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How Do I Choose the Best Dry Scalp Shampoo?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dry scalp can be caused by several different factors, from simple cases of dry skin that commonly occur during the winter months to chronic conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Choosing the best dry scalp shampoo should begin with identifying the source of your problem by having it evaluated by a physician or dermatologist. Once you know which ingredients to look for, choosing the right shampoo becomes a matter of budget and personal preference.

For simple cases related to dry skin from the harsh winter air, choosing the best dry scalp shampoo is secondary to choosing the best shampooing practices. Rather than focusing on the shampoo, aim to use an oil treatment at least once a week to help stimulate your hair’s own natural oil production. While you can purchase treatments in a beauty salon or store, it is just as easy to make your own at home using coconut or olive oil. During the winter, try to shampoo your hair less often and use a mild shampoo designed for dry hair.

When looking for the best dry scalp shampoo, the ingredients that aren’t present are just as important as those that are. Some main ingredients common to commercial shampoos can be very drying to the scalp. These include added fragrances or chemicals such as phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate. In many cases, these ingredients do not directly assist in cleaning your hair, but are used to create the foaming effect that consumers have come to expect in their hair and body cleansing products. Shampoo does not need to foam in order to work.

The best dry scalp shampoo for those with psoriasis typically contains ingredients such as coal tar and salicylic acid. Both are available over-the-counter as long as the concentrations of these chemicals comply with regulations. When using shampoos that include coal tar and salicylic acide, apply them only to the scalp, as they can be damaging to the rest of your hair. Follow up with a non-medicated conditioner unless your dermatologist tells you otherwise.

For extreme cases, you may need a prescription-strength dry scalp shampoo. These usually contain higher concentrations of coal tar and salicylic acid, as well as other potentially beneficial ingredients. It is important to follow your dermatologist’s directions carefully, as you may need to use these a little differently than you do your regular shampoo; in some cases, this type of dry scalp shampoo may even need to be left on overnight.

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Discussion Comments

By StarJo — On Feb 24, 2012

I buy a cheap oil treatment from my local drugstore to use once a week on my dry scalp. Since my long hair is rather dry, as well, this treatment helps both.

I break off the little cap and pour the entire contents of the vial on my head, rubbing it into my hair as it flows down. I sit in the tub for about fifteen minutes, letting it soak into my follicles.

Even though the label says to leave it on for five minutes, I find that it works even better when it has those extra ten minutes to work. When I rinse it off, I use cool water, and this closes my hair follicles and gives me extra shine while trapping in moisture.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 24, 2012

If you have a dry scalp, then you definitely should not be using a clarifying or deep cleansing shampoo. These strip your scalp of precious moisture, and though they are great for people with oily hair, they will make a dry scalp very itchy and flaky.

I use a moisturizing shampoo that barely even lathers. The first time I tried it, I had to check the label to make sure I wasn't using conditioner by mistake. It felt strange to wash my hair without suds, but it did get it clean.

My scalp has felt much better since I started using this ultra moisturizing shampoo. I follow it with a moisturizing conditioner, which I use from root to tip.

By Perdido — On Feb 23, 2012

@kylee07drg - I had what seemed like a severe case of dandruff when I was younger. No dandruff shampoo would make it go away, though, so my mother decided to use the strongest kind of dry scalp shampoo available without a prescription.

The stuff smelled like a mixture of tree sap and motor oil. I had to massage it into my scalp very well and leave it on there for several minutes.

Miraculously, this shampoo made the problem go away. I guess the coal tar in it was just what my dry scalp needed.

I really did hate the smell, though. I was tempted to wash it out with fruity shampoo, but I couldn't, because that would cancel out its effect.

I can't remember what it is called, but you could identify it by its appearance. It actually looks like a thick, yellowish brown sap. I don't think it had any additives to color it, because if it had, they surely would have made it a more attractive shade!

By kylee07drg — On Feb 23, 2012

I have been having a problem with my scalp for months now. It is very dry, and even though I only shampoo every other day, it continues to flake off at an alarming rate.

I have tried just about every dandruff shampoo I can find. I can't afford to go to a dermatologist, but I am running out of options.

Does anyone know what type of shampoo I could use to fix this problem? I need something I can get over-the-counter, because I don't have health insurance.

By burcinc — On Feb 22, 2012

Could dry scalp be caused by or made worse by a shampoo with the wrong pH level?

My toddler has been having very dry scalp lately. We've been washing her hair less often and we use a mild baby shampoo but it isn't getting better. Her pediatrician said that I should try a different baby shampoo. He said that babies have a different pH level than adults and can be more sensitive to ingredients in shampoos.

Has anyone heard about this before? What pH level should a baby shampoo have and an adult shampoo have?

By serenesurface — On Feb 21, 2012

I think most organic and all natural shampoos work well for dry scalp because they don't have those drying chemicals that normal shampoos have. The organic shampoo I use also has fruit extracts and natural oils in it which are very nourishing. I have never experienced dry scalp from it.

If the dry scalp is very serious, then I suggest visiting a doctor. My wife had a very itchy, dry and flaky scalp last year. It turns out she had a fungal infection on her scalp. She had to use an ointment on her scalp as well as tablets for several weeks. Her scalp went back to normal after that. So it could turn out to be something other than drying shampoos or cold weather.

By ddljohn — On Feb 20, 2012

I have very dry scalp in the winters. What I do is I oil my scalp with coconut oil once or twice a week. I leave it on for about half an hour (or however long) and then shower.

I have not been buying a special shampoo for my scalp. Instead, I add some coconut oil to whatever shampoo I'm using at that time. This works great. Coconut oil is so hydrating and nourishing. My scalp and hair feels so much better, not to mention softer since I've been doing this.

One thing about coconut oil is that it can solidify in room temperature. So when I add it to my shampoo, I leave my shampoo bottle in hot water for a minute so that it is liquid again before I use it. You also need to shake it up again.

Coconut oil is very affordable in international groceries. That's where I get mine.

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