Scalp psoriasis can be challenging to treat, but there are ways to alleviate the itching, scales, and irritation that tend to go hand-in-hand with the condition. First up: Make sure you're using the right shampoo. To learn more about the best shampoos for scalp psoriasis, Bustle spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tess Mauricio, M.D., who recommends rotating shampoos that contain coal tar, salicylic acid, ketoconazole, and zinc pyrithione, which are some of the most effective ingredients for treating scalp psoriasis out there.
Along with rotating shampoos, how you use them is of equal importance. Dr. Mauricio says instead of using the shampoo on your hair, apply it onto your (wet) scalp. Massage it in and leave it on for about five minutes before rinsing it out. “If you have long hair, you may want to use a non-medicated shampoo for your hair, as these medicated shampoos are meant for the scalp, not necessarily your hair,” she adds. Dr. Mauricio also recommends scalp brushes for better absorption. "Used on a regular basis, [they] can help exfoliate and remove thick flakes and allow the ingredients of shampoos to penetrate the scalp better, which will increase efficacy."
Also, since stress is highly correlated with scalp psoriasis flareups, Dr. Mauricio says that managing stress is very important — so, though easier said than done, anything you can do to reduce your stress levels is great. Finally, if over-the-counter shampoos aren't working, consult with your dermatologist. They can prescribe topical corticosteroids and discuss other treatment options that may be more effective.
To see the best shampoos for scalp psoriasis, including a few picks recommended by Dr. Mauricio, keep scrolling.
1. Best Coal Tar Shampoo
"Coal tar is a mainstay in the treatment of psoriasis," says Dr. Mauricio, adding that coal tar shampoos, such as Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo, can be very effective. This popular shampoo received the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) Seal of Recognition, meaning it's intended to be non-irritating and safe for people with psoriasis. It helps treat itching and reduces scalp buildup, but there are some limitations to the benefits of coal tar. Kids can’t use the ingredient, for one, and you have to be careful with sun exposure when using coal tar. It can also temporarily discolor light-colored hair, and also runs the risk of staining your skin or clothing.
Note that Dr. Mauricio has her patients with scalp psoriasis rotate between this, Selsun Blue, Nizoral, and a shampoo with salicylic acid — all featured below — for best results.
2. Best Ketoconazole Shampoo
Another one of Dr. Mauricio's recommendations, Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo contains ketoconazole, an ingredient that can help decrease inflammation and lessen the risk of infection. Over 30,000 Amazon reviewers left this a five-star review or rating, with over 100 mentioning that it's helped treat their psoriasis in particular.
3. Best Selenium Sulfide Shampoo
Selsun Blue Shampoo, which actually has a dark green color, is another doctor-approved pick for treating scalp psoriasis. It contains 1% selenium sulfide, a medication that works to treat a variety common scalp and skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis. This also has a nice, cooling feel, thanks to the menthol in the formula.
4. Best Salicylic Acid Shampoo
The 3% salicylic acid in this Nizoral shampoo and conditioner can help exfoliate the scales on your scalp and break down thick patches, and may also be able to help soothe itching, redness, and other forms of irritation. This convenient, two-in-one shampoo and conditioner is free of alcohol, which can sometimes cause more drying and irritation, explains Dr. Mauricio.
5. Best Zinc Pyrithione Shampoo
Zinc pyrithione is another topical medicine that can help decrease inflammation, says Dr. Mauricio, so feel free to add a shampoo that contains this ingredient into your rotation, too. Vanicream Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is an antifungal shampoo used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis, dandruff, and seborrheic dermatitis. The super-gentle formula is ideal for people with very sensitive skin, since it's free of most common chemical irritants, like dyes, fragrance, sulfates, and parabens.
6. Best Non-Medicated Shampoo
If you want to use a non-medicated shampoo on your hair, there are other ingredients that can be beneficial to your scalp, three of which are in this shampoo and conditioner from Honeyskin. Those include coconut oil, aloe vera, and tea tree oil. Though coconut oil isn't a proven treatment at this time, Dr. Mauricio explains, many people claim it helps with itching and flaking since it's highly moisturizing, while aloe vera and tea tree oil have long been used for their hydrating and antibacterial/antifungal/anti-inflammatory benefits, respectively.
Dr. Mauricio likes scalp brushes for their exfoliating benefits and the way they help medicated shampoos more effectively penetrate the scalp. The soft bristles on this one also provide a gentle, relaxing massage, so it feels amazing on irritated, itchy scalps. Certainly worth picking up for just $8!