Top-6 anti-dandruff shampoos EXPLAINED [August, 2019]

Anti-dandruff shampoo: top-6 brands reviewed

Many of us experienced dandruff. Some people notice it from time to time in their hair not considering it a serious problem, while others make significant yet futile attempts to combat it.

In the first case, dandruff is related to dry scalp and can be easily cured by one of anti-dandruff shampoo we’ve listed in the table below.

In the second case, it can be a symptom accompanying immune system disorder or seborrheic dermatitis. That is We’ll discuss it in details further. 

So, in this article, we going to explain the main causes of dandruff occurrence and examine principal anti-dandruff ingredients contained in medicated shampoos. 

Top-6 Anti-Dandruff Shampoo 2020

Ok, if you a quick decision, here is the list of most popular and effective anti-dandruff shampoo. They all will work nice. In case, you want to dive in dandruff problem, let’s talk about its causes and treatment options.





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Ketokenazol 1%


-Scales and flakes,



Pyrithione Zinc 1%


-Dryness, itchiness of scalp,


-pH balanced, gentle shampoo for all types, color-protected & chemically treated hair,

-Moistures scalp

Coal tar extract 0.5% (2% Neutar Solubilized Coal Tar Extract)

-Itchiness of scalp,


-Seborrheic dermatitis,


-Inflammation and buildup

-Irritation, redness of scalp,


-More manageable hair

-Coal tar continue to work after shampoo is rinsed off

-Use once a week

Tea tree oil, jojoba oil, lavender oil, sage oil, rosemary oil


-Itchiness, irritation, dryness of scalp

-All-natural and safe ingreditns,

-Hypoallergenic formula,

-For all hair types,

-Sulfate and pareben free,

-For sensitie scalp,

-Life deterrent

-Hair thinning


Tea tree oil, 



-Seborrheic dermatitis,

-Itchy scalp,

-Flaky scalp,

-Dry scalp,

-Scalp with scarbs,

-Dry, damaged hair,

-Color-treated hair.





-For all types of hair.

What is dandruff?

Generally, dandruff is small grayish-white flakes covering the scalp’s surface. Usually, dandruff is accompanied by itching and dryness, but it’s limited by the scalp area and doesn’t provoke any visible inflammation.

In the case of seborrheic dermatitis (SD), flakes are bigger and greasy with a yellow tint. The scalp can be covered by crust accompanied by inflammation seen as surface erythema. Patches of red, flaking, greasy skin can appear beyond the scalp, particularly the nasolabial folds, ears, eyebrows, and chest. So, the main diagnosis criteria of dandruff versus SD is visible redness or erythema and the presence of flakes and irritation beyond the scalp.

The majority of modern dandruff and SD studies views them as a continuum of the symptom of the same etiology with a similar mechanism of development and treatment.

Why does dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis occur?

Recent studies claim 3 main factors: sebaceous glands secretion, yeast-like fungi Malassezia, and individual susceptibility. We’ll discuss each of them, especially the role of Malassezia fungi.

Malassezia and its role in causing dandruff

One of the most actively developing areas in the dandruff research is the study of the yeast fungus called Pityrosporum ovale (or Malassezia furfur). The Malassezia genus consists of 14 species, among which one is lipid-independent. The remaining six species, including P. ovale, can live only in an environment rich in lipids.



M. pachydermatis

M. furfur (Pityrosporum ovale),

M. sympodialis

M. globosa

M. obtusa

M. restricta

M. slooffiae

M. equina

M. dermatis

M. japonica

M. nana

M. capre

M. yamatoensis, 

M. cuniculi

Skin areas which contain a lot of sebaceous glands (scalp, face, and the upper part of the body) are excellent mediums for the development of lipophilic Malassezia species. There are also other factors that influence the composition of the human skin flora, for example, immune response and the local skin barrier strength. These factors limit the colonization of the skin by microorganisms. So, only those microorganisms that are resistant to local immunity have a chance to settle down on the skin’s surface. Of the entire genus Malassezia, only P. ovale has such resistance.

Under certain stressful conditions, P.ovale mutates into an aggressive form and begins to destroy the skin barrier. The damaging effect of P.ovale is associated with the enzymatic activity of this microorganism. In turn, impairments to the skin barrier are often accompanied by inflammatory changes that can be divided into two main groups.

The first group includes diseases for which P. ovale is the root cause. This group contains tinea versicolor, folliculitis, etc.
The second group including such skin pathologies as seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis, has a different nature of origin but gets worse while compounded by the activation of P. Ovale.

What is P. ovale?

P. ovale is a lipophilic yeast belonging to healthy skin flora in adults. It is opportunistic pathogens, which transforms from harmless blastospore to the pathogenic mycelial form in the presence of predisposal factors:

  • heat;
  • high relative humidity of the environment;
  • specifications of immune status and heredity of a person;
  • biochemistry features of superficial skin lipids;
  • specifications of the functioning of the sebaceous glands;
  • immunosuppressive treatments.

Thus, this fungus can be attributed to conditionally pathogenic flora like Candida albicans causing candidacies, for example.

Not for all people, P.ovale begins to behave like a pathogen. Microscopic analysis showed that the number of microorganisms per unit area in the norm and the cases of the pathologies remains almost the same. So, the reason of impaired skin barrier and dandruff is the transformation of the fungus into an aggressive form. Why does it happen?

Individual susceptibility and human immunity

Probably the determining factor is human immune status. There are numerous studies on the role of humoral, cell-mediated immunity, and phagocytosis of the nonspecific immune response in the occurrence of dandruff.

The received data is very intriguing. The concentration of antibodies, which are representatives of humoral immunity system, did not reveal any significant changes. For example, IgG titers (the most informative and widely used indicator in the study of the immune status) almost did not differ from the norm. However, scientists found some deviations in the humoral immunity of people suffering from dandruff. There was a correlation between the occurrence, the severity of the lesion, the prognosis of the disease, and the level of IgE. This correlation is especially clearly observed in persons suffering from concomitant allergic dermatitis. However, changes in the humoral immunity are not so pronounced as to be a basis for serious conclusions.

A somewhat different situation happens in the studies of cell-mediated immunity. Experiments showed that in individuals predisposed to transpiration of P. ovale into the active form, the T-cell response is suppressed. But, it remains unclear which subpopulation of T-lymphocytes is involved in the formation of an abnormal immune profile.
Complement immune system (a multicomponent system of serum proteins that performs the function of supporting body homeostasis) influences fungi activation as well.

So, the features of the body immune system affect mutation of P. ovale into a pathogen, and the pathological processes occulting later in the skin are associated with failures in protective mechanisms.

Sebum, epidermal lipids and dandruff

The structure of the lipids constituting epidermal barrier is one more essential factor related to dandruff development. With seborrheic dermatitis, the sebaceous glands work in a mode of increased activity, pouring a large amount of sebaceous secretion onto the surface of the skin and hair. This secretion is, also, more liquid than usual, so it penetrates the stratum corneum through intercellular spaces and integrates into the lipid bilayers of the skin barrier. Gradually, with the aggregation of abnormal lipids in lipid bilayers, its structure changes, and permeability increases. As disrupted skin barrier can’t restrain moisture evaporation, water leaves it uncontrollably, making the scalp dry, flaky, and itchy. This condition is called dandruff.

While skin immunity is interrupted, P. ovale can mutate to the active form, as an environment rich in lipids is an excellent substrate for its life and development.


Before you begin to cure dandruff, you need to determine its cause.

If P.ovale is the root cause, then efforts should be directed to suppressing pathogenic microflora and restoring the normal one.

Often, the cause is seborrheic dermatitis. In this case, the main aim is the correction of the work of sebaceous glands. The strengthening the barrier properties of the skin and the correction of skin immunity are, also, essential elements of restoration therapy.

Antifungal Agents

The composition of anti-dandruff treatments, both medical and cosmetic, is necessary includes substances with antifungal activity. These substances can are divided into two broad groups.

The first group is synthetic antifungal drugs. They belong to the drug and must be subject to mandatory testing following the basic principles of pharmacological studies. The second group includes substances of natural origin, containing components with fungicidal properties.


Chemical group


Synthetic compounds

Derivatives of imadizole and triazole













Hydroxypyridone Derivatives



Zinc Pyrithione


Natural compounds

Plant derivatives

Sweet flag (Acorus calamus)

Silver fir (Abies alba)

Silver birch (Betula alba)

Tahitian gardenia (Gardenia tahitensis)

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata)

Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica)

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Myrtle (Mirtus communis)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Henna (Lawsonia inermis)

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Black pepper (Piper nignum)

Black poplar (Populus negra)

Eucalyptus (Eucaliptus globulus)

Non-plant derivatives

Coal tar

Sulfonated shale oil

Synthetic Antifungal Drugs

Imidazole Derivatives

Synthetic antifungal medications are often used to treat dandruff. The most effective of them belong to the imidazole group. They destroy not only P. ovale (as well as the rest of the Malassezia fungi), but also some pathogenic subgroups of Candida albicans, Torulopsis, Trichosporon.

In terms of frequency of use in cosmetics, ketoconazole is the leader. It (and its analogs) inhibits the synthesis of ergosterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids necessary for the formation of the fungi cell membrane. They also damage to the cytoplasmic membrane of the microorganism directly.

Ketoconazole is usually used externally, and it provides excellent results. In shampoos, ketoconazole is generally found in a concentration of 1-2%. The most well-known anti-dandruff shampoo, containing ketoconazole, is Nizoral shampoo, which appeared on the market almost 30 years ago.

Zinc Pyrithione

Another well-known anti-dandruff substance is zinc pyrithione (zinc pyrithione, ZPT, ZnPT, ZnPTO). Unlike imidazole derivatives, which mainly inhibit the synthesis of materials necessary for the construction of the cell wall of a microorganism, zinc pyrithione blocks the transport of ions through the membrane. As a result, it becomes depolarized, and the cell dies.

Zinc pyrithione is a part of such successful anti-dandruff medicated shampoo as Head & Sholders, freederm zinc dermatological anti-dandruff shampoo, eds zinc, zinkan.

Hydroxypyridone Derivatives

Rilopyrox belonging to hydroxypyridone derivatives demonstrates the high activity to almost all clinical isolates of P. ovale. The researchers believe that Rilopyrox may be a useful alternative to the imidazole series drugs for the treatment of dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin diseases.

Substances Of Plant Origin

In addition to synthetic antifungal compounds in anti-dandruff cosmetics substances of natural origin can be a useful alternative. Most of them are plant extracts, which have antifungal properties. The main components responsible for the fungicidal properties of plants are tannins and terpenes.

Tannins are derivatives of various plants and, thus, can have different healing properties. They are strong antiseptics with pronounced antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. Tannins also have an antitumor effect associated with stimulation of the secretion of interleukin 1b and tumor necrosis factor TNFa with peripheral blood mononuclear cells. The evident antimutagenic activity of these compounds is associated with their antioxidant properties and inhibition of reactive oxygen species. The anti-dandruff effect of plants containing tannins is due to their antibacterial and fungicidal characteristics.

Another group of substances with pronounced antifungal properties is terpenes. Many terpenes are contained in essential oils and give them a characteristic aroma and healing properties. One of the most potent antifungal and anti-dandruff terpenes are tea tree oil and garlic.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil contains a large number of terpenes responsible for the antibacterial, antiviral, and fungicidal properties of this plant. It is widely used due to soothing, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. You can meet them in ingredient lists of many cosmetics for skin and hair care.

Tea tree oil is a popular anti-dandruff substance used in shampoos. There is also evidence of the activity of some components of tea tree oil against fungi and bacteria such as Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Sensitivity to the components of the tea tree oil was studied for 26 species of fungi belonging to Dermatophyte, 54 strains of yeast-like fungi, including 32 strains of Candida albicans and 22 strains of P. ovale. Studies found that tea tree oil is effective against almost all types of selected fungi.

The capacity of tea tree oil to treat various forms of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis is due to its high antifungal activity against P. ovale.


Garlic is traditionally used to stimulate hair growth and fight dandruff. This unique plant has a different mechanism of antifungal activity. The active component of garlic is alliin (a derivative of the amino acid alanine), which is associated with most of the therapeutic effects of garlic.

For example, when alliin is taken orally, the level of lipids (in particular, low and high-density lipoproteins) and cholesterol decreases in the blood plasma. Therefore, garlic is useful in preventing atherosclerosis and related diseases.

Alliin and other sulfur-containing components of garlic have antioxidant properties and inhibit the formation of superoxide anion (the maximum effect was achieved using 10% garlic powder and 90% garlic extract enriched with alliin).

Pharmaceutical preparations of garlic are used internally in the form of tablets or capsules. For the anti-dandruff treatment, there are specialized applications, containing synthetic alliin and purified alliinase enzyme as active components.

Coal Tar And Sulfanated Shale Oil

Coal tar and sulfonated shale oil (Ichthyol) are used in the treatment of several inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis, atopic and seborrheic dermatitis.

Coal tar is a mixture of aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons, among which more than 10,000 components have been identified. The composition of the coal tar will depend on the temperature at which it was produced.

The most dangerous fraction, phenols, includes well-known mutagens and carcinogens (benzopyrene and benzanthracene). Therefore, it is necessary to use a maximally purified coal tar that doesn’t contain phenolic compounds.

Coal tar is insoluble in water; its average concentration in the composition of anti-dandruff cosmetic agents is 5%.
Coal tar has a potent antifungal activity. A series of experiments in which the effectiveness of a coal tar gel was tested on 54 strains of P. ovale isolated from patients with seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff showed that the gel inhibits the growth of 52 strains.

Unlike coal tar, which has long been used in the fight against dandruff, Ichthyol began to be used in cosmetics recently. Shale Oil is a purified, refined and sulfonated derivative of pelagic sediment called Ichthyol.

The anti-inflammatory properties of ichthyol are explained by its ability to inhibit chemotaxis and the migration of immune system cells to the site of inflammation. Like coal tar, Ichthyol reduces hypersensitivity by blocking ATPase on the surface of skin macrophages.
Ichthyol is soluble in water; its average concentration in medicated shampoos is 0.5%.


In addition to the generally accepted antifungal substances mentioned above, there is an intensive search for antibiotics with highly specific sensitivity to P. ovale. Antibiotic Hamycin which belongs to macrolides is among them.

The antimicrobial spectrum of macrolides mainly includes yeast-like fungi. The antibiotic adsorbs on the cytoplasmic membrane of fungi and interacts with stearins increasing membrane permeability for various ions, including potassium ions. The cell begins to lose potassium and other microelements, dehydrates, and eventually dies.

In vitro experiments revealed that Hamycin is highly specific to P. ovale, and its activity significantly increases in the presence of copper and zinc.

Restoring The Barrier

Dandruff is actually “shivers” of the stratum corneum, the “bricks” that fall off the wall when cement doesn’t hold for some reason. So, along with finding out and eliminating the causes of cement deterioration, it is indispensable to restore the barrier itself as soon as possible. This task can be solved quickly and efficiently by the application of suitable cosmetics.
If the increased activity of sebaceous glands is the main reason for the disorder, then local applications of the compounds regulating their activity will provide a good result. Extracts of some plants (among them are nettle, birch buds, celandine, chamomile, calendula, burdock, burdock, witch hazel, oak bark) possess sebo-regulating properties. So, they are often used in shampoo for oily hair.

The activity of the sebaceous glands is also reduced by drugs containing zinc.

To restore the lipid barrier of the stratum corneum, one can use essential oils enriched in unsaturated fatty acids and ceramides. The immune system of the skin is, also, can be strengthened with the help of anti-inflammatory substances: plant extracts, vitamins, and microelements which come in masks and balms, as well as nutritional supplements.

The choice of components to fight dandruff is extensive. And if the use of synthetic compounds in cosmetic practice is not always necessary, the ingredients of natural origin can become a good alternative.