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9 Best Salicylic Acid Shampoos for Dandruff, Dry and Flaky Scalp

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Salicylic acid is mainly known as an acne-fighting ingredient in skincare products, but those with dandruff are very well aware that salicylic acid is actually more than for skincare. Salicylic acid (SA) is widely known as a potent treatment for scalp itching, sebum buildup, and dandruff and is often found as a core ingredient in shampoos. Even the FDA considers salicylic acid a promising ingredient for controlling inflammatory scalp conditions, having enough scientific evidence to support its benefits. So whether you want to know more about salicylic acid, what it does, how it works, or to find the best salicylic acid shampoos, this post is for you.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, classified as a keratolytic, that works by stripping away the dead cells from the skin’s outer layers. It’s oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate into the skin pores and unclog them by eliminating the buildup of debris, sebum, and dead cells in your scalp. This helps with various hair conditions since scalp buildup is a major cause of flakes, dandruff, psoriasis, and other dry skin-related issues.

Salicylic acid shampoos benefits

Since salicylic acid is great at breaking down dull skin cells and oil in your scalp and hair follicles’ pores, it can help relieve dryness and dandruff. This has actually been shown in numerous clinical studies.

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One research showed that shampoo containing 2% salicylic acid significantly reduced dandruff along with the itching and flakes caused by a dry scalp. Similarly, another study from 2002 found that seborrhoeic dermatitis and dandruff improved considerably throughout the use of a 3% salicylic acid shampoo. There are even rumors saying salicylic acid could reduce hair loss, but there’s no scientific evidence in this regard, so it’s hard to say whether or not it’s true. 

Finally, salicylic acid is used in shampoos because its composition makes it easy to penetrate the scalp and clean the excess cells’ buildup and sebum. If you feel your scalp is too dry, flaky, irritated, or need to reduce dandruff or control seborrheic dermatitis, consider using a salicylic acid shampoo. 

Are salicylic acid shampoos safe?

According to the FDA, salicylic acid is considered safe and effective for scalp treatment in 1.8% to 3% concentrations when used in shampoos. However, salicylic acid may cause side effects such as redness, burning, or peeling skin to some people. If these symptoms persist or worsen, quit salicylic acid for a while.

What is the best salicylic acid shampoo?

Now that you have all your questions answered, you can shop through the best salicylic acid shampoos you can buy in 2021. 

Nioxin Salicylic Acid Shampoo

Nioxin Cleanser Shampoo with Salicylic Acid

A best-seller and Amazon’s choice, this shampoo with salicylic acid deeply cleanses the scalp and hair while removing sebum, debris, and product buildup without stripping the protective oils from your strands. Nioxin Cleanser Shampoo is perfect for those with fine, thin, and natural hair, but it works just as well on color- and chemically-treated types. It eliminates scalp buildup with citric and salicylic acids while it nourishes and thickens the hair thanks to biotin, folic acid, niacinamide, natural extracts, and menthol.


Redken Extreme Salicylic Acid Shampoo

Redken Extreme Salicylic Acid Shampoo

If your hair craves protein-rich formulas, pick Redken Extreme Shampoo. The star in this shampoo is Protein Strength Complex, which contains amino acids and arginine to nourish the hair roots, reduce breakage and split ends. Besides repairing and fortifying damaged hair, Redken shampoo also cleanses, conditions, and soothes the scalp with citric and salicylic acids. It’s alcohol-free, so it won’t cause irritations or scalp inflammation, but if you are not a fan of SLS, avoid this one, as it has plenty of it.


Neutrogena Therapeutic Scalp Shampoo

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Scalp Shampoo 

Whether you have dandruff, scalp psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis, Neutrogena T/Sal can help you fight any of these conditions, remaining one of the best salicylic acid shampoos on the market. It’s a scalp treatment containing only one active ingredient, 3% salicylic acid, clinically proven to relieve itchiness, dryness, and flaking caused by dandruff and other dry scalp-related conditions. If you go for this anti-dandruff shampoo, your hair will be on the safe side as it’s free of added color, preservatives and fragrance.


Salicylic Acid Shampoo

CLn Salicylic Acid Shampoo

CLn Shampoo is another dermatologist and clinically-tested shampoo for the treatment of dermatitis and dandruff. It effectively cleanses the scalp prone to flaking and itching while thoroughly removing scalp buildup of dead skin cells and debris with salicylic acid and citric acid. Besides, this shampoo contains glycerin to keep your hair hydrated without clogging pores, and it has a formula free of drying alcohol, fragrance, parabens, or triclosan. Do you have flaky, dry, irritated, or oily scalp? Then CLn Shampoo is for you.


Aveda Exfoliating Shampoo

Aveda Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo

If you like organic formulas, Aveda Invati Shampoo is something you should try. Although it’s not specially formulated for dandruff, it contains soothing ingredients such as salicylic acid, turmeric extract, and lactic acid, making it more suitable for prevention than treatment. It gently exfoliates the scalp, removes buildup that can clog pores, smooths and nourishes while reducing hair shedding by 53%. This thickening shampoo with salicylic acid is best for anyone looking to strengthen their hair without drying the scalp.


Biolage Salicylic Acid Shampoo

Biolage R.A.W. Salicylic Acid Shampoo

As one of the best shampoos with salicylic acid, Biolage R.A.W. contains three potent exfoliating agents, willow bark, lactic acid, and 2.9% active SA, all very effective in removing excess sebum, dirt, dead cells, and product buildup. This formula purifies the flaky scalp and helps eliminate dandruff in as little time as possible to support optimum hair health. Biolage R.A.W. Shampoo also uses the antioxidants properties of rosemary to boost blood flow and encourage hair to grow longer and stronger while it soothes and hydrates with glycerin and natural plant extracts. After all, people love this salicylic acid shampoo for a reason!


Biolage Cooling Mint Scalpsync Shampoo

Biolage Cooling Mint Scalpsync Shampoo

Or you can try this cooling shampoo with salicylic acid by Biolage formulated to relieve irritated scalp, cleanses excess oil and debris while revealing healthier and luxurious hair. Biolage Cooling Mint Scalpsync Shampoo can be used on all hair types, including wavy, curly and fine, and targets the appearance of flakes and dandruff, leaving your hair with a pleasing feeling after each use. It’s gentler than Biolage R.A.W., so opt for this one if you are on the sensitive side.


Klorane Shampoo with Salicylic Acid

Klorane Shampoo with Chamomile and Salicylic Acid

If you have blond-light brown hair, then you’ll like Klorane Shampoo, as it’s formulated with chamomile extract to brighten and intensifies blond highlights. Besides chamomile, this shampoo is enriched with other hair protective ingredients such as vitamin C, citric acid, and salicylic acid. It works to provide deep scalp cleansing, nourishment, and antioxidant protection so your hair won’t be prone to dandruff or itchiness. Klorane Shampoo is also free of compounds like parabens, SLS, and silicones being a great addition to your hair care regimen.


Sunday Riley Salicylic Acid Scalp Treatment

Sunday Riley Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Treatment

Although this one is not a shampoo, Sunday Riley Clean Rinse is a product that anyone with dandruff, dermatitis, or flaky scalp needs. It has a deep cleansing formula with glycolic and salicylic acids to remove debris and scalp buildup that clogs hair follicles, plus rose clay and hazel to clear impurities and residue without stripping the scalp of its natural oils. More than that, this treatment contains calcium, panthenol, zinc, vitamin B, C, and E to nourish and support hair growth, while fatty acids, jasmine oil, and rosewater work to hydrate the scalp without making the hair look greasy.

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