What’s the Best Medicated Shampoo for Psoriasis?

The most complicated thing about finding a medicated shampoo for psoriasis is that there a lot of them. And they all claim to work. So how are you supposed to choose?

Well, the good news for simplicity seekers it that all over-the-counter medicated shampoos basically boil down to just 6 different active ingredients. Once you know what these ingredients are, what they do and how they do it, and the potential side effects they come with, you'll be better equipped to choose.

So what are these 6 ingredients lurking in every bottle of medicated shampoo for psoriasis? Let's meet them...

Clobetasol Propionate

This is a pretty strong topical steroid that's effective for reducing the itching and redness that comes with scalp psoriasis.

The downside? It's not a long-term solution since it's generally recommended you don't use it longer than about 4 weeks. Plus, your body will eventually adapt to it. It also comes with a lengthy little list of side effects.

natural psoriasis shampoo

Clobex Shampoo

Because clobetasol propionate is a very powerful corticosteroid, it's only available with a prescription. Ask your doctor if this is right for you or try one of the other medicated shampoos instead. 

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a peeling agent that works by encouraging the outer layer of your skin to shed, which is helpful for softening and removing the scaly psoriasis patches on the scalp faster. As such, shampoos containing salicylic acid are great scale lifters. 

The downside is that salicylic acid is quite drying and 'though it can help the appearance of scalp psoriasis, it doesn't do wonders for your hair - it can weaken hair shafts and lead to more breakage and hair loss.

best shampoo for psoriasis

Dermarest Psoriasis Shampoo

There are a lot of salicylic acid-containing medicated shampoos out there, but this one is dermatologist tested and recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation.

It's also fragrance-free and has added zinc complex to help soothe and protect irritated scalps. Even better - it's one of the few psoriasis shampoos that's actually gentle on hair, even color-treated hair. That's why it's a favorite.

See the reviews!

Other salicylic acid medicated shampoos include...


This is actually an antifungal that works by slowing the growth of fungi that cause infection. It's helpful for controlling the flaking, scaling and itchiness that comes with scalp psoriasis. The downside? Again, not a permanent solution and also can be quite damaging for your hair.

best shampoo for psoriasis

Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

This one's a great medicated shampoo that contains 1% ketoconazole as the active ingredient - a clinically proven anti-fungal - that's been proven to kill the fungus that causes dandruff.

The result is that it's super effective, even for bad flare-ups (comparable to what you'd get with a prescription shampoo) without being harsh or drying out your hair. 

Also like that it's not too harsh on hair - the overall scent is tolerable and it's fine for colored hair. The best part, though, is that you'll start seeing a difference in just one to two washes. 

See the reviews!

Other ketoconazole medicated shampoos include...

  • Pura d'or shampoo. The active ingredient is Ketoconazole 0.9% combined with coal tar and a blend of botanical hair helpers. It's like a much more luxe version of the Nizoral shampoo above. See reviews here!

Zinc Pyrithione

This is a form of zinc with antifungal and antibacterial properties which works by slowing the production of skin cells, helping to reduce flakiness, scaling and itching. Of the medicated psoriasis shampoo ingredients - zinc pyrithione is by far the least harmful since it has the fewest known side effects and isn't damaging for your hair (in fact, it may help fight hair loss).

DHS Zinc Shampoo

Great for clearing up scaly, flaky scalp buildup without damaging your hair. The best thing about this medicated shampoo is that it's not harsh, maybe because it doesn't have sodium laureth sulfate so it doesn't dry out your hair as much.

It also doesn't have that strong medicated smell and leaves your hair looking fresh and build-up free (both on the scalp and actual hair). 

See the reviews!

Other zinc pyrithione medicated shampoos include...

Selenium Sulfide

Selenium sulfide is an antifungal, anti-infective medication that works by slowing the growth of the yeast that causes the infection. The result is reduced flaking, irritation, and redness of the scalp.

Overall, it is helpful for getting rid of a lot of those dry, scaly patches that we all know and hate but (and this is a big BUT) the downside is that it has a potential side effect most of us don't want: hair loss.

Of course, many of these active ingredients come with a list of unwanted side effects and selenium sulfide is no exception. Other potential side effects from selenium sulfide include hair discoloration and excessive dryness or oiliness of the scalp and hair. But by far the worst is excessive hair loss. 

This ingredient does make for an effective shampoo against flaky scalp embarrassment, but unless this is the only ingredient you find works for your scalp - we'd recommend you go with another medicated shampoo instead. 

Selsun Blue Medicated Shampoo

This is pretty much the representative selenium sulfide shampoo. Overall verdict is that it definitely works to control the scaling and flaking...but it also contains a lot of long-term irritants like sulfates and fragrance. 

Would only use if it's the only thing that works for you. 

See the reviews!

Coal Tar

We've been using tars to treat dermatological conditions for a long time now - well over 2,000 years. And although the exact mechanism for how it helps psoriasis is yet unknown, it is agreed that it does help.

Coal tar for psoriasis works by causing the top layer of your skin to shed dead cells faster while slowing down the growth of skin cells. The result is less inflammation, dryness, flakiness, and itchiness. 

If you've already tried a tar shampoo (or three), you'll know that they tend to vary from brand to brand. In general, the higher the concentration of tar, the more potent the product​. But potency is not the biggest concern.

Although the usual downside of using coal tar for psoriasis are aesthetics - i.e. the not-so-pleasant smell and its potential to stain your skin and hair - there is a much larger concern as well. 

Studies show some of the chemicals in coal tar may cause cancer. Now, this isn't real cause for concern since this only applies for very high concentrations. The FDA maintains that over-the-counter coal tar concentrations between 0.5% to 5% are perfectly safe and there there is no scientific evidence that the tar in OTC products is carcinogenic, but just to be on the safe side - if you're going to use coal tar on a regular basis, it's recommended that you follow a regular skin cancer checkup schedule. ​

DHS Tar shampoo

The best thing about this shampoo is that it's both fragrance- and sodium ​laureth sulfate-free. Probably thanks to that, it doesn't dry out your scalp or your hair. 

Yes, it does have a smell but it's not crazy bad as far as coal tar shampoos go. If you really can't stand the smell, go with the scented. But if you're sensitive-scalped, opt for the fragrance-free, it's less irrritants to set off your scalp. ​

See the reviews!

Other coal tar shampoos include...

The best thing about medicated psoriasis shampoos are that they work pretty fast, which is great when you're looking to get rid of embarrassing flakes pronto. The downside is that many of these medicated shampoos are detrimental or harsh for your scalp and hair in the long run. 

That's why we recommend using medicated psoriasis shampoos to get bad flare-ups under control but opt for an all natural shampoo for daily use. The naturally healing ingredients plus the lack of irritants will be better for your scalp and hair in the long run!

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