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15 best treatments and products for an itchy scalp, according to experts

Dermatologists explain what causes an itchy scalp and recommend over-the-counter products to help you stop scratching.
We spoke with experts to learn more about what causes an itchy scalp and gathered some of the best over-the-counter treatments that can help alleviate it.
We spoke with experts to learn more about what causes an itchy scalp and gathered some of the best over-the-counter treatments that can help alleviate it.Kara Birnbaum / NBC

It started out as a simple itch on the lower back of my head and ended with a scratch that kept me up at night. Thinking the annoying red patch that had formed in that area was dry skin, I started treating it with dabs of petroleum jelly. But the itch didn’t stop until months later when I went to see a dermatologist who prescribed an anti-inflammatory cream for what turned out to be seborrheic dermatitis, an extremely common skin irritation that can be caused by anything from an allergic reaction to a change in season. She shared I could have found earlier relief with some over-the-counter (OTC) medications and remedies.

SKIP AHEAD The best itchy scalp products in 2024 | How to shop for itchy scalp products

Seborrheic dermatitis isn’t the only skin condition that can cause an itchy scalp. Other things that may cause irritation include psoriasis, folliculitis or contact dermatitis, which occurs when your scalp comes in direct contact with something you’re allergic to. Whatever is causing the urge to scratch, chances are you’re dealing with skin that’s red and irritated. The first thing you should do? “Stop scratching, which can lead to an increase in itching and flaking,” says Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board-certified dermatologist. From there, you can try out an OTC treatment.

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The best products for itchy scalps in 2024

To help you navigate your search for OTC products, we asked experts for insight on products that can help with an itchy scalp. We also used our editors’ own experience with these products, along with top-rated options from reputable retailers.

Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

“This is an over-the-counter version of a prescription medicated anti-fungal shampoo and an effective treatment for many types of scalp irritations,” says Dr. Alexis Young, a board-certified dermatologist. “It contains ketoconazole, which controls flaking and itchy scaling by preventing the growth of fungus.” You should use this shampoo twice a week in place of your normal shampoo, according to the brand. “I usually recommend leaving medicated shampoos like this one on the scalp for five to ten minutes to allow them enough time to work.” This shampoo has a 4.6-average star rating from 89,134 reviews on Amazon.

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo for Scalp Build-Up Control

This shampoo is another favorite of Young. It contains 3% salicylic acid, which can help ease itchiness caused by psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff, according to the brand. It’s also free of fragrance, added color and preservatives, making it a nice option for sensitive skin. NBC Select’s editorial director, Lauren Swanson, has used this shampoo previously to help with a dry, itchy scalp, and it’s also top-rated, with a 4.3-star average rating from 937 reviews on Amazon.

Kerastase Symbiose Exfoliating Anti-Dandruff Scalp Scrub

This gentle micro-exfoliating scalp scrub dissolves dead cells and flakes using a 2% salicylic acid solution along with tiny argan and apricot seeds to help remove buildup, according to the brand. “This scrub will also exfoliate to help any additional dandruff products you may be using sink in better,” adds Downie. This product should be used twice a week before you shampoo your hair, according to the brand.

Nutrafol Stress Reliever Scalp Microbiome Essence

Young says she sees a lot of folliculitis in the warmer months because it can cause a rise in sebum, an oil-like substance that can clog pores and cause bacteria to proliferate. “This fluid includes both probiotics to maximize the growth of good bacteria and prebiotics to feed that good bacteria,” she says. “They work together to minimize scalp itch and flaking while optimizing the environment on your scalp.” This liquid should be applied directly to the scalp daily and not rinsed out, according to the brand.

CLn Healthy Scalp Shampoo

This fragrance-free shampoo, designed by a physician suffering from scalp issues, contains sodium hypochlorite and salicylic acid to soothe a scalp that’s prone to itching, dandruff or excessive oils, according to the brand. “Sodium hypochlorite is the technical name for bleach,” said Young. “Although it sounds like it would be irritating to the skin, it’s very gentle and an excellent antimicrobial topical for the skin.”

SEEN Restore Scalp Serum

This serum is designed to balance your scalp’s hydration, allowing for relief from dryness, flakiness and irritation, says the brand. It’s fast-absorbing, and contains naturally moisturizing and soothing ingredients, like squalane and bisabolol. It’s also been awarded a Seal of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association (meaning that it’s free from any common eczema irritants) and is also highly-rated, with a 4.5-star average rating from 47 reviews on SEEN.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Scalp Detox Treatment Scrub

Young says that a scalp that is flaking, scaling or redness should be washed daily. This scrub gently exfoliates excess oil and sebum on the scalp with a blend of salicylic acid (an ingredient Young likes for itchy scalps) and sea salt. “If you’re going to use a salt scrub on the scalp, make sure the granules are small or risk further irritation,” says Young.

Act + Acre Vitamin E Scalp Detox Oil

This treatment from Act + Acre is meant to be used as a pre-wash oil, according to the brand. It uses baobab and sunflower oils to break down excess sweat, sebum and build-up, which in turn reduces itchiness and dryness. It has a 7.7-star average rating from 832 reviews on Act + Acre.

DHS Tar Shampoo

According to our experts, shampoo made with coal tar may help with scalp conditions like psoriasis, which causes an itchy, scaly rash. “Coal tar smells terrible but is an anti-inflammatory that works well to relieve the itch and scaly patches associated with conditions like psoriasis,” says Young. “Let this fragrance, PABA and dye-free product sit on your scalp for five minutes before rinsing.”

Olaplex No4D Clean Volume Detox Dry Shampoo

If you need to sop up some excess oil and sweat post exercising, this dry shampoo will do that without clogging the pores and causing itchiness. It works by using an ultra-fine micro starch sourced from rice and rambutan seed extract, according to the brand. Apply, then wait thirty seconds before massaging it into the scalp. “I exercise every day and this is one of the best dry shampoos on the market when it comes to maintaining a healthy scalp,” says Downie.

Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Scalp and Hair Mist

It’s important to protect an irritated scalp from ultraviolet rays by using sunscreen in that often overlooked area, according to Young. “In general, I’m not a fan of spray sunscreens but they do play a huge role when it comes to scalp protection because it’s difficult to apply a cream to that area,” says Young. “Just make sure to apply a thick enough coating and reapply every two hours in the sun or after going in the water.”

Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo Too

Overuse of styling products or leave-in formulas that don’t get fully washed out can lead to buildup that blocks the pores on the scalp, causing itching. This option from Paul Mitchell is formulated to cleanse and break up that buildup , and should be used once to twice a week, according to the brand. It has a 4.6-star average rating from 10,756 reviews on Amazon.

SEEN Fragrance-Free Blow-Out Creme

Developed by a dermatologist, this non-irritating, fragrance-free styling cream is considered a good option for those with sensitive skin, according to the brand. It contains hemisqualane, a plant-based, sugar-derived alternative to silicone along with bisabolol, a natural skin soother. “It’s non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog the pores on your head,” says Young. Swanson has also used this product and loves how it treats her scalp while making her hair look fabulous.

Garnier Hair Color Olia Oil Powered Permanent Hair Color

“Some of the chemicals used in hair dye can result in an itchy rash called allergic or irritant contact dermatitis — either from a product allergy or from being left on the scalp too long, causing a breakdown of the skin’s barrier,” says Young. “In order to prevent irritation, you or your colorist should avoid contact with the skin, applying the dye to the hair shaft only.” This permanent hair dye formula is free of ammonia, silicones, parabens and phthalates — all of which may irritate some people, according to our experts. It has a 4.4-star average rating from 16,025 reviews on Amazon.

Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer

“High heat can mess with your scalp’s health, increasing skin swelling and tenderness, which can lead to itching, flaking, red patches and hair loss,” says Downie. “Try to keep your dryer set to low heat and avoid keeping it on one spot too long.” This dryer controls heat using a thermal sensor to regulate the air temperature, preventing damage to the skin and hair, according to the brand. Dyson also says that it has an attachment that’s engineered to diffuse airflow and lower the temperature by up to 20 degrees.

How to shop for itchy scalp products

When shopping for itchy scalp treatments, experts recommend keeping not only your scalp, but your hair needs in mind as well. This can include considering the products best for your hair type and routine, along with the moisturizing or sensitivity needs of your hair as well.

  • Hair type: When recommending products to her own patients, Downie emphasizes the importance of considering hair type. “I look at hair type — curly, straight, wavy, dry, oily and take all of this into consideration when recommending different products for itchy scalp,” she says.
  • Hair needs: Your hair’s hydration and sensitivities are also an important factor to consider — when choosing an itchy scalp treatment, be sure to pick one that’s also compatible with your hair’s needs and routine. Downie recommends “looking for products that can balance the itchiness of the scalp with the need for moisturizer in your hair.”

There are also a handful of active ingredients Downie recommends looking out for and considering while shopping for an itchy scalp treatment. You can learn more about them in the frequently asked questions below.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Alexis Young is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City
  • Dr. Jeanine Downie is a board-certified dermatologist and director of Image Dermatology PC in Montclair, New Jersey

Why trust NBC Select?

Colleen Sullivan has been a contributor at since 2015. She also writes for Brides, Business Insider, HGTV, MyDomaine and Women’s Health, among others. Ashley Morris is an associate SEO reporter at NBC Select, covering skin care, wellness, home and kitchen and more. For this story, they spoke with dermatologists and hair experts on the best products and advice for itchy scalps.

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