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5 Effective Dandruff Shampoo Ingredients


By Tiffany Moore


I was once among the millions of unlucky people who, at one time or another, have had to deal with the annoying problem of dandruff and itchy flaky scalp.


This socially awkard dermatological condition brought on moderate-to-extreme scalp itching accompanied by a cascade of loose grayish white, scaly flakes in my hair (and not to mention, on my coolest dark colored clothes) made me look like a greasy mess and I totally freaked out!


You might think that the best way to clear up white flakes of dandruff is simply a matter of swapping your regular shampoo for something that has active anti-dandruff ingredients in the formulation. You are probably quite right about that since dandruff-fighting shampoos help prevent bacterial propagation in the scalp, which is widely thought to be one of the contributing factors to dandruff formation, although hair experts are not entirely sure what causes it.


However, the tedious truth is not all dandruff shampoos work the same, and it is not unusual to hear people complaining about certain popular brands making their dandruff situation worse. If you have put high hopes on sensational-sounding dandruff control shampoos and found them not as effective as claimed, then you might want to look at a variety of possible explanations why the shampoos are not working for you.


It could be that they don’t contain the essential ingredients, or they just don’t have enough of the right ingredients. It might also not work if the dandruff shampoo is not suitable for your dandruff symptoms and scalp condition, or the treatment duration is too short.


Hence, before you grab that heavily advertised bottle of shampoo on the shelves of your local drugstores and supermarkets that promise to get dandruff out of your hair in just after one use, I strongly encourage you to pay careful attention to ingredient label. This simple step of reading product ingredients will give you an idea as to whether the shampoo will help improve your condition or not.


For instance, a mild case of scalp flaking and itching can be kept under control just by washing your hair daily with a regular shampoo to remove excess hair oils which can cause dead skin cells to stick together, and form itchy white flakes on your scalp. This means you don’t really need a special shampoo to cure mild dandruff symptoms, but I would highly suggest you use organic or natural shampoos. This is because they are much more gentle and won’t further irritate your scalp with harsh chemicals and preservatives – sodium laurel sulfate, paraben, and alcohol – commonly found in many commercial shampoos.


Mild dandruff can also be treated with simple home remedies like apple cider vinegar which has strong anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral actions to reduce the overpopulation of yeast.


Try this natural homemade dandruff shampoo using simple household items. Combine apple cider vinegar, apple juice, rum extract, and ground cloves with your regular brand of shampoo. Alternatively, mix a few drops pure organic herbal essential oils such as lavender oil, rosemary, birch, and cedar wood with your shampoo.


To treat more severe cases of dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis), use an over-the-counter medicated shampoo, or antifungal shampoo to reduce the number of microorganisms (Malassezia yeasts) that can increase the severity of dandruff – large, greasy yellow flakes and red, itchy scalp.


If your problem persists for 3 weeks or longer, prescription-strength shampoos and steroid cream medications may be needed to blast away stubborn dandruff.


This leads us to the next two questions – what active ingredients to look for in anti-dandruff shampoos? And what is a good dandruff shampoo that actually work and will defeat this embarrasing cosmetic nuisance once and for all?



Anti-Dandruff Shampoos that Really Work

One of the most important and highly effective anti-dandruff ingredients that you should keep an eye out for is Ketoconazole. It is a potent antifungal medication used to treat serious fungal infections that affect various parts of the body, such as skin (ringworm or tinea corporis), mouth (oral thrush), foot (tinea pedis or athlete’s foot).


In addition, Ketoconazole also contains anti-androgenic properties that can help reduce Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone associated with premature hair loss, on the scalp. For this reason, Ketoconazole is sometimes used to treat male pattern baldness (MPB) or androgenic alopecia (AGA).


Over-the-counter ketoconazole shampoo works by killing the yeast and fungus that cause dandruff while controlling flaking, scaling, and itching of the scalp.


You can find ketoconazole in many shampoos including Nizoral, which happened to work the best for me. This highly rated, inexpensive anti-dandruff weapon is very helpful in controlling mild to moderate dandruff and many people who are besieged with the problem of seborrheic dermatitis also swear by the effectiveness of Nizoral.


What’s also good about Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is, unlike traditional dandruff shampoos that often have overwhelming smell, it leaves a mild and pleasant fragrance in your hair. Plus, Nizoral is pH balanced so your locks feel refreshed, soft, more manageable and not to mention, residue-free after use.


The other powerful dandruff-fighter is zinc pyrithione, a chemical compound that has  antifungal and antibacterial properties to help reduce fungus growth on the scalp, responsible for dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and other similar skin conditions.


Moreover, zinc pyrithione can significantly improve the texture and overall health of your locks by helping hair strands become thicker, softer and glossier.


In addition to that, it also has the ability to reduce hair loss, particularly if it is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on your scalp, which can clog hair follicles and inhibit optimal hair growth.


Head and Shoulders manufacured by Procter and Gamble, Denorex by Prestige Brands, Inc. as well as Selsun Blue Salon contain zinc pyrithione in their formulas.


You may want to look for selenium sulfide on the ingredient label. It is an anti-infective agent works by slowing the aging and dying process of skin cells (which keeps scalp shedding under control) while removing excess scalp fungus.


However the downside to selenium sulfide is that it can discolor light colored hair or hair that has been chemically colored.


Selenium sulfide is found in a wide variety of brand names OTC shampoo, such as Selsun Anti Dandruff Shampoo, Exsel, Dandrex, and Head & Shoulders Intensive Treatment.


Shampoo that contains the keratolytic ingredient – salicylic acid – is also a miracle worker against mild or moderate dandruff. Salicyclic acid clears up flaky scalp by loosening the dead skin cells accumulated on the scalp and breaking up dandruff flakes into smaller pieces so that they can be washed off easily. Try Neutrogena T/Sal shampoo, which has 3% salicylic acid in it.


Similar to selenium sulfide, shampoos that are tar-based (coal tar), like Neutrogena T/Gel, will slow cell turnover and reduce inflammation as well as scaling. However, keep in mind that tar-based dandruff shampoos may stain light hair – blond or gray – and can actually make the scalp more sensitive to sunlight.


Having said that, if OTC dandruff shampoos fail, or scalp becomes irritated or severely itchy, or if you notice redness and/or bumps on your scalp, seek medical treatment right away. You may need a prescription shampoo, such as a prescription-strength ketoconazole product, or a prescription shampoo containing cortisone-type medicine, or a prescription topical treatment for your condition.


Also, always use a good quality conditioner to rehydrate your hair and scalp after shampooing since anti-dandruff shampoos can make hair strands brittle and weak, and more prone to breakage.


If you want strong, ultra shiny “touch me” tresses, hot oil treatments can give maximum hydration to dry hair and scalp. Herbs like rose, myrrh and chamomile are great choices. To relieve itchy scalp and soothe irritation, I highly recommend tea tree and peppermint.



How to Use Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Effectively

One very common reason why dandruff shampoo might not work for you is that you are applying it the wrong way. Follow the simple steps below to increase the efficiency of the dandruff shampoo.


1. Rinse your hair with warm or cool water.


2. Part your hair with a wide tooth comb to expose the area of the affected scalp. You want to apply dandruff shampoo directly onto the affected area and not your hair.


3. Apply the recommended amount to your scalp, and massage gently in circular motions for approximately 1-2 minutes. Do not scratch vigorously as this may lead to infection.


4. To get the best effect, leave the lather to work for several minutes before you rinse it off thoroughly with lukewarm or cool water. Then towel dry your hair. Very importantly, avoid using blow dryer as it can dry out the scalp and worsen existing dandruff.


Also, try not to use any styling products such as hair sprays, gels, and mousses. These hair products might contribute to the accumulation of oils on the hair and scalp in some people, which in turn lead to dandruff formation.


5. If you want to apply the shampoo twice, use fewer amounts for the first application.



It usually takes about 3-4 weeks to get rid of dandruff flakes completely. If your current dandruff shampoo of choice does nothing to keep your scalp flake-free, it’s a good idea to try another active ingredient. When symptoms start to go away, use that anti-dandruff shampoo once or twice to prevent future flare-ups.




anti dandruff ingredients

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