone
  • Mizani Scalp Care Conditioner: Zinc Pyrithione 1% contains amdimethicone
  • Nioxin Scalp Recovery Moisturizing Conditioner Zinc Pyrithionecontains silicone
  • Nature's Gate Tea Tree Calming Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Suave Scalp Solutions Anti-Dandruff conditioner Coconut and Shea butter: Zinc Pyrithionecontains silicone
  • Sulfur 8 Medicated Light and Original formula hair/Scalp conditioner: 2% sulfur - this is not a creamy hair conditioner, it is petrolatum-based
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Purification Masque: Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, also neem and tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Balancing Conditioner: Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Yes To Carrots Scalp Relief Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified, Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified 

Non-Shampoo Sprays, Liquids, topical gels or creams and DIY treatments:
  • Davine's Natural Tech Purifying Gel: Zinc Pyrithione 0.48%, Piroctone Olamine
  • Derma Zinc Cream: Zinc Pyrithione 0.25%
  • Eucerin Dermo Caplillaire Anti Dandruff Intensive Scalp Treatment: Piroctone Olamine
  • Essential oil treatments, mixed into oil and left on for a little while before washing, or mixed into your favorite shampoo:
    • Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil or rosemary essential oil or thyme essential oil or cedar essential oil into 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of oil such as olive oil. Apply to the scalp, leave on 10-30 minutes and shampoo out. 
    • Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil or rosemary essential oil or thyme essential oil or cedar essential oil into 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of shampoo or conditioner and use as you normally would - allow the shampoo or conditioner to stay on your scalp for several minutes before rinsing.
    • 3-5 drops of essential oil = up to 1/16th of a teaspoon, 0.15 ml-0.25 ml
  • Miconazole nitrate creams (for the scalp is an off-label use as an anti-fungal, use at your own discretion)
  • Noble Formula Zinc cream: Zinc Pyrithione 0.25%
  • Psoriasin gel: Tar 1.25%
  • Scalpicin 2-in-1: Salicylic acid 3%
  • Scalpicin Maximum Strength: Hydrocortisone 1%
  • Selsun Blue Scalp Itch Treatment: Hydrocortisone 1%
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Dandruff and Dry Scalp Elixir (Spray for the scalp): Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, tea tree oil concentration unspecified
  • Tolnaftate Creams or liquid (for the scalp is an off-label use, use at your own discretion)

    DRY SCALP? Got an especially dry or itchy scalp? Scalp needs soothing? 

    • Wash only as often as you need to to keep ahead of itching. Just wetting and drying our skin creates irritation, so don't wash your hair/scalp unless it's dirty or looks bad or is getting more itchy when you don't wash it.
    • Look for balanced shampoos and conditioners. "Balanced" in a shampoo means:
    1. Look for more than 1 detergent (that makes it milder). For example, sodium lauryl sulfate + cocamidopropyl betaine or C14-16 Olefin sulfonate + cocamidopropyl betaine; any of these + decyl glucoside, or combined with Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate.
    2. You probably want some conditioning ingredients like cetrimonium chloride, polyquaternium ingredients, some emollients like plant oils or glycol distearate, sucrose cocoate, PEG-cocoate or silicones to soften skin make detergents less irritating.
    3. You also want humectant ingredients which can act as anti-irritants that will help your scalp retain moisture and reduce irritation like polyquaternium-7, panthenol, sodium PCA, glycerin, hydroxypropyltrimonium honey, aloe, propanediol, glycine betaine, urea, niacinamide or allantoin.  These can be great for your hair too. 
    4. In conditioners (if you put those on your scalp), look for the same things - aside from conditioning ingredients, look for those irritation-reducing humectants to round out protection for your scalp.
    5. Try applying some oil (avocado, olive, jojoba...) to your scalp or a little fragrance-free skin lotion 10 minutes before you wash your hair. This softens the skin and protects it from the drying effects of washing. CAUTION: If you have a fungal component to your scalp troubles, oil can make it worse. 
    6. Wrap your hair in a silky scarf or satin sleep cap at night - inside the scarf will be a slightly humid little micro-climate to prevent skin from dehydrating.

    If you live in a dry or windy area, protect your scalp from the wind with a hood or hat because that can be so drying to skin - even a light scarf provides a barrier.