Asian woman looking at her hair for an anti-dandruff shampoo concept

5 Healthy Signs That Your Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Works

Here's how to know if you're using the best anti-dandruff shampoo for you.

Anti-dandruff shampoos are often the go-to treatments whenever you experience symptoms of dandruff. Got white flakes on your scalp? Got an itchy scalp? An anti-dandruff shampoo can help soothe or treat this.

But first, let’s talk about dandruff a little bit. By knowing its causes, it will be easier to understand how anti-dandruff shampoos work. We’ll also let you in on what key ingredients to look for, so you can find the best anti-dandruff shampoo for you.

Dandruff and Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

What is dandruff and what causes it?

Dandruff is a skin condition. It’s not contagious nor harmful, and it’s more common than you think. Our scalp, just like the rest of our skin, contains a protective barrier to prevent water loss and keep our scalp hydrated. Factors such as stress, diet, overuse of certain hair products, and even changes in temperature and low humidity can disturb this barrier. When this happens, your scalp suffers from water loss, which can cause inflammation and the appearance of white flakes, also known as dandruff.

Closeup shot of a woman showering and washing her hair
Get healthier, dandruff-free hair with better hair care routine! Credit: iStock

How does anti-dandruff shampoo fight dandruff?

Peter Bailey, Unilever’s research and development manager, explains that anti-dandruff shampoos contain an anti-fungal agent or keratolytic agent. “Anti-fungal agents attack the micro-organisms on the scalp that we believe are the primary cause of dandruff—these are known as Malassezia,” he says. “By treating the scalp with an anti-fungal such as zinc pyrithione or Octopirox or climbazole, the level of Malassezia on the scalp can be reduced or removed, which enables the scalp to recover.”

Meanwhile, keratolytic agents address the symptoms of dandruff. “The most common keratolytic is salicylic acid which essentially breaks up clumps of dry skin. Often the two types of agents can be combined into a dual-action type formulation,” Bailey adds.

When buying anti-dandruff shampoos, it’s best to look at the ingredients list and check if these agents are present. This way, you’ll know that your anti-dandruff shampoo has what it takes to fight dandruff and prevent its recurrence.

What to Look For in Your Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Top shot of an Asian woman's scalp and black hair
Anti-dandruff shampoos help get rid of white flakes on your scalp. Credit: Hariono Halim

To make sure you are picking up the best anti-dandruff shampoo for you, check the label. Look for these key ingredients before you put that anti-dandruff shampoo in your shopping basket.

1. Piroctone Olamine

This chemical compound has anti-fungal properties, which play a vital role in treating the common cause of dandruff: the fungus Malasezzia globosa. This is sometimes used in anti-dandruff shampoos to replace zinc pyrithione. You may also know piroctone olamine as the anti-fungal brand Octopirox.

Dove Dermacare Scalp Shampoo bottle

Editor’s tip: Looking for a shampoo with piroctone olamine? Go for Dove Dermacare Scalp Soothing Moisture Shampoo. It is infused with Olacare Scalp Actives that leave your scalp nourished and dandruff-free. It also relieves scalp itch and is gentle enough for everyday use. 

Dove Dermacare Conditioner

Follow it up with Dove Dermacare Scalp Soothing Moisture Conditioner for added moisture and nourishment. 

2. Zinc pyrithione

Zinc pyrithione (ZnPTO) is a chemical compound that contains anti-fungal properties. We’re not going to go all chemistry class on you here, but this anti-dandruff agent basically works to provide your scalp with long-lasting protection against dandruff. It can be found in quality, expert anti-dandruff products that remove dandruff while nourishing your scalp and hair at the same time.

ZnTPO shampoo cleanses your hair well from root to tip alongside providing you with long-lasting protection against dandruff.

3. Climbazole (in anti-dandruff shampoos for men)

Men’s scalps are dermatologically proven to have a weaker protection barrier than females, making them more prone to dandruff. Men’s scalps also produce up to 50% more sebum than women’s (thanks a lot, chromosomes), meaning men are more susceptible to developing excess oils that lead to greasy scalp and hair.

The active ingredient not only stops dandruff at its source but also helps boost protein production on the scalp’s outer layer and builds a strong scalp barrier by strengthening skin cells. It also helps tackle the build-up of Malassezia on scalps and removing dandruff with continuous application.

4. Charcoal

Charcoal isn’t just good for barbecues. The black, chalky matter also works wonders as a detoxifying agent.

5. Tea Tree Oil

If you’re into shampoos made with natural ingredients, check if the shampoo you’re about to buy has tea tree oil. This ingredient has anti-microbial and anti-inflammation properties that help in treating dandruff.

Bottle of Love Beauty and Planet green shampoo

Editor’s tip: While it’s not an anti-dandruff shampoo, Love Beauty and Planet Tea Tree Oil & Vetiver Radical Refresher Shampoo has natural Australian tea tree oil and helps in purifying and detoxifying a tired and greasy scalp. It gently cleanses and volumizes hair and leaves a sultry, vetiver scent. This shampoo also has no silicones, parabens, or dyes and is placed in a 100% recyclable bottle, so this is a great addition to your hair care arsenal if you’re switching to a greener lifestyle. 

Signs That Your Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Works

You’ll know you’ve picked the best anti-dandruff shampoo for you when you see or feel these qualities on your hair.

1. Your hair is naturally shiny.

Asian woman with long black hair
Let down your shiny, dandruff-free hair. Credit: Natasha Estelle

With a flake-free scalp, it’s easy for nutrients to get in and nourish your scalp. And a healthy scalp produces hair that also looks healthy and beautiful. Your hair’s natural oils also get to travel from your roots to your hair strands, resulting in shiny hair.

2. It feels soft, bouncy, and smooth.

Asian woman with short hair wearing a pink blouse
Enjoy your dandruff-free hair! Credit: Hariono Halim

If you eat enough food with zinc and B vitamins while maintaining an anti-dandruff hair care routine, your hair will gradually get healthier on its own.

3. Your scalp doesn’t feel itchy.

Asian woman wearing a black shirt and plaid skirt
You no longer have to scratch your head because of itchy scalp, which can be awkward. Credit: Hariono Halim

Itchiness is a sign that something is wrong with your scalp. It’s either you have head lice or there’s damage on your scalp. Most of the time the itch is due to dryness — which eventually leads to a flaky, itchy scalp.

4. Your scalp is less sensitive.

Anti-dandruff shampoo: Closeup shot of a woman touching her long straight dark hair
A healthy scalp doesn’t get easily irritated by hair products. Credit: Shutterstock

You know your anti-dandruff shampoo works hair products don’t have adverse reactions on your scalp and hair. This doesn’t mean, though, that you should just go and experiment with every new product you see. “The use of a milder shampoo can help contribute toward the management of dandruff.  This is because a weakened scalp skin barrier is also a contributing factor towards dandruff.  We know that harsh cleansers can damage and weaken the scalp barrier so use a milder surfactant system,” Bailey says.

5. Your scalp is flake-free.

Asian woman wearing a maroon jacket smiling
Say goodbye to flakes! Credit: Dennie Ramon

You no longer find yourself worrying about flakes falling on your dark-colored shirt—because they are nowhere to be found! This means that your scalp is already back to its healthy state. Finally, no more constant head-scratching, and you’ll no longer have that mortifying experience of people pointing out visible white flakes.

Now that you know what to look for, you can get the best anti-dandruff shampoo for you.