Hair-Care Tips

These Are the Best Shampoos for Scalp Psoriasis, According to a Dermatologist

Photo: Getty Images/Eva Blanco / EyeEm
Living with a dry, itchy, and flaky scalp can be challenging, but even more so if you have scalp psoriasis—which is why a good shampoo for psoriasis comes in handy. But we'll get to that shortly. It’s estimated that 125 million people worldwide have psoriasis (celebs like Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevingne, and Jonathan Van Ness all have the chronic autoimmune disease), with 45 to 56 percent having it on the scalp. The good news is, there are products out there that can help decrease the symptoms of scalp psoriasis, such as specially formulated shampoos, so we turned to experts for advice.

Shampoos and products for scalp psoriasis at a glance

It's best to know what psoriasis is, since it can look similar to other scalp conditions (keep scrolling past the products for more info). If you suspect you have it, see a doctor to get properly diagnosed

What is psoriasis?

According to Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, psoriasis causes the body to create an overproduction of new skin cells over the course of a few days rather than weeks like normal skin does, resulting in the immune system mistakenly attacking our normal, healthy skin cells.

“As our dermis goes into high defense mode, it rapidly produces new cells that accumulate. The overdrive in skin cell production can accumulate anywhere on the skin’s surface, producing thick red dry patches of skin on face, body, palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, and even scalp,” she explains. “There are several types of psoriasis, with the most common form being plaque psoriasis which presents as thick and scaly patches that are most often red, raw, painful, extremely dry, flaky, cracking and itchy. In extreme cases they can even bleed.”

What does scalp psoriasis look like?

Scalp psoriasis, Shamban explains, occurs on the scalp and nape of the neck, and thick patches can sometimes lead to hair loss. “Conditions are different in that our dermis is thicker naturally on the scalp and we have a significantly more active sebaceous network and millions of follicles unlike any other place on the body.” It’s also important to rule out other scalp conditions first. For example, Shamban says that psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis share some similar presentations in the forms of red, scaly skin. “Seborrheic dermatitis is usually very itchy and often a yellow accompanied by dandruff flakes down the hair shaft,” she says. “Psoriasis however has a tendency to extend beyond the scalp while seborrheic dermatitis is usually confined to the scalp. In addition, the scales may be thicker lesions and somewhat drier in appearance than seborrheic dermatitis.”

What ingredients to look for in shampoos for scalp psoriasis

Shamban says that when looking for products, keep an eye out for gels and shampoos or pre-treatments containing salicylic acid, as it can help soften thick patches of skin on the scalp. Another good thing about salicylic acid? It penetrates into skin and pores, allowing other medications for other symptoms to get in deeper. “Look for products with antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal properties that can help treat seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis,” she adds. “Antifungals also inhibit yeast growth, a main factor in dandruff which is a secondary outcome with the condition.”

Anna Chacon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, also recommends considering these other ingredients:

  • Coal tar: this is a thick liquid that can help reduce the itch brought by scalp psoriasis. A dermatologist can suggest how often this should be used.
  • Coconut oil: an effective and all natural moisturizer that can reduce dryness and inflammation.
  • Clobetasol propionate: this can be found in prescription-strength scalp psoriasis shampoos. This is a topical steroid that can reduce all the symptoms of scalp psoriasis, including redness, dryness, and swelling.
  • Ketoconazole: effective in reducing the inflammation caused by scalp psoriasis, and may also prevent infection.
  • Zinc pyrithione: can help normalize the way skin cells grow and work, and also moisturize the scalp. This can reduce flaking and scale buildup.

What ingredients to avoid in shampoos for scalp psoriasis

There are also certain shampoo ingredients to avoid, such as sulfates and alcohol and other drying agents, according to Shamban. And if you didn't guess already, fragrance-free formulas are best. Meanwhile, Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson, Principal Scientist and Senior Manager of Scientific Communications in Beauty Care at Procter & Gamble, says that chemical treatments can cause dryness on the scalp. “I would not say it has to be avoided, however, it is best to make sure you are following the proper protocol and recommended frequency for using them so that the health of the scalp is not negatively impacted,” she says. “Dry shampoos, although can be your best friend while trying to prolong styles, can cause build up and dryness with daily use and no washes in between.”

Ahead find 11 shampoos and products for psoriasis, recommended by experts.

Best shampoos and products for psoriasis

nioxin
Best overall: Nioxin Scalp Recovery Purifying Exfoliator — $22.00

One of Shamban’s recommendations, this product is made with FDA-approved zinc pyrithione and green tea extract that cleanses the scalp deeply but gently. It’s suitable for all hair types and moisturizes while it exfoliates.

Scented? Yes

Pros

  • Exfoliating
  • FDA-approved ingredients
  • Fast results

Cons

  • Small size
  • Have to wear gloves
selsun blue
Best budget: Selsun Blue Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo — $8.00

A longtime favorite of dandruff sufferers, Shamban says Selsun Blue may also work well for more mild psoriasis cases. It contains 1 percent selenium sulfide to combat dry and itchy flakes, plus aloe to soothe and nourish the scalp.

Scented? Yes, coconut

Pros

  • Contains 1 percent selenium sulfide
  • Contains aloe to moisturize
  • Lathers quickly
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Some reviewers say the smell is medicinal
phillip b
Best hydrating: Philip B Anti-Flake Relief Shampoo — $42.00

Shamban likes this shampoo as its main active is zinc pyrithione (also known as zinc omadine) and also includes sage, juniper, tea tree oil (which she recommends) and soothing aloe vera. Note: There is both an extra strength formula and this coal tar-free formula—coal tar is an effective treatment for scalp psoriasis, according to the AAD, but some people may want to avoid it, as there are potential side effects such as skin sensitivity.

Scented? Yes, lavender

Pros

  • Made with natural botanicals
  • Amino acid complex strengthens hair
  • Calms inflammation

Cons

  • Expensive
head and shoulders
Best extra-strength: Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dry Scalp Rescue Shampoo — $10.00

The selenium sulfide formula relieves stubborn dandruff symptoms while leaving hair feeling soft and clean. “Another ingredient to make sure is included in your scalp regimen, is ZPT [zinc pyrithione], as it works with selenium sulfide to address the source of dandruff and its symptoms, an irritant resulting from a natural occurring fungus on the scalp,” says Wilkerson.

Scented? Yes, herb, floral

Pros

  • Contains 1 percent selenium sulfide
  • FDA-approved ingredients
  • Cooling sensation
  • Contains Manuka honey

Cons

  • Some reviewers complain about the smell
dermarest
Best with salicylic acid: Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo +Conditioner — $13.00

This fragrance-free shampoo contains 3 percent salicylic acid, plus a zinc complex that’s formulated to treat psoriasis. It also has nourishing botanicals such as green tea extract, kukui nut oil and safflower extract.

Scented? No

Pros

  • Contains 3 percent salicylic acid
  • Dermatologist tested and recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation
  • Unscented
  • Shampoo and conditioner

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it’s not very moisturizing
say yes to shampoo
Best natural ingredients: Yes To Tea Tree Scalp Relief Soothing Shampoo — $8.00

If you want something with more natural ingredients, try this one from Yes To. Tea tree oil is another ingredient that can be beneficial for scalp psoriasis, according to Shamban.

Scented? Yes, carrots

Pros

  • pH balanced
  • Contains tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and sage oil
  • Over 95 percent natural ingredients

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it’s hard to rinse out
nizoral
Best shampoo and conditioner: Nizoral Scalp Psoriasis Shampoo & Conditioner — $15.00

Popular on Amazon, this 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner contains salicylic acid as well as tea tree oil, green tea, and vitamins E, C, and B5.

Scented? Yes, tea tree

Pros

  • Contains tea tree oil
  • Contains 3 percent salicylic acid
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Can be used on color-treated, chemically processed, and gray hair

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it dries out the scalp
phillip peppermint
Best scrub: Philip B Peppermint Avocado Scalp Scrub — $75.00

“Exfoliating scalp scrubs and calming, moisturizing ingredients are helpful,” says Shamban. This one contains Australian sea salt, plus hydrating peppermint, avocado, and eucalyptus oils to cleanse, soothe, and rejuvenate the scalp.

Scented? Yes, peppermint

Pros

  • Exfoliating
  • Contains botanical oils to soothe scalp
  • Peppermint creates a cooling sensation

Cons

  • Expensive
briogeo
Best scalp massager: Briogeo Scalp Revival Stimulating Therapy Massager — $18.00

In addition to shampoo, get yourself a scalp scrubber. Shamban likes this one from Briogeo, as it’s “a simple handheld device that can help to massage, exfoliate, increase circulation, and loosen the tough layers of scales.”

Scented? Yes

Pros

  • Helps improve circulation in the scalp
  • Can be used wet or dry
  • Can be used on all types of hair

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it’s hard to keep clean
MG217 Medicated Conditioning Shampoo
Best coal tar formula: MG217 Medicated Conditioning Shampoo — $13.00

“Shampoos with coal tar help with scaling and thickens the skin on your scalp by slowing down the growth of skin cells,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, a board-certified dermatologist. They can also help with itching and reduce redness, and this shampoo with three percent coal tar also smells better than most coal tar shampoos, say Dr. Palm.

Scented? Yes, fragrance

Pros

  • 3 percent coal tar formula
  • Recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation
  • Conditioning shampoo

Cons

  • Some reviewers say the smell is strong
Vanicream Medicated Dandruff Shampoo
Best unscented: Vanicream Medicated Dandruff Shampoo — $11.00

This Vanicream shampoo is a medicated yet gentle option that can help relieve itching, redness, flaking, and irritation, says Dr. Palm. Shampoos with salicylic acid help to lift and soften the scales on your scalp, but they can also make you more susceptible to sun damage, so Dr. Palm advises to use SPF if you’re using shampoos that are medicated to treat psoriasis on your scalp.

Scented? No

Pros

  • Contains 2 percent pyrithione zinc
  • Can be used on sensitive skin
  • Dermatologist-tested

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it dries out hair
Neutrogena T:Gel Extra Strength Therapeutic Shampoo
Best daily use: Neutrogena T:Gel Extra Strength Therapeutic Shampoo — $9.00

This shampoo contains one percent coal tar to help relieve itchy scalps, and is gentle enough to be used every day. It’s also recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation to help relieve symptoms.

Scented? Yes, fresh

Pros

  • Contains 1 percent coal tar
  • Recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation
  • Gentle enough for daily use

Cons

  • Some reviewers complain about the smell

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