The Best Psoriasis Shampoo That Won't Backfire On You

Dermatologists explain what psoriasis is, how it can affect your scalp, and the best shampoos to use if you have scalp psoriasis.

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Psoriasis — it's hard to spell, a tongue twister to say, and, apparently, more common than you might realize. In fact, it affects approximately 7.5 million people in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The autoimmune disease shows up largely on the skin when a build-up of skin cells manifest as thick, red, inflamed, and itchy patches that can occur on multiple areas of the body, including the arms, legs, feet, hands, neck, and face, explains Stacy Chimento, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami. But there's another common psoriasis spot that is extremely frustrating to deal with — the scalp. It can appear as either fine scaling that looks like dandruff, or as thick, crusted plaques that cover the entire scalp, says Craig Ziering, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Ziering Medical in West Hollywood, California. Either way, scalp psoriasis tends to look powdery with a silvery sheen, he adds. (

A lot of things can trigger psoriasis (including everything from stress to your diet), including many common ingredients found in shampoos. "Any ingredients that tend to dry out your scalp can lead to a psoriasis flare-up," explains Dr. Chimento. This includes alcohols and sulfates, as well as dyes and fragrances, the latter two of which tend to be irritating and can cause burning and stinging, she says. Aside from steering clear of these and seeking out generally gentle, hydrating formulas, there are also several specific ingredients that are good to look for in a psoriasis shampoo — more on those in a minute.

Simple tweaks to your hair washing routine can also help keep scalp psoriasis in check, notes Dr. Chimento. When you're using these psoriasis shampoos, make sure to really rub them into your scalp, she says. This ensures that the beneficial ingredients in the formula actually reach the skin (versus just sitting on the hair), and have some a chance to take effect. "Use lukewarm water, since hot water can also dry out the skin," adds Dr. Chimento.

But back to the actual shampoo part. Keep reading to find out the best ingredients to look for and more pointers on how to find the best shampoo for scalp psoriasis.

The Best Psoriasis Shampoos for Itchy, Scaly Scalps

01 of 08

Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo

Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo

"I recommend this because it effectively controls scalp psoriasis as well as other flaky scalp conditions from the first use," says Dr. Chimento of this cult-classic. Credit the addition of coal tar, an ingredient that she says can actually help clear scalp psoriasis. Coal tar is a thick, black substance that's a byproduct in the creation of coal that's known for reducing itchiness and irritation. Dr. Chimento also lauds the formula for continuing to work even after it's been rinsed off, and a wallet-friendly price tag never hurts. (Note: Doctors often recommend using coal tar shampoo no more than twice per week — it's best to check with your doc for guidance. Using it more frequently may up your risks for side effects such as stinging or irritation.)

02 of 08

Kenkoderm Psoriasis Therapeutic Shampoo

Kenkoderm Psoriasis Shampoo

The active ingredient in this formula is a three percent concentration of salicylic acid, which Dr. Chimento says is great for helping to combat itchiness and flakes. While it is fragrance- and dye-free it does contain a sulfate (specifically TEA lauryl sulfate), so she suggests using it just twice per week (or as directed by your doctor), and bearing in mind it can strip color-treated hair. If you have color-treated hair you want to opt for a different psoriasis shampoo without sulfates. (Related: This $15 'Miracle Shampoo' Clears Dandruff and Stimulates Hair Growth, According to Shoppers)

03 of 08

Philip B. Anti-Flake Relief Shampoo Extra-Strength

Philip B Anti Flake Relief Shampoo

"The main active ingredient in this formula is zinc pyrithione, an effective treatment for scalp psoriasis," says Dr. Ziering of one of his picks. It may be helpful thanks to anti-proliferative properties, meaning it helps slow the growth of cells. (Experts believe psoriasis occurs when an immune system response causes your skin to regenerate cells at an abnormally fast rate, according to the Mayo Clinic.) This formula also contains coal tar, and while it works well for scalp issues, it's also designed to leave hair bouncy and shiny.

04 of 08

DHS SAL Shampoo

DHS Sal Shampoo

Salicylic acid is also the star of the show in this psoriasis shampoo. This formula not only helps break down flakes, it's also great for helping to calm irritation, a major benefit for psoriasis sufferers, according to Dr. Chimento. It's clarifying too, which means it's great for removing build-up from both the scalp and hair.

05 of 08

Nizoral Scalp Psoriasis Shampoo Conditioner

Nizoral Psoriasis Shampoo

Dr. Ziering says he likes this two-in-one psoriasis shampoo since it not only contains salicylic acid, there's also tea tree oil, green tea, and vitamins E, C, and B5, all effective for helping manage psoriasis symptoms. That's a major plus if you want to combat flakes, itch, irritation, plaque, and scaling.

06 of 08

MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning 3% Coal Tar Shampoo

MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo

Reach for this is you're dealing with some serious scaling. "This is a great pick for those with severe scalp psoriasis," says Dr. Chimento. "The three-percent coal tar concentration virtually eliminates scalp build-up and irritation." (Related: The Best Psoriasis Cream Formulas, According to a Dermatologist)

07 of 08

Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Yes, psoriasis and dandruff are two different things (and need to be treated accordingly), but there is an overlap in recommended ingredients for both. For example, this psoriasis shampoo contains ketoconazole, an effective anti-fungal medication that's meant to address the root cause of dandruff, but leads to overall less flaking and inflammation, even if you have psoriasis, according to Dr. Chimento. "Slowly sing the alphabet while you rub it into your scalp before rinsing," she advises. Letting the formula sit on the skin for a few minutes gives that active ingredient enough time to do its job.

08 of 08

Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo

Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo

Another salicylic acid-based choice, this shampoo contains a zinc complex that's formulated to treat psoriasis, notes Dr. Ziering. Plus, it's recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation, meaning it was formulated with psoriasis-prone skin in mind and that the brand submitted third-party patch test results to the foundation for the stamp of approval.

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