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Medicated Shampoos for Dandruff

By Lisa Sefcik ; Updated August 14, 2017

Finding a medicated shampoo for dandruff can be tricky, says What works for one dandruff sufferer might not work as well for you. A number of nonprescription options curb white flakes and itching, but while all are formulated to control dandruff, one may do a better job than the rest. Medicated dandruff shampoos are generally recommended as the best way to get rid of those irritating white flakes, as long as you use them properly.

Dandruff: What Causes It

Although dandruff can be caused by a dry scalp, it typically occurs because your scalp is more oily, says Psoriasis, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis are three skin disorders that can cause dandruff. Use of certain hair care products, such as dyes and styling products, can cause contact dermatitis, as well as dandruff. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, dandruff is exacerbated by the overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus on your scalp called malassezia. Sometimes dandruff results from not washing your hair frequently enough. If your dandruff is mild, you might resolve it simply by shampooing every day. However, more severe cases of dandruff call for stronger stuff.

About Medicated Shampoos

Nonprescription medicated shampoos for dandruff may all look the same on the drugstore shelf, but these products contain different medications to give them flake-fighting properties, says Zinc pyrithione and ketoconazole are ingredients that reduce the presence of malassezia. Selenium sulfide also reduces the presence of this fungus and slows down the rate of cell turnover on your scalp. Tar shampoos also normalize cell turnover. Salicylic acid-based shampoos are described by as "scalp scrubs" formulated to get rid of scaling.

Cautions and Concerns

The ingredients in dandruff shampoos can cause certain side effects. Salicylic acid, for example, has a reputation for being very drying, so if you choose a shampoo with this ingredient, it may be wise to condition your hair after you wash. Selenium sulfide can cause color changes in gray, blond or dyed hair. advises using these shampoos according to product directions. Rinse very well after use.

Other Alternatives

A more natural approach to dandruff is to wash your hair daily with a tea tree oil shampoo. According to, tea tree oil has antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal properties. Some people exhibit skin sensitivity to tea tree oil, cautions

Using Your Shampoo

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology suggests purchasing two or three different medicated dandruff shampoos with different ingredients and rotating them. Shampoo every day at first until dandruff is under control, says, then reduce frequency of use to three to four times a week. When you wash your hair, lather up, then leave the shampoo on your scalp for five minutes before rinsing. This gives the ingredients time to work.

Stubborn Dandruff

If you've used a medicated dandruff shampoo for several weeks but still aren't getting the results you need, see your doctor, advises Stubborn dandruff may be characteristic of a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, especially if your scalp is red and flaking is also present on your face. The American Academy of Dermatology indicates that middle-aged adults and seniors are more likely to get seborrheic dermatitis. Your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength medicated dandruff shampoo or use of a topical steroid lotion to resolve your symptoms.

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