Whether you want to reduce dandruff flakes or treat your scalp to a soothing deep treatment, a sulfate-free shampoo can be a great addition to your hair care routine. The best sulfate-free dandruff shampoos will gently remove flakes and address the root causes of your dandruff without irritating your scalp.
Sulfates are common chemicals found in products like detergent, soap, and shampoo, and are responsible for creating a bubbly lather to help clean your skin or hair. While sulfates aren’t harmful for most people, they can cause reactions like dermatitis for people with sulfate sensitivities. To learn more about the best shampoos for dandruff, I got input from two dermatologists: Dr. Michele Green, who runs a practice in NYC, and Dr. Kathleen Viscusi of Dermatology & Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta. In order to find the best sulfate-free dandruff shampoo for your haircare routine, you’ll need to figure out the root cause of your dandruff (pun intended). Of course, the best way to do this is to visit your dermatologist.
“While causes are still being studied, common culprits include dry skin, allergies, genetic predisposition, psoriasis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis (a chronic inflammatory skin condition) and more!” notes Dr. Viscusi — and different types of dandruff will likely require different shampoos.
Both dermatologists advise regular washing, as soon as you start to notice flakes, as a good first step to taking care of your scalp. Learning more about your unique scalp conditions will also impact what kind of shampoo you choose.
“Though excess oil can cause dandruff, a dry scalp may be prone to dandruff, too,” advises Dr. Green. “Dry scalp is an incredibly common cause of dandruff, which can be exacerbated in colder seasons. If this is the root cause of your dandruff, it’s important to use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners in order to maintain a proper hydration balance and prevent itching and flaking.”
Whenever you’re looking for a dandruff shampoo, ingredients are key. Pyrithione zinc is one of the most common active ingredients, as is tea tree oil.
“Tea tree oil is a naturally antifungal and antibacterial ingredient that can help to manage dandruff. Tea tree oil has the power to kill yeast and in turn limit the dandruff caused by yeast overgrowth,” Dr. Green notes.
With all that in mind, these are the best sulfate-free dandruff shampoos you can buy right now, all conveniently available on Amazon.
1. The Experts’ Pick
Both experts consulted named this dandruff shampoo from L'Oréal Paris as one of their top picks. It contains 1% pyrithione zinc to balance your scalp without making your hair feel stripped or overly dried out. This formula is free from sulfates, salts, and parabens, so it’s gentle and safe for use on color-treated hair. Since it’s sold in a pack of two, you won’t have to rebuy it too often, either.
One reviewer wrote: Really like this shampoo! Decreased my dandruff with out stripping the Brazilian blowout out of my hair. I have even had people compliment me on my hair trying to [figure out] what is different. Only change is this shampoo! It smells great too!
2. The Dandruff Shampoo That’s Super Moisturizing
This moisturizing dandruff shampoo from Jupiter is designed to deeply nourish your hair and gently hydrate your scalp to help reduce dandruff that results from a dry scalp. The formula includes 1% pyrithione zinc as well as colloidal oatmeal and vitamin E, and the color-safe and sulfate-free treatment has a lovely mint, vanilla, and rosemary scent. It not only helps hydrate dry, itchy scalps, but also leaves your hair soft without weighing it down. Jupiter’s shampoo is additionally cruelty-free and vegan, and it earns points for super aesthetic packaging.
One reviewer wrote: “I'll say this at the top, in case you are skimming reviews -- this is legitimately an incredible shampoo. Honestly, even if I didn't have dandruff, I'd still use this shampoo [...] I never thought I'd get this amped about a shampoo, but, here I am, writing an Amazon review because it's *that good.* It's super gentle -- it didn't dry my hair out (in fact, my hair felt really fantastic and healthy), and it didn't fade or strip my hair color (neon green highlights, FYI). It smells incredibly pleasant like those super fancy salon shampoos.”
3. The Best Budget Shampoo
This sulfate-free shampoo from OGX has tea tree oil, milk proteins, and peppermint oil for a formula that not only smells great, but also helps moisturize and nourish your scalp. While this shampoo is not medicated to treat dandruff, reviewers noted that adding this shampoo to their hair care routine helped reduce flakes and itchiness from a dry scalp. Morning shower people will also love the refreshing mint and tea tree oil scent. If you want to round out your hair care routine, OGX also has a sulfate-free mint and tea tree conditioner.
One reviewer wrote: “I tend to use this shampoo along with its conditioner every winter due to dry scalp/dandruff. It works amazingly well, treats my dry scalp and it doesn't make my hair fall out (sulfate-free, yay!) It doesn't smell like flowers or anything, but for its purpose it's perfect. I would describe the smell to sweet peppermint. Great buy. I recommend it.”
4. The Best Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo
This apple cider vinegar shampoo is great for those who want to treat their dandruff, but don’t love the smell or effects of tea tree oil. It uses apple cider vinegar to deeply cleanse your scalp without stripping it of its natural oils. It’s also sold in a set with a matching conditioner, which contains hydrating ingredients like coconut and avocado oils.
One reviewer wrote: “I never leave any reviews but I will for this product because it’s simply amazing. I have been suffering from dandruff for years and after applying both shampoo and conditioner my scalp is left fresh and dandruff free. My hair also feels a lot healthier and thicker. I combine this product with jojoba oil to give me the ultimate nutrient dense hair combination. Totally awesome. Packed with absolute amazing ingredients. Sulfate free. Smells great. Feels great. Worth the money you pay for. You can’t go wrong with this product!”
5. The Best For Natural Hair
This sulfate-free shampoo for natural hair is specifically formulated to hydrate natural hair and help reduce dandruff and itchiness. The coconut and amla oil in this shampoo help hydrate and moisturize your hair and scalp to reduce flakes, while still keeping your hair feeling clean and soft. The shampoo also has vitamin B5, which may help reduce breakage while adding an additional layer of hydration. Reviewers wrote that this shampoo works wonders when it comes to deeply hydrating type 4 hair, as well as other curly textures.
One reviewer wrote: “I love how this shampoo leaves my hair feeling so soft after use, even before I condition. It doesn't feel [stripped] and brittle like some shampoos leave your hair feeling. The cleanliness I get is amazing. My scalp and hair strands are always left free of any flakes or buildup. I am transitioning to natural and I think I've found my forever shampoo!”
6. The Best For Oily Scalps
This deep-cleaning shampoo from Maple Holistics is great for those who have dandruff due to an oily scalp. The shampoo has tea tree oil to help cleanse your hair while still keeping your scalp hydrated, and the lavender and rosemary oils give it a gentle, calming scent. Reviewers attested that this product is their holy grail for reducing dandruff.
One reviewer wrote: “I have searched for a long time to find the best product for my problematic scalp. Through some cruel twist of fate it manages to somehow be simultaneously oily and dry. This past year I have exclusively used this tea tree oil shampoo in tandem with maple holistic's "degrease shampoo" and have seen a marked improvement in my scalp eczema and the cleanliness of my hair. With this combo I can go 3 days without washing my hair and my dandruff is all but gone. My hair looks healthy, shiny and instagram worthy.”
7. The Best Shampoo Bar
This all-natural shampoo bar can not only help combat dandruff but also helps reduce your carbon footprint. The bar boasts ingredients like eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree oils to help clean your scalp without stripping it of its natural oils, plus it’ll leave your hair with a fresh, clean scent. This shampoo bar also has ingredients like kaolin clay and sea salt that will gently exfoliate your scalp to help remove buildup without further irritating or damaging sensitive skin. The solid bar travels well, and it can also be used to wash your body or face if you’re a minimalist.
One reviewer wrote: “After years of hassling [with] bottles of shampoo in the shower, I am so pleased to have this one small bar that I can easily slip onto a shelf in the shower stall. It lathers well and cleans my hair well. It addresses my dandruff problem and I find my scalp in better condition than when I was using other products.”
Dr. Michele Green, Board-Certified Cosmetic Dermatologist
Dr. Kathleen Viscusi, Board-Certified Dermatologist