If you've got sensitive skin, there's a whole laundry list of things that can cause irritation—like overdoing it on skin-care products or spending too much time in cold, dry weather. One more sneaky culprit? Your shampoo.
Any time you wash your hair, you're not just impacting your hair. As you work shampoo into your scalp, product inevitably drips down your arms, neck, and back, and if you've got reactive skin, the wrong formula can lead to irritation in these spots.
"We often will look at the pattern of rash on people's skin and sometimes you can deduce that, 'Oh, this is probably related to a hair-care product,'" says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Pasadena, California. She explains that if there's a red, flaky, itchy rash along someone's hairline, in or around their ears, or down their neck and back, it may be a side effect of the shampoo, conditioner, or styling products they're using.
One easy way to fix this, she says, is to use one of the best shampoos for sensitive skin. These formulas are gentle and free of potential irritatants, which will help keep flare ups at bay. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
The most common irritants found in shampoo
When shopping for a sensitive skin-friendly shampoo, the most important thing to keep an eye on is what the formula doesn't have. Look for products that are made without these three ingredients, which derms name as the most common irritants for reactive complexions.
"The main thing that everyone talks about is sulfate surfactants," says Rebecca Kazin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Maryland. "Sulfate surfactants are detergents. They're very good at lathering, and their whole job is to remove oils and dirt, but sometimes they do their job a little too well, and remove the natural moisture of your scalp and hair. And so it can just overdo it for people who already have dry, sensitive skin."
Fragrance has a reputation for causing reactions in sensitive skin, which is why derms often recommend fragrance-free facial and body-care products for these complexions—and the same goes for shampoo. "People don't think about all the fragrances in their shampoos," says Dr. Kazin. "There are a lot of irritations from these strong, strong fragrances. So I would look for ones that have a low fragrance level or that are labeled 'hypoallergenic.'"
Another thing that a lot of people are sensitive to is preservatives. "For example, I happen to be allergic to one called propylene glycol, which is very, very common because it's a very effective preservative," says Dr. Kazin. "It's very inexpensive, so it's in a lot of things, but you could be sensitive to that. I would go with shampoos that have lower preservative levels. In general, the ones that say that they're 'for sensitive scalp and sensitive skin' are going to have lower levels of preservatives and fragrance."
What to look for in a shampoo for sensitive skin
If you're noticing irritation along the pattern Dr. Lee mentioned, start by removing your hair-care products one by one until you find the culprit. If you think your shampoo is to blame, you can shop the best shampoos for sensitive skin below, all of which are free of the potential irritants listed above. The formulas are gentle yet effective and won't over-dry your hair, making them great for all hair types and textures.
In addition to swapping your shampoo, you can also give your scalp and skin a little extra TLC with soothing ingredients like tea tree oil, Moroccan oil, or argan oil, says Dr. Kazin. If that doesn't help, you may need to up the ante with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone shampoo, or chat with your derm about getting a prescription anti-inflammatory formula.
11 best shampoos for sensitive skin
5 best shampoos for sensitive skin
Dr. Lee recommends to this shampoo to patients who have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to their hair-care products. “Vanicream products have no fragrance, no parabens, which is a common preservative, and don’t include any of the most common allergens that are in hair-care products,” she says.
Developed by Dr. Kazin, this shampoo uses hydrocortisone to help soothe itch that’s caused by irritation. Most other anti-itch shampoos are antifungal, and if your itch isn’t caused by a fungus, an anti-fungal won’t help. ” If your irritation is from an allergy or an irritant, you truly need something to calm inflammation, and the best thing to calm inflammation is hydrocortisone,” says Dr. Kazin.
Rebecca Marcus, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Dallas, loves this shampoo for people with sensitive skin. It contains aloe vera, which is rich in vitamins and minerals known to provide antimicrobial and irritation-minimizing benefits; oat milk, which contains polysaccharides and is rich in omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin B to nourish hair; and green tea extract, which provides antioxidant, antimicrobial, and irritation-minimizing benefits.
Diedre Hooper, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New Orleans, Louisianna, often recommends this shampoo to patients with sensitive skin. It’s made from a blend of cleansing and conditioning agents that gently cleanse the hair and scalp while balancing pH levels to keep the scalp calm and happy.
For people with sensitive skin and an oily scalp, Dr. Marcus likes this purifying scalp scrub. It can help cleanse hair and remove oil build-up, which she says is most common in warm, humid, and-or polluted environments.
Designed by a Harvard-trained dermatologist, this shampoo is free of fragrance, sulfates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, dyes, pore-clogging oils, gluten, and formaldehyde/formaldehyde releasers. It’s great for acne-prone skin and also has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
Learn what products a derm uses in hr scalp and hair routine:
Want to be the first to hear about the latest (and greatest) SHOP product drops, custom collections, discounts, and more? Sign up to have the intel delivered straight to your inbox.
Loading More Posts...