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What dandruff shampoo is safe for colored hair?

Having both colored hair and dandruff can be frustrating. You want to keep your color vibrant but also need to control flaking and itching from dandruff. The good news is that there are effective dandruff shampoos that are also gentle on color-treated hair.

What causes dandruff?

Dandruff is caused by a yeastlike fungus called malassezia that lives on everyone’s scalp. For some people, this fungus grows too fast and dies off, leading to flaking. It’s not caused by poor hygiene. Dandruff can be worse in the winter when the air is dry and skin flakes more. It may also flare with stress.

Why is dandruff worse with colored hair?

The process of coloring hair leaves the strands more porous. This allows moisture to escape more easily. Dryness can aggravate dandruff and cause more noticeable flakes against colored hair.

Coloring also strips away some of the hair’s natural oils. These oils help keep the scalp moisturized and flaking under control. Without them, the scalp may become irritated and inflamed.

What ingredients help treat dandruff?

The most effective ingredient for controlling dandruff is pyrithione zinc. Zinc pyrithione has antimicrobial properties that slow the growth of fungus. This helps minimize flaking and itching.

Other ingredients that can help include:

  • Salicylic acid – Sheds excess skin cells
  • Coal tar – Slows skin cell turnover
  • Selenium sulfide – Reduces fungus growth
  • Ketoconazole – Antifungal

Best dandruff shampoos for colored hair

Look for a dandruff shampoo that contains pyrithione zinc or one of the other active ingredients listed above. Avoid harsh sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate which can fade color. A gentle shampoo will cleanse the scalp without stripping color.

Some top picks include:

Brand Key Ingredients Notes
Head and Shoulders Clinical Strength Pyrithione zinc 1% fragrance-free, safe for color-treated hair
Redken Dandruff Control Pyrithione zinc 1%, piroctone olamine also contains jojoba, coconut oils to moisturize
Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Coal tar extract 0.5% classic dandruff fighter, may temporarily stain grey hair
Selsun Blue Medicated Formula Selenium sulfide 1% helps clear severe dandruff, strong smell
Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Ketoconazole 1% presciption-strength antifungal

Tips for using dandruff shampoo with color-treated hair

  • Limit use to 2-3 times a week max to avoid drying out hair
  • Leave lather on scalp for 3-5 minutes before rinsing out
  • Shampoo only the roots, not lengths of hair
  • Rinse with cool water to preserve color
  • Use a hydrating, sulfate-free conditioner after
  • Apply a hair mask weekly for extra moisture

What about natural dandruff remedies?

There are some natural ways to help manage dandruff in colored hair:

  • Tea tree oil – Has antimicrobial effects to control fungus; mix a few drops into shampoo
  • Apple cider vinegar – Balances pH level of scalp; use as rinse before shampooing
  • Aloe vera – Soothes irritation and moisturizes; apply gel directly to scalp
  • Coconut oil – Moisturizes dry scalp; use as overnight treatment
  • Probiotic spray – Good bacteria balance scalp microbiome; spritz onto roots and massage in

When to see a dermatologist

See your dermatologist if OTC dandruff shampoos don’t improve symptoms after a few weeks of consistent use. A dermatologist can assess your scalp and determine if you need a prescription-strength medication.

It’s also a good idea to get checked out if you notice:

  • Red, inflamed, or painful scalp
  • Greasy yellow crusts on the scalp
  • Hair loss along with dandruff
  • Itching that interferes with sleep or daily life

These symptoms could indicate a more serious scalp condition like seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, or fungal infection.


The best dandruff shampoo for colored hair will contain pyrithione zinc or other anti-fungal ingredients to treat flaking without stripping hair color. Use a medicated shampoo just 2-3 times a week and alternate with a hydrating, color-safe shampoo and conditioner. See a dermatologist if OTC shampoos don’t provide relief or if you notice signs of a more serious scalp problem.

With the right gentle but effective dandruff shampoo and proper hair care, you can control flaking and itching while keeping your color vibrant.