The 5 Best Dandruff Shampoos For Kids

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by Ileana Morales Valentine

Pesky flakes in your little one’s hair can be annoying, but with the right product you can clear up most cases. The best dandruff shampoos for kids are powered by medicated ingredients that are safe for children, like sulfur, salicylic acid, and zinc pyrithione, according to Dr. Karan Lal, DO, pediatric dermatologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center and member of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. “It’s important to note that salicylic acid helps remove the flakes, but sulfur and zinc actually help kill the yeast that causes dandruff,” Dr. Lal says.

Zinc pyrithione helps get rid of the fungus on the scalp and can also eliminate bacteria or microorganisms resulting in itchy flakes. When tackling dandruff, Dr. Lal says to avoid using just one ingredient because over time, these ingredients can become less effective if used repeatedly on their own. “It’s best to alternate a sulfur/ zinc shampoo with salicylic acid shampoo to avoid what we call ‘resistance,’” Dr. Lal says.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the percentage of zinc pyrithione recommended in wash-out hair products is between 0.3 and 2%, and Dr. Lal says those percentages are also appropriate for children. “Because it’s a zinc product, not one with salicylic acid, I don’t think a high concentration is needed.” For salicylic acid, Dr. Lal says any concentration up to 2% is safe and effective for children, though salicylic acid is not recommended for children ages 2 and under; also know that it can be a drying ingredient.

Though he prefers sulfur, zinc, and salicylic acid for younger children, Dr. Lal says teens can handle a more powerful formula. “For teenagers I often prescribe ketoconazole, a true medicated anti-yeast shampoo and [I] recommend they alternate that with their regular shampoo,” Dr. Lal says. “Results often taken 3-4 weeks to start seeing a difference.”

Ahead you’ll find four great dandruff-busting products for your kiddo to try. And here’s a pro tip from Dr. Lal: for getting the most out of a dandruff shampoo: massage the product into the scalp and let it sit for two minutes to really do its job.

Before incorporating any new medicated ingredient into your child’s routine, be sure to first consult their pediatrician.

1. A Zinc Dandruff Shampoo Created By A Pediatrician

This is a dandruff shampoo for kids and babies with cradle cap and it was designed for their sensitive skin by Dr. Eddie Valenzuela, a board-certified pediatrician and former president of the Houston Pediatric Society, who decided to make an over-the-counter gentle shampoo for treating dandruff in children when he couldn’t find one to recommend to patients. This formula is notably fragrance-free for sensitive and irritated skin, and it’s also free of dyes, alcohols, parabens, and sulfates.

This dermatologist-tested shampoo is formulated for children of all ages and contains 0.95% pyrithione zinc to help eliminate the itchy flakes and fungus. Licorice root extract is added to soothe redness that can pop up behind ears or other skin near the affected area. This gentle shampoo can also be used as a body wash, and it maintains a 4.5-star rating with over 2,500 reviews on Amazon.

A helpful review: “I couldn't be happier with this product. My daughters are no longer babies (they are two and six), but they both still have this oily scaling/buildup on their scalps that feels bumpy and rough. After a couple of times using Happy Cappy shampoo, the scaling was noticeably decreased, and with continued use for a few more washes, it was pretty much gone. [...] It didn't burn their eyes or have any medicinal fragrance at all.”

2. This Zinc Formula Designed For Natural Hair

This zinc-based dandruff shampoo is made by a brand that is dedicated to designing haircare specifically for textured and African-American hair. The 1% pyrithione zinc controls dandruff and relieves an itchy scalp. Reviewers reported this shampoo leaves hair soft, moisturized, and flake-free. The manufacturer recommends this shampoo for children ages 2 to 12.

A helpful review: “I purchased this for my young daughter. She has thick curly hair and I noticed she was having problems with dry skin. I used this on her twice and noticed a considerable difference. After the third time it was mostly gone. I now use it once a week to control the dandruff. [...] I will continue to purchase to keep the dandruff from coming back.”

3. A Salicylic Acid Dandruff Shampoo & Conditioner Set

There’s a reason why you won’t find many natural dandruff solutions on this list: Dr. Lal cautions that oils like olive oil can “feed” dandruff — unless they are incorporated into a shampoo that also contains medicated ingredients like this salicylic acid dandruff shampoo and conditioner. Both the shampoo and conditioner contain 2% salicylic acid, as well as hydrating aloe vera, chamomile, and tea tree oils that are certified organic and condition hair (which is a plus because salicylic acid can be a drying ingredient). The vegan products are free of GMO’s and come in biodegradable containers. There is no minimum age listed for this shampoo and conditioner, but keep in mind that salicylic acid is not recommended for children ages 2 and under.

A helpful review: “My daughter was suffering from extremely itchy and irritated scalp. We tried EVERYTHING and then this product was highly recommended to us! Total game changer and gave my daughter's scalp the relief she needed! So if you any time of scalp irritation, thick hair, etc. this is for you!!”

4. The Cult-Favorite Dandruff Shampoo For Teens

For teens struggling with dandruff, this ketoconazole shampoo is an unrivaled favorite with a 4.6-star rating and whopping 41,000 reviews. The formula’s 1% ketoconazole is clinically proven to control the hallmark symptoms of dandruff: flaking, scaling, and itching. This shampoo is also highly effective at fighting the fungus that causes dandruff while being safe enough to use on color-treated or chemically processed hair.

A helpful review: “This is the ONLY thing that works for my teen son’s severe dandruff. He gets dermatitis on his scalp which is really painful for him, but if he uses this twice a week, it’s totally gone. It’s pricey but WORTH IT.”

5. This Maximum-Strength Zinc Shampoo Bar For Scalp & Body

If you’ve dealt with sensitive skin issues, you’re probably already familiar with the Vanicream brand. Their medicated cleansing bar is a pH-balanced formula with the maximum over-the-counter strength — 2% pyrithione zinc — for controlling and reducing symptoms of dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. No wonder it’s a consistent favorite with over 4,000 reviews.

This non-comedogenic formula won’t clog pores, and if you have a tween or teen, reviewers report this bar also works great for flakiness or acne on the face and body. The formula is free of sulfates, oil, phosphates, dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde releasers.

A helpful review: “My son gets terrible dandruff and this is the ONLY over the counter stuff that works. He swears by it!”

Nice To Have: A Scalp Massager

For getting a deep clean, a hair scalp massager helps exfoliate your scalp, loosen flakes, and make shampoos more effective. The bristles on this handheld shower brush are made of soft and flexible silicone. It’s durable and, thanks to a hole on the handle where you can attach a string, is easy to dry and store. With over 30,000 reviews, this much-loved tool is sure to make washing your kiddo’s scalp easier or help more independent children properly wash their hair and prevent further dandruff issues. And it’s available in eight colors, so you can choose your child’s favorite.

A helpful review: “My 9-year-old was having issues with dandruff and pimples on her scalp because she wasn't shampooing properly. We got this and after using it for four days, the dandruff and pimples are GONE! Great product! I got one for myself and my husband as well. We love them.”


Dr. Karan Lal, DO, member of The Society for Pediatric Dermatology and pediatric dermatologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center