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Best Shampoos for Eczema on the Scalp

Posted on March 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

Eczema is a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, rashy, and inflamed. There are many different types of eczema, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Hand eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis

Scalp eczema falls under the subtype of seborrheic dermatitis. Eczema on the scalp can cause flaking, thick scales, and make your head itch. One of the best ways to combat this condition is to find a shampoo for scalp eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or scalp psoriasis. Read on to find out what to look for and to see what MyEczemaTeam members have said about different shampoos.

Best Shampoo Ingredients for Scalp Eczema

To find the best shampoo for seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp, look for ingredients that will work on symptoms like itchiness or a flaky scalp. Continue reading to find out the most common active ingredients in shampoos that help relieve eczema on the scalp. It is best to use several different shampoos and alternate each time you shampoo your hair.

Ketoconazole and Azole

Ketoconazole is an antifungal medication that works by inhibiting a fungus that grows on the scalp and is associated with seborrheic dermatitis. Several studies have shown its effectiveness in managing seborrheic dermatitis. One MyEczemaTeam member shared their experience with ketoconazole: “My dermatologist stated that I had a yeast infection on my scalp and prescribed ketoconazole cream 2 percent. It’s my second day using it, and I actually can say I am only itching slightly.”

Like ketoconazole, azole medications are also mild anti-inflammatories, meaning they can help make your flaky scalp less itchy and irritated, as well. The 1 percent ketoconazole is available over the counter without a prescription, whereas the 2 percent requires a prescription.

Ciclopirox

Ciclopirox is another antifungal ingredient that has been proven to help manage seborrheic dermatitis. Although it is equally as effective as ketoconazole, individuals rate their experiences with ciclopirox higher than those with ketoconazole.

Currently, ciclopirox is only available in prescription medicated shampoos and scalp treatments for eczema.

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide is another antifungal option that’s often found in over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos and other flaky scalp treatments. Selenium sulfide can be effective when used as infrequently as twice a week.

However, according to one study, people diagnosed with eczema reported having more adverse effects from selenium sulfide shampoo — including itching and burning sensations on the scalp — than ketoconazole shampoo.

Zinc Pyrithione

Zinc pyrithione is a common ingredient found in over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos. The way it works is unclear. It is believed to have both antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

Zinc pyrithione does not work as well as ketoconazole for most people, although it may be effective in combination with either ketoconazole or ciclopirox.

Many members of MyEczemaTeam have tried zinc. As one member shared: “I've been taking a zinc supplement throughout all of my adulthood. It's true that zinc is supposed to be very remedial for eczema.”

Corticosteroids

Medicated shampoos containing corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone, can be more effective than even ketoconazole in treating eczema. If a steroid is too strong for daily use, alternating it with an antifungal shampoo has also proven to be an effective method of treating seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp.

Shampoos containing corticosteroids are generally only available via prescription.

Coal Tar

Coal tar is a derivative of wood and coal used to keep fungus growth down. It can reduce scalp inflammation. Coal tar is just as effective as ketoconazole when it comes to reducing fungal growth. Shampoo with coal tar is brown and has a distinctive smell, but many people find it very effective.

One MyEczemaTeam member shared that, when he struggled to get a timely doctor's appointment to treat his eczema, he “bought some coal tar cream” instead, and found it useful.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is another ingredient found in over-the-counter and prescription shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis and eczema. This acid exfoliates the top layer of the skin and peels away the scale associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

A Note on Natural Active Ingredients

Many people diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp seek natural treatments for their flaking and itchy scalp. One MyEczemaTeam member said that “tea tree oil is helpful,” while another mentioned “silver gel from Amazon.”

However, it’s important to note that many natural active ingredients have not been studied. Some natural ingredients may not affect scalp eczema, and some may be harmful.

In addition, natural ingredients can cause moderate to severe allergic reactions in some people. For example, tea tree oil, which is generally considered safe, can add to irritation instead of diminishing it. Speak with your doctor or dermatologist before beginning any treatments for your eczema — even if they’re natural.

Many shampoos contain the detergent sodium lauryl sulfate. A shampoo without this ingredient may be more gentle on the scalp for a person with more sensitive skin.

Is It Time for a Prescription Eczema Shampoo To Help Your Itchy Scalp?

Your doctor or dermatologist will usually suggest that you try over-the-counter remedies for your eczema first. These tend to be cheaper and are often available at the drugstore.

If you find that over-the-counter products aren’t working well for you, a prescription treatment may be appropriate.

Prescription remedies for persistent and stubborn seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp can take several forms. Medicated shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp may have higher concentrations of the same active ingredients in the best over-the-counter shampoos for scalp eczema. They may also contain other active ingredients, like ciclopirox. Some prescription remedies may also take the form of gels or creams that you apply between shampoos — or even medication that you take as a pill.

What Shampoos Have Worked for MyEczemaTeam Members?

MyEczemaTeam members have tried many different shampoos for their scalp eczema. Here are some recommendations and insights they’ve shared:

  • “Avoid fragranced shampoos and conditioners, if possible.”
  • “I use Neutrogena shampoo and conditioner. I have tried shampoos that are recommended for eczema, but they are too harsh for me.”
  • “Use a clarifying shampoo, such as Neutrogena Anti-Residue or Keranique, once or twice weekly to dissolve the residue left on your scalp from your regular shampoo. This will cleanse and open your hair follicles and reduce or eliminate itching, redness, and painful bumps. But be persistent for several months with this treatment.”
  • “Try Free & Clear shampoo and conditioner.”
  • “Selsun Blue helped me.”
  • “I just started using Aveeno, and I like it a lot.”
  • “I use the Natalia soap as shampoo and body soap — it is soothing.”
  • “You might also try zinc-based shampoos, such as Head & Shoulders.”

MyEczemaTeam members also have ideas for itchy, flaky scalp treatments between shampoos or instead of shampooing:

  • “Could you massage your scalp with a small amount of 1 percent hydrocortisone cream?”
  • “Massaging my scalp with a small amount of aloe vera gel has helped some.”
  • “If you have any crusty stuff on top of your head, a little baking soda with your shampoo is a good way to get that off.”
  • “Do not use a conditioner. I itch less if I do not use it.”

Find Support for Scalp Eczema

MyEczemaTeam is a community of more than 34,000 people who understand life with eczema. Members have a lot to say about the medicated shampoos and scalp treatments that have helped them with seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. Reach out today to get some suggestions about what might work for you or help someone else if you’ve found a remedy that works.

Do you have scalp eczema or know someone who does? What treatments have helped you? Comment below, or start a conversation on your Activities page today.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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