Seborrheic Dermatitis Vs. Dandruff: Our Top Shampoos To Treat Each

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We've all been there. After too much hair product buildup, a keratin treatment, an allergic reaction, or even just cold weather, pesky scalp flakiness can appear out of nowhere. As much as you try to brush out the less-than-ideal "snow" from your hair, it may seem endless — in short, one of the worst things to notice as you're heading out the door for a job interview, a night out, or any day you chose to wear black. You resort to a comb, water, and more product, only to give up and brush it all up in a messy bun. While your flakes may be covered, you're probably wondering how to steer clear of a dry, itchy scalp for good.

To avoid a flaky-scalp disaster from happening in the first place, it's best to keep your bases covered with a few tricks that keep things moisturized and clean. Finding the balance is tricky; per Verywell Health, showering with lukewarm water, using fragrance-free products, and managing stress are all key factors in balancing your scalp. Similarly, massaging in coconut and tea tree oil will have anti-inflammatory effects while still being super hydrating. 

That being said, what shampoo you use is just as important. While Vani Cream recommends using a gentle shampoo no matter what, there's a bit of a difference between run-of-the-mill dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Even if you've never thought about the root cause of your dry scalp, knowing the distinctions will help you find the perfect shampoo for your scalp.

Seborrheic dermatitis vs. dandruff

It's paramount to know the differences between seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff before choosing the right shampoo for your scalp. While some sudsy formulas work wonders for dandruff flakes, other shampoos work best for seborrheic dermatitis' inflammation. 

While dandruff is a type of seborrheic dermatitis, it's a lot more complicated than that, per Verywell Health. Both ailments are found on seborrheic areas, or the parts of the body that produce the most oil (via Cleveland Clinic). They are very similar conditions, both comprising dry, itchy, peeling skin. That being said, there are clear differences between dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis that will point you in the right direction for treatment.

As per Verywell Health, seborrheic dermatitis is a condition defined by yellow flakes on the scalp, nose, eyelids, and other areas of the body. This peeling skin is usually accompanied by increased oil production, gets worse in the cold (or with skin-drying A/C), and can be caused by the presence of skin yeast, stress, or even high testosterone. Whatever the reason, it's important to note that seborrheic dermatitis usually affects several areas of the body and is associated with inflammation. On the other hand, dandruff is a much milder condition (although frustrating!) and occurs solely on the scalp. As per Vani Cream, dandruff is composed of itchy white flakes, caused by scalp yeast that leads to an overproduction of skin cells. 

Now that you might be able to tell your specific situation, what shampoo is best for you?

The best budget seborrheic dermatitis shampoos

First, we rounded up the best shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis that are budget-friendly to boot. These will become your shower's new best friend and are tested to get rid of oily, all-over flakes in no time. As per Stylecraze, Neutrogena's T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo ($5.99) is a drugstore find that's reliable, to-the-point, and soothing enough to calm your scalp and get it in check. As per the outlet, this shampoo "helps relieve seborrheic dermatitis" even for very sensitive skin. It uses 0.5% coal tar to get the job done, which as per Healthline, is great for bringing down the inflammation so often seen with dermatitis. Grab this product if you also suffer from scalp psoriasis, a skin condition associated with itchy patches that spread (via WebMD).

Another wallet-approved bet is Selsun Blue's Medicated Maximum Strength Dandruff Shampoo ($6.98), which Bustle recommends for anyone suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, especially those with dry hair. This formula uses 1% selenium sulfide and menthol to gently cool, refresh, and clean the scalp, preventing flakes from appearing. As per Bustle, several reviewers report using this for acne and rashes, and even as a body wash for all-over dermatitis. 

When in doubt, go for Re-Fresh Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($6.98) which uses apple cider vinegar to calm the scalp. As per Healthline, A.C.V. is a known antibacterial and antifungal, cleansing and toning the skin while balancing pH levels. All Things Hair says this clarifying shampoo should be used twice a week.

The best luxe shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis

If you feel like going all out in treating your seborrheic dermatitis, look no further than Briogeo's Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Scalp Scrub Shampoo ($42). Thick, creamy, and speckled with cleansing charcoal exfoliants, this shampoo features a peppermint, spearmint, and tea tree oil complex that leaves the scalp feeling refreshed and downright tingly. Verywell Health recommends this shampoo if you're looking for something color-safe, moisturizing (yay to coconut oil!), cruelty-free, and safe for chemically processed hair. The "scrub" particles brush away your flakes, while the formula's biotin component strengthens your strands.

For another luxe seborrheic dermatitis shampoo option, we love TIGI's Scalp Shampoo ($25.99), which goes big on moisture with sumptuous shea butter, cocoa butter, avocado oil, and argan oil. Amazon reviewers say this luxe shampoo leaves their hair "so soft" while also keeping it clean for days. All Things Hair recommends this formula for those dealing with seborrheic dermatitis, citing its gentle components, keratin infusion, hydrating benefits, and tea tree oil for maximum efficacy.

Nioxin is also a cult-fave brand for scalp issues, and the Nioxin Scalp Recovery System Anti-Dandruff Cleanser Shampoo is no different ($23). It's soothing to the scalp as well as hydrating, combining antibacterial 1% pyrithione zinc with soothing green tea. It will leave your scalp feeling clean and refreshed, and your dermatitis flakes will disappear in no time at all. Use it with the coordinating moisturizing conditioner and matching serum for the best, itch-free results.

If dandruff is your issue, try these drugstore finds

Now it's time to dive into the absolute best dandruff-fighting shampoos that you can find at your local grocery store. Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($14.84) is a classic for a reason, bringing medicinal results to your scalp. As per Prevention, this is the "best overall" anti-dandruff shampoo on the market, combining a gentle lather with ketoconazole, an antifungal. As per Healthline, ketoconazole can relieve dandruff by fighting Malassezia, the yeast fungus that causes it in the first place. Great for severe cases, it's also perfect for color-treated or processed hair.

If you want something super-moisturizing that kicks dandruff to the curb, we suggest trying Dove's DermaCare Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($4.89). Dermatologist Francesca Fusco told Allure that "this is gentle and very nourishing for the hair," while getting rid of flakes with pyrithione zinc and a pH-balanced formula. The best part? It packs hair-quenching ingredients like coconut and shea butter for ultimate hydration (via Prevention). If your hair tends to dry out and become straw-like when using anti-dandruff cleansers, this one's for you.

For an anti-dandruff mid-priced option that's just as good as expensive brands, we love Kamedis Anti-Dandruff Therapy Shampoo ($15.99). As per Allure, this cleanser brings ancient botanicals like soapberry, a known antibacterial and antifungal, to fight dandruff naturally. Dermatological research director Joshua Zeichner told the outlet that this shampoo "needs enough contact time on the skin to exert [its] effects. Use daily, or with each hair wash until dandruff improves."

Go for these dandruff-fighting salon-quality shampoos

If you want something luxurious and dandruff-fighting, these shampoos are perfect for you. First up, salon-fave Redken's Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo ($23). This cleanser is pH-balanced and features antifungal 1% pyrithione zinc to get rid of flake-causing scalp yeast, while still locking in moisture. Dermatologist Neil Sadick told Allure that this shampoo's active ingredient "reduces inflammation, itchiness, and combats bacterial and fungal growth." Plus, per The Cut, this is the best anti-flake shampoo for color-treated hair (no fading here!). 

If natural-as-can-be is your game, try Sachajuan's Scalp Shampoo ($28), which uses a mix of botanicals and science to get rid of dandruff and calm inflammation. Menthol gives a cooling effect, rosemary oil and ginger work for hydration, and piroctone olamine and climbazole work together to fight flakes at the root (per Dandruff Deconstructed). And according to The Cut, Sachajuan's formula features salicylic and lactic acid to exfoliate your scalp, while the ocean scent gives it a spa-like feel.

Another option is Philip Kingsley's Flaky Scalp Cleansing Shampoo ($40), which Allure recommends for color-treated hair. Gentle and moisturizing, this shampoo contains the anti-microbial piroctone olamine to keep those dandruff flakes at bay. If you need some moisture in your life, it also features aloe vera, a known anti-inflammatory that balances the scalp. As per the brand's consumer studies, 99% of people said this shampoo cleared flakes, and 100% said it was soothing — so yeah, it's definitely effective. The juicy apple scent doesn't hurt, either!