The Best Shampoo for a Dry, Sensitive Scalp

Picking the right shampoo is the first step in fighting dry, sensitive scalp problems.

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A dry, sensitive scalp can bring your beauty plans to a screeching halt with pain, itching and other issues such as flakes that ruin the look of your killer little black dress. A good shampoo might not necessarily solve the cause of your scalp problems -- some skin issues are because of genetics, for example -- but it can help treat your symptoms. The best shampoos tend to be those that are chemical-free or chemical-scarce.

Why You Need Something Special

People with dry, sensitive scalps usually can't handle the harsh chemicals found in most shampoos, because the chemicals just take more water out of the skin and cause inflammation. As a result, the scalp often gets unbearably itchy, with many ladies scratching their way to infection. With a dry, irritated scalp, your cells turn over, or die, a lot faster. Subsequently, you have to fight unsightly buildup and dandruff. If your scalp is inflamed and sore, styling can be a pretty ouch-filled task.

Dry, Sensitive Scalp Must-Haves

When you have a dry, sensitive scalp, you first need ingredients that address the dryness and get moisture back into your skin. That means products such as dry shampoos just won't cut it, because you need water your skin can take in. You also need ingredients that moisturize -- moisturizing is different than hydrating. It means you seal the water you have into the skin. The oil the glands in your skin pump out is a natural moisturizer, but shampoos tend to wash it away. Secondly, you have to have ingredients that sooth the irritation of the scalp, keeping redness and skin cell turnover (death) at bay so dandruff and buildup don't happen.

The Best Picks

Scoping out shampoos in the store, your best bet for a dry, sensitive scalp usually is an all-natural shampoo that is as mild as possible. It shouldn't contain any alcohol, as alcohol makes dryness worse. Also stay away from sulfates for the same reason. Probably the most common is sodium laureth sulfate, the stuff that makes your shampoo sudsy. Some of the best cleansers don't produce any lather at all, so don't use bubbles as a sign you've got a shampoo that's any good. Perfumes, dyes and parabens also are no-nos. Look for clarifying shampoos where most of the ingredients are plant-based and actually pronounceable and recognizable to you, such as aloe and jojoba oil. Ones specifically designed for dry scalp and dandruff often are good, but not all of the ingredients in these shampoos necessarily are safe. For instance, lots of people use coal tar shampoos to treat psoriasis, but coal tar is a known carcinogen.


Just because your skin is dry and sensitive doesn't mean you have exactly the same type of skin as your best bud. For instance, you could have an allergy to one ingredient and not another, even though both ingredients serve the same purpose. If you find one shampoo is problematic, just look for something with different ingredients.

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