Anti Dandruff Shampoo

Anti Dandruff Shampoo: Dandruff is characterized as a hyperproliferation of the scalp epidermis accompanied by scalp itching and redness. The dandruff mechanism is thought to be the result of the activity of an enzyme called lipase. The Malassezia fungus (which causes dandruff) uses this enzyme to break down sebum to oleic acid (pro-inflammatory free fatty acids). Also, this fatty acid penetrates the top layer of the scalp and causes inflammation and increased skin cell flaking, in susceptible people. Nowadays many chemical treatments are available for reducing and removing highly resistant dandruff against therapeutic cure, on the other hand, there are many anti-dandruff products with poor clinical efficacy in the market. Due to these concerns, the tendency to use medicinal plant extracts to treat dandruff is in vogue. 

Anti dandruff shampoo is probably the most widely used hair product today to get rid of dandruff. These anti-dandruff shampoo formulations include anti-dandruff agents that are classified into three groups according to their mechanism of action. 

  1. Fungicidial substances: Zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, flutrimazole, econazole,  bifonazole, clotrimazole etc. 
  2. Cytostatic substances: Selenium sulphide, tar, piroktolamine, octopirox,  ciclopirox olamine etc. 
  3. Keratolytic substances: Salicylic acid, urea and sulphur derivatives.

Most shampoos contain only one active ingredient, although there is a definite trend in combining two or more active ingredients in a shampoo to combat a particular type of dandruff. Some of the anti-dandruff agents are detailed below. 

Coal Tar 

Coal tar, a by-product of coal, is formed when the coal is converted to coke or gas. It is still a recommended treatment for dandruff caused by mild/moderate psoriasis as it helps to slow down the regeneration of cells. It has been linked to cancer-causing potential in the past, but the FDA and National Psoriasis Foundation have stated that “coal tar is a valuable,  safe and inexpensive treatment option for millions of people with psoriasis and other scalp or skin conditions”. However, it can cause increased sensitivity to sunlight and is very pungent.  The latter presents a challenge for its incorporation into a cosmetic product. 

Salicylic Acid 

Salicylic acid is one of the most common and oldest active ingredients found in a  dandruff shampoo. It exfoliates the skin by softening and stripping the flakes on the scalp  (keratolytic therapy). As it softens and strips the flakes from the scalp, it can be used to get rid of the dry crust of the scalp associated with psoriasis. It is a recommended product by the FDA for psoriasis and is often used in combination with e.g. coal tar for sufferers of this condition. There are several combination shampoos on the market now for psoriasis sufferers. It can also be used to get rid of the crust of flakes associated with seborrheic dermatitis but there are far more sophisticated anti-fungal ingredients to treat the condition. 

Zinc Pyrithione 

Zinc pyrithione has been used for decades as an anti-fungal treatment in anti-dandruff shampoos. It works by inhibiting the growth of the yeast Malassezia that is thought to cause seborrheic dermatitis. As such, it regulates the yeast and oiliness thought to be responsible for seborrheic dermatitis. This is a mainstay therapy as it is used in many shampoos. 

Selenium Sulphide 

Selenium sulphide controls dandruff in two ways. First, like zinc pyrithione, it is an antifungal agent effective at killing and controlling the Malassezia yeast. In addition, like coal tar,  it inhibits skin cell regeneration. As such, it can be effective in fighting both seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis induced dandruff. The ingredient can also relieve the itching associated with both of these conditions. However, excessive use of this ingredient results in oily scalp and hair. 


Ketoconazole is probably the most powerful antifungal treatment in shampoo over the counter. It is also effective at relieving the itch associated with dandruff. In many countries, this is still only available by prescription, but in the US and UK, it is possible to buy a 1%  strength shampoo over the counter in pharmacies. It is a powerful ingredient. It can be used for quite severe outbreaks of seborrheic dermatitis.


Sulphur is a mineral with many medicinal purposes, but dandruff control relieves the skin of itching while inhibiting the reservation of skin cells. Sulphur is rarely seen as the sole active ingredient in shampoos but is often seen in combination with salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin, soothe the skin and slow down the regeneration of skin cells. 


Climbazole is a mild antifungal ingredient but is rarely used in shampoos. It is sometimes paired with zinc pyrithione to provide extra antifungal medications. 

Ciclopirox olamine 

Ciclopirox olamine works by preventing bacterial build up on the scalp. It is a very effective treatment but is causes itching and redness after prolonged usage. 

Anti-dandruff products containing these agents work only symptomatically and often recurrence of dandruff after stopping treatment is observed, which is the most common problem. Moreover, side effects associated with them cannot be neglected. Such complications have prompted the search for noble and effective antifungal agents of natural origin. Natural remedies have been used for centuries for treating skin and hair. 

Continuous use of these shampoos makes hair brittle and causes dryness of the scalp. So, the use of a good conditioner after the application of anti-dandruff shampoo is recommended. It is also reported that on continuous use of one product, its effectiveness is lost over time. Coal tar-based shampoos which are used to control dandruff not only stain coloured or grey hair and make the scalp more sun-sensitive but are also carcinogenic. There is also evidence that coal tar itself is mutagenic, carcinogenic in animals and phototoxic as reviewed by the  WHO’s International Agency for research on cancer conditions and a wide variety of dermatological disorders including inflammation, phototoxicity, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis,  dandruff and alopecia areata. 

In the management of dandruff plant-derived drugs and their formulations are a viable alternative to synthetic drugs. In the traditional Indian System of Medicine, many plants and herbal formulations are reported to possess anti-dandruff properties. Some of the plants which possess antidandruff properties are Tridax procumbens, Azadirachta indica, Trigonella forum graecum, Melaleuca alternifolia, Lawsonia inermis, Quillaja Saponaria, Rosemarinus officinalis,  Citrus limon and Sapindus indica.

Make sure you also check our other amazing Article on : Hair Conditioners
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