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Dealing with a flaky scalp isn’t just annoying. It can be an itchy, painful merry-go-round you want to jump off of as soon as humanly possible. But how do you know if your itchy scalp is dandruff or scalp psoriasis? We reached out to a haircare expert to find out.

For starters, Helen ReaveyUSTI-certified trichologist and founder of Act+Acre, tells us, “Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells build up and form scaled, itchy, dry patches. It can manifest as a single patch or several patches and can even affect your entire scalp, leaving the skin dry, flaky, and visibly irritated.” Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about scalp psoriasis, including the top 10 shampoos to prioritize and shop.

It’s all about what’s in our shampoos and what isn’t. On Reavey’s list of nos are ingredients that strip or cause scalp irritation like alcohols, fragrances, silicones, or sulfates. Alternatively, she says gentle hydrating ingredients like plant-based oils, extracts, salicylic acid, amino acids, and squalene are excellent options. “These ingredients relieve irritated and inflamed skin while hydrating the scalp and removing buildup,” she says. 

Additionally, coal tar is a dermatologist-recommended ingredient you’ll find in psoriasis-treating shampoos, as the dark liquid derived from coke and coal gas from coal is proven to help reduce inflammation and slow the rapid growth of skin cells. Now, if the idea of coal tar on your scalp gives you a little anxiety (it’s perfectly safe BTW), don’t worry. You have many options. We’ll get to those shortly!

Reavey notes that results will vary from person to person and are impacted by more than just your haircare routine. For example, she says diet and lifestyle can affect your scalp health. “Gut health, in particular, can play an incredibly important role in the results you see,” she tells us. “Working toward improving your gut microbiome can result in healthier scalp conditions. However, with consistent product use and a focus on healthy lifestyle choices, many people begin experiencing results within three to four weeks of use and even more improvement following several months of consistency.”

Recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation, this shampoo is formulated with 3% coal tar and works to slow cell growth and control buildup. 

Put this hardworking coal tar extract–infused shampoo to use twice a week to help control flakes and itchy scalp caused by chronic scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and dandruff.

Reavey recommends this nourishing baobab oil– and glycerin-infused formula for a gentler cleanse, as it hydrates the scalp and reduces the itchiness caused by scalp dryness. She tells us, “It also contains a user-proven ingredient derived from apple amino acids that reduces the negative impact of SLS (a common cleansing agent that strips the skin) along with maintaining the integrity of the scalp’s moisture barrier.” 

Formulated with 3% salicylic acid and a zinc complex, this dermatologist-tested, fragrance-free formula (with conditioner) helps relieve and prevent itchy scalp, irritation, and flakes. Added bonus: The shampoo is recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation. 

This medicated drugstore formula has been around for years. The shampoo has 1% selenium sulfide, an antimicrobial ingredient proven to lower yeast levels to help prevent and eliminate itchy scalp and visible flakes. 

Whether your hair is color treated, gray, or chemically processed, this formula, which is made with 1% ketoconazole, controls flaking, scaling, and itching and won’t strip your strands. 

Formulated for sensitive skin, this shampoo doesn’t contain proteins, sulfates, gluten, fragrance, parabens, and dyes. Yet it still manages to provide an antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial cleanse thanks to 2% pyrithione zinc.

If you’re looking for a gentler formula sans coal tar, this pH-balancing, zinc pyrithione–infused formula cleanses and nourishes and provides relief from irritation, itch, and flakes with regular use. 

With 1% of the antifungal and oil-controlling ingredient selenium sulfide folded in, this extra-strength shampoo relieves severe dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis after just one wash. 

Salicylic acid in this gentle formula helps lift off scales and soften psoriasis plaques on the scalp and is gentle enough to use daily. 

Up next, What You Need to Know About Carcinogens in Dry Shampoo and 10 Safe Alternatives

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