7 Best Shampoos for Scalp Psoriasis, According to Dermatologists
Get relief from dry, flaky skin with one of these dermatologist-recommended scalp psoriasis shampoo options.
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What causes psoriasis of the scalp?
People often confuse scalp psoriasis and dandruff (seborrhea) because both conditions cause dry, flaky skin. Although uncomfortable, dandruff is preventable and usually easily treatable with a simple dandruff shampoo. Unlike dandruff, however, scalp psoriasis is a chronic condition that’s not preventable, has no cure, and can be very uncomfortable.
Patricia Farris, MD, a clinical associate professor with the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, explains a notable key difference between the two.
“Scalp psoriasis is red scaling patches that are usually found on the back of the neck and behind the ears,” she says. “Dandruff is more diffuse and doesn’t have the reddish plaque-type lesions you see in psoriasis. Psoriasis can be more extensive with plaques found around the front of the hairline and scattered throughout the scalp.
The key to recognizing it is a shiny silvery scale on top of the red plaque.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), an estimated 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis. The scalp, elbows, and knees are common places to get psoriasis, but the patches can show up anywhere on the body.
Patients with scalp psoriasis can find some relief with topical lotions, medications, and shampoos that are specially formulated to alleviate discomfort.
What is the best shampoo for psoriasis of the scalp?
“Steroids help slow the rapid division of skin cells which is the underlying cause of psoriasis. Genetics/genes inherited from parents cause skin cells to divide more rapidly than normal and this is why the scales and excess skin develops,” says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco.
Treatment options include prescription steroid solutions and steroid shampoos. Seeing a board-certified dermatologist can help you get properly diagnosed and treated, Dr. Campbell adds.
But if you’re looking for non-prescription alternatives, we’ve rounded up some expert-recommended scalp psoriasis shampoo options that are readily available online. (Also, here are some more tips to treat psoriasis from patients.)
Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo
When checking product labels, Dr. Farris says one of the best active ingredients to look for is coal tar because it slows down the turnover of skin cells. This is important because in psoriasis, the skin cells turn over too quickly, which ultimately causes the buildup at the surface, resulting in those distinctive scales. She likes Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo because it contains coal tar as well as salicylic acid, which helps remove the scales.
Kenkoderm Psoriasis 3% Salicylic Acid Therapeutic Shampoo
While there is no cure for scalp psoriasis, removing the scaly buildup can make you feel less self-conscious and increase your overall comfort. Kenkoderm’s shampoo includes 3% salicylic acid which, as previously mentioned, helps remove these rough patches. According to MedlinePlus, the ingredient is used to treat a variety of troublesome skin conditions—everything from acne to corns and calluses. But be aware that it can take weeks (or more) to see results. Still, use this shampoo according to its package instructions and consult a doctor about any concerns.
Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo and Conditioner
When you’re treating your scalp, don’t forget about your hair. Dermarest offers a medicated 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner to help remove scaly spots with 3% salicylic acid. (Note there isn’t any coal tar in this particular product.) This product is fragrance-free, and with good reason. “Overly fragrant shampoos with numerous odorous botanicals can irritate already inflamed scalps affected with psoriasis patches,” says Sandy Skotnicki, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, department of medicine in the division of dermatology and occupational and environmental health.
MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning 3% Coal Tar Shampoo
Dr. Skotnicki agrees that psoriasis products that are tar-based and contain salicylic acid are tops when looking for important ingredients. Less important? “Shampoos containing zinc or antifungal ingredients do not help,” she says. MG217 contains 3% coal tar, which is on the higher end for over-the-counter medicated shampoos. Dr. Skotnicki says the following symptoms are common for those suffering from scalp psoriasis: dry scalp, itching, and sometimes burning and soreness. “Some hair loss can be expected as the itching is severe, but this hair loss is not permanent,” she adds.
PsoriaTrax 5% Coal Tar Psoriasis Relief Shampoo
With a concentration of about 5% coal tar, PsoriaTrax refers to its formula as maximum-strength and certainly has among the highest concentrations of tar we found. Interestingly, though, the AAD says that though one product may contain more coal tar than another, it may not necessarily achieve better results. For this reason, they recommend speaking with a dermatologist for product recommendations, particularly if you find the one you’ve chosen isn’t working for you. They also recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid using products containing coal tar.
Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo with Ketoconazole 1%
“I think prescription shampoos like 2% ketoconazole and steroid solutions are best, so I always prefer prescription,” says Dr. Campbell. “It’s worth one visit to get the diagnosis right and the treatment that is most effective.” However, when it comes to over-the-counter options, she would recommend Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, which does contain 1% ketoconazole. That’s the max amount of the ingredient non-prescription shampoos may contain.
“It’s important to note psoriasis is worsened by trauma to the area like harsh brushing or sunburns, so try to avoid friction, pressure, or sun on the area of involvement,” says Dr. Campbell. “Being overweight, smoking, alcohol, and stress makes psoriasis worse, so doing your best to eat a healthy diet and doing stress reduction activities like working out, meditation, and mindfulness are beneficial.”
Mountain Falls Therapeutic Dandruff Shampoo
Well-reviewed by Amazon users, Mountain Falls delivers a therapeutic shampoo with 1% of the ever-important coal tar within a 5% coal tar solution. It also falls in line with dermatologist recommendations as its fragrance is gentle. However, it does not contain salicylic acid. Make sure that the shampoo (and this is the case for all of the recommendations here) gets to your scalp, not just your hair, to help reach the areas of your skin that are inflamed. And remember that when applying anything new to your skin, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor first.
Next, here are the subtle signs of hidden inflammation in your body.
- Patricia Farris, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and a clinical associate professor with the Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Skin Conditions By the Numbers"
- Sandy Skotnicki, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, department of medicine in the division of dermatology and occupational and environmental health
- Caren Campbell, MD, board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Psoriasis treatment: Coal tar"
- MedlinePlus: "Salicylic Acid Topical"
- National Psoriasis Foundation: About Psoriasis