Do Anti-dandruff Shampoos Actually Work?

If you often find white flecks on your dark shirts, and experience an itchy scalp, you may have dandruff. Thankfully, most dandruff conditions can be treated with over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos that generally have antifungal properties. 

How effective are these anti-dandruff shampoos, what does it mean if they don’t work, and how do they differ from professional anti-dandruff treatments? Read on to find out! 

How do anti-dandruff shampoos work?

Dandruff is caused by a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. Most anti-dandruff shampoo formulations are antifungal in nature, with active ingredients that help mitigate the growth of Malassezia and calm inflammation of the scalp. 

That being said, these shampoos differ in formulations and strength, and are designed to tackle different types of dandruff symptoms. The effectiveness of these dandruff shampoos also depend on whether you’ve followed the instructions on the label — lather properly and leave it on for the specified duration before rinsing thoroughly.

What ingredients should I look out for?

When buying over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos, keep your eyes peeled for these ingredients:

  • Zinc pyrithione — Zinc pyrithione is a derivative of the chemical element, zinc, and has both antibacterial and antifungal properties. This makes it an effective ingredient in combating fungal and bacterial infections causing your itchy and flaky scalp.
  • Coal tar — Coal tar is a type of keratolytic agent that encourages the shedding of dead skin cells, while slowing down the growth of new skin cells on the scalp. This, in turn, reduces scaling and itching. It also has mild antifungal and antimicrobial properties. 
  • Selenium sulphide — Selenium sulphide has antifungal properties and is effective in slowing the growth of the dandruff-causing Malassezia. It also helps slow skin cell turnover and manages sebum production on the scalp, creating a less favourable environment for Malassezia. 
  • Ketoconazole — Ketoconazole is a common antifungal ingredient used to manage Malassezia and inhibit its growth. Ketoconazole is also useful for psoriasis flare-ups and tinea infections.
  • Tea tree oil — Tea tree oil is a natural ingredient that has both antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, allowing it to calm irritated and itchy scalp skin caused by dandruff. It is important to note that pure tea tree oil should never be placed directly on the scalp, and should be diluted first or purchased as a shampoo.
  • Salicylic acid — Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic agent, which allows it to dissolve keratin proteins in the scalp, encouraging the removal of dead skin cells. It also has mild anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties. 


When it comes to anti-dandruff shampoos, not all may work for you. This makes it important to find one formulated based on your specific symptoms. Some people may even rotate between different types of shampoos to address the different aspects of their dandruff.

If your dandruff symptoms persist, consult a professional for a scalp analysis and personalised treatment plan. 

Professional anti-dandruff treatments

steaming for hair treatment

Sometimes, over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos don’t suffice. Professional anti-dandruff treatment options include:

  • Prescription medicated anti-dandruff shampoos For more severe forms of dandruff, your healthcare professional may prescribe medicated dandruff shampoos. These work similarly, but have higher concentrations of active ingredients.
  • Anti-dandruff treatment A professional anti-dandruff treatment is a personalised treatment done by a trained therapist. One such example is TrichoLab’s Scalp Exfoliating Treatment in Singapore, which involves ingredients such as papaya enzymes and centella asiatica to exfoliate the scalp and soothe inflammation. 


It is non-invasive, and includes a pre-and post- scalp assessment, as well as a mask and ampoule application specially designed to treat dandruff. 

Why professional treatment outshines anti-dandruff shampoos

Anti-dandruff shampoos can be a quick-fix for your flaking and itching issues. However, they may not always work on everyone. This can be due to a various reasons, such as:

  • Persistent or severe dandruff — Recurring dandruff or severe dandruff symptoms, such as a red or inflamed scalp, may require professional treatment. Your healthcare provider will be able to give you a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment.
  • Underlying skin conditions — Sometimes, your dandruff may be a symptom of a more serious underlying skin condition, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis or an allergic reaction. Professional treatment would be able to determine the root cause of your dandruff and manage more complex skin conditions that over-the-counter shampoos cannot. 
  • Personalised treatment plan — A professional diagnosis and treatment eliminates the need for a trial-and-error process to find the right treatment for you. Moreover, a personalised treatment plan takes into account your medical history, skin type and scalp condition for a more tailored procedure and, hence, optimal results.


Read: When to see a specialist for dandruff 

Get a professional scalp analysis and treatment

A professional treatment starts with a thorough scalp analysis, so that you can understand the root cause of your dandruff symptoms. This is followed by a personalised treatment plan specific to your scalp’s skin type and needs.

TrichoLab is a hair and scalp centre that believes in holistic, science-backed solutions for all hair and scap needs. This includes treatments that cover anything from dandruff prevention to scalp revival. Schedule a professional scalp assessment with us today!

Like what you read? Share them!