Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: How Does it Work?

a woman applying anti dandruff shampoo on another woman's scalp

Anti-Dandruff Shampoos

Using dandruff shampoo has a number of advantages, and while there is no cure for dandruff, many people swear by it. Dandruff shampoo works by first cleaning the hair and scalp of toxins, which is what all shampoos are supposed to do. When a dandruff sufferer uses a specialist shampoo, it helps to remove chemicals such as hair spray, hair gel, and some dyes from the affected region. 

Using these products can actually create dandruff or exacerbate existing dandruff problems. Many of these contaminants are removed from the scalp and hair when dandruff shampoo is used correctly. Anti Dandruff shampoo helps to break up existing dandruff flakes by massaging the suds into the scalp and through the hair with fingers or as advised. As the shampoo is rinsed out, much of the existing exterior dandruff is wiped away, reducing the appearance of dandruff right away.

Dandruff is a scaly, itchy scalp ailment caused by clumps of skin cells forming visible flakes in your hair. If you have mild to moderate dandruff, using over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos can help you avoid flaky skin, itching, and discomfort. Continue reading to find out what to look for in a dandruff shampoo and how different components react to different hair types. 

  • Ciclopirox 

This antifungal medication acts by preventing the fungus from growing. 

  • Tar from coal 

Coal tar aids in the reduction of skin scaling and dandruff-causing cell overgrowth. 

  • Ketoconazole 

This antifungal medication aids in the eradication of the Malassezia fungus, which irritates oil glands and causes dandruff. 

  • Salicylic acid 

Also known as beta-hydroxy acid, scaly skin cells get eliminated by this ingredient as it prevents cells from sticking together.

  • Sulfur with salicylic acid

Sulfur is added to the salicylic acid to help minimise skin cell buildup even further. Sulfur has antibacterial properties as well. 

  • Selenium sulphide. 

This antimicrobial ingredient also helps to prevent yeast growth and inhibit skin cell turnover and scaling. 

  • Pyrithione of zinc 

This substance, also known as ZPT or ZnPT, aids in the healing of the scalp by reducing yeast growth, excess oil production, and overproduction of skin cells, all of which can contribute to dandruff flakes. 

Other things to think about 

When picking a dandruff shampoo, you should consider the following factors in addition to the ingredients: 

  • Hair that is frizzy and flyaway 

If your hair is prone to flyaways, you might want to try a ZPT-containing product. Women with dandruff were asked to use either a 1% ZPT solution or a 2% ketoconazole shampoo in an older trial. Researchers discovered that 75% of them preferred the ZPT-containing shampoo over the ketoconazole shampoo because it caused less frizz and flyaway. 

  • Colour of hair 

Shampoos containing coal tar can darken or discolour your hair. As a result, doctors normally advise against using it on light-coloured hair.

What about conditioners for your hair? 

Hair conditioners make hair smoother and more manageable in the long run. Some people recommend using conditioners designed specifically for dandruff sufferers. Ingredients like ZPT are frequently included in these conditioners to help them penetrate deeper into the hair and scalp. 

In addition to conditioners, certain hair products that are drying to the scalp should be avoided. A dry scalp can lead to an excess of oil, which can exacerbate dandruff. Hair sprays and ordinary shampoos with a high alcohol concentration should be avoided. 


It is critical to use anti-dandruff shampoo by massaging your head with your fingertips so that the product comes into touch with the entire scalp. 

When one uses an anti-dandruff shampoo, it must be left as it is for some time after applying it for active components to be released. Always adhere to the manufacturer's time guidelines (usually 2 to 5 minutes). 

Once 2 to 5 minutes are over, wash your hair (rest of the part) and rinse them well. After using the anti-dandruff shampoo, you can apply the conditioner if desired. Till your condition is under control, at the start of the treatment, you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo. Then, if desired, you can alternate with your regular shampoo. If the over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo doesn't help you get rid of your dandruff within a few weeks, you should see a doctor. 


After colouring your hair or having a permanent wave, you must wait at least 48 hours before using any selenium sulfide-containing products. If you have light hair, you should avoid tar-based shampoos because they can change the colour of your hair momentarily. 


You may notice that your anti-dandruff shampoo becomes less effective with time. To avoid this, switch between two shampoos with different active ingredients on a regular basis. Are you undecided about which anti-dandruff shampoo to use? Ask your pharmacist for assistance in choosing the correct product for you.

Take Away 

OTC dandruff shampoos are effective in treating symptoms for a large number of people. 

If your dandruff is more severe, a dermatologist may need to prescribe more powerful therapies to help you manage it. If over-the-counter dandruff shampoos aren't working for you, see your doctor.