We covered the true cause of dandruff in a previous article, but for many of us, our scalps aren’t actually infested with fungus but just have too much built up residue from conditioners, hair sprays, leave-in balms, and the effects of nature such as air pollution, beachy sand, or salty water. In these cases, it’s best to use a shampoo that targets residue without destroying your hair color or drying out your strands. Here we review several products that claim to do just that.
Wait—this isn’t a shampoo. But it is one of the best tools for scalp scrubbing maintenance. The long bristles reach through thick hair to scratch flakes off the scalp. The bristles are also spaced apart for easy cleaning; I used to use a normal comb for this task, but dandruff flakes would get stuck in the comb and were impossible to clean. The curved handle has a good grip and you can scrub your entire scalp in a matter of minutes.
By far my favorite non-medicated scalp care shampoo! Because micellar water is the main ingredient, this shampoo is completely color-safe for those of us with dye jobs (and isn’t that most of us?). It cleanses your scalp effectively but gently. The cleansing is purely chemical, which means no gritty abrasives to get stuck in your tresses.
While not strictly marketed as a scalp shampoo, rave reviews of this color-safe product convinced me to try it on my own colored hair to see how it treated both my scalp and my strands. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with either—I found this shampoo to be far too sticky to get through my fairly long medium density hair. This shampoo also left significant residue on both hair and scalp despite multiple rinse-outs.
Moving over to the granola side of the shopping aisle and we meet Love Beauty and Planet, a hair care brand dedicated to natural, vegan ingredients. This shampoo came full of marketing promises: not only is it ethically sourced vegan but it promised to be color-safe while thoroughly cleansing buildup on the scalp. But despite its hefty percentage of hemp and coconut oil, this shampoo was anything but nourishing. Did it cleanse the scalp? Maybe, but it left any hair it touched extremely dry and brittle.
This is a hugely “free” shampoo meaning free of the most common offending ingredients: sulfate, silicone, parabes, dye, gluten, and mineral oil. What’s left is a wonderful smelling (white pear and nectarine) cocamidopropyl betaine and glycerin based shampoo. This is a pretty solid shampoo for your hair—if you live in a humid climate. Glycerin is a strong humectant and needs humid (read: watery) air to pull moisture into the strands. But if you live in a desert like I do, it will pull water inside out from your hair and counterintuitively dry out your strands. As for the scalp, this shampoo was neutral: I didn’t notice any effects good or bad.
One of the few scalp shampoos that actually uses mechanical exfoliation via little gritty bits of charcoal. I was skeptical at first—wouldn’t those charcoal particles get stuck in my hair? But the smooth texture of the shampoo itself made it easy to wash out (although I would recommend this is in a bath, instead of a shower, if you have the option). This is now one of my go-tos for a deep scalp scrub.
If you haven’t tried this cult drug store favorite—what are you waiting for? I used this years ago and only remembered good things—but then it disappeared from local store shelves. I bought it again just to review it for you here, and I wasn’t disappointed. This totally vegan, cruelty-free shampoo is safe for colored tresses and glides through hair like butter. The main scalp care ingredient is antibacterial and antifungal tea tree oil, along with support from herbal sisters rosemary, eucalyptus, and peppermint. Unlike many vegan brands that slap together some botanicals and call it a day, Giovanni prides itself on thorough R&D on real hair before release. The silicone-free conditioner is a perfect compliment and I would categorize it as lightweight conditioning power.
Not just sulfate-free, paraben-free, dye-free, gluten-free, phalate-free, and propylene glycol-free, all Renpure products go the extra mile to be wholly plant-based. I rarely can squeeze amazing performance out of any totally “natural” product because, let’s face it, synthetic chemicals simply make more elegant formulations. Renpure is an exception where I’ve always experienced top-tier functionality despite the vegan vibe. You definitely get the tea tree and essential oil zing in this set, and it does a solid job of cleansing away scalp debris.
While not marketed for scalp care, this was a sleeper hit that thickens your hair to boot. In fact, many thickening shampoos might have a side effect of a clean scalp, because the first part of thickening is stripping your hair of any weighty residue. As with all Renpure products, this is free of just about any ingredient you might dislike, and is wholly plant-based. It “thickens” (read: temporarily plumps the hair strand) without any excess frizziness or dryness.