People with sensitive skin are typically told to avoid products that contain added fragrance, which is one of the most common (potential) irritants out there. That goes for people with sensitive scalps, too. The best shampoos for sensitive scalps are all fragrance-free, but they're also free of the types of harsh ingredients that typically cause rashes, itching, or other kinds of flareups, though this all — both the trigger ingredients and the type of reaction — can vary widely from person to person.
Though there are a lot of reasons why your scalp might be irritated, including eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff, patients who experience itching after shampooing are "likely allergic to an ingredient in their shampoo such as dyes, fragrances, botanicals, preservatives (methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea) or surfactants (i.e. cocamidopropyl betaine, dimethylaminopropylamine, sodium laureth sulfate)," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Bard, M.D., tells Bustle. If a patient tells her they experienced irritation after washing their hair, she steers them towards a gentle, scent-free shampoo — like the ones featured below.
Frequent shampooing may be another reason your scalp is feeling irritated, so try shampooing less often if possible. If making the switch to a new shampoo doesn't help alleviate your scalp discomfort, speak with a dermatologist who can help you get to the root of the problem.
Scroll on to shop the best fragrance-free shampoos for sensitive scalps, all for $25 or less on Amazon.
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1. The Doctor's Pick
For patients who've experienced scalp irritation after shampooing, Dr. Bard suggests making the switch to Vanicream's Free & Clear line of hair products. Free of almost every potential irritant imaginable (dyes, fragrance, lanolin, parabens, botanical extracts, sulfates, and even gluten), this shampoo is an excellent choice for people with allergies, skin sensitivities, and conditions like eczema.
2. Best Clarifying Shampoo
Like all the other shampoos featured here, this Phillip Adam shampoo is fragrance-free and very gentle. Designed to clarify (aka deep clean) your hair, it's also sulfate-free, paraben-free, plant-based, and cruelty-free. Key ingredients include apple cider vinegar, lactic acid, chamomile, and rosemary. And unlike some sulfate-free shampoos that tend not to produce a foamy lather, this one really does.
3. Best Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Dandruff shampoos often use added fragrance to mask the smell of the dandruff-fighting ingredients, but if you're prone to both dandruff and sensitive skin, that's obviously going to be a problem. For as safe of a choice as possible for even the most irritation-prone skin, try Vanicream's Free & Clear Medicated Shampoo. Pyrithione zinc is the main ingredient in here, which works to reduce flaking, itching, and other common dandruff symptoms. Like the non-medicated Vanicream shampoo above, this shampoo doesn't contain any dyes, fragrance, parabens, or sulfates.
4. Best Shampoo & Body Wash In One
Though technically designed for babies, this Honest Beauty Purely Simple Shampoo + Body Wash can be used by every member of the household. (In fact, if you have more than one sensitive-skinned person in your family, you should probably stock up on a few bottles of this stuff.) This is a tear-free, hypoallergenic formula made from aloe vera, coconut oil, and calendula, and it contains no parbens, phthalates, dyes, fragrance, or SLS. Like all Honest Beauty products, it's also cruelty-free.
5. Best Shampoo & Conditioner Set
This shampoo and conditioner set from Desert Essence is made with gentle, naturally derived ingredients, many of which are organic. The shampoo contains aloe, jojoba, green tea, and comfrey, while the conditioner is made with ingredients like sunflower seed oil, shea butter, and sweet almond oil. Together they leave hair feeling clean, fresh, and soft — with no added fragrance.
Bonus: A Fragrance-Free Dry Shampoo
It's not easy to find a dry shampoo that's fragrance free, so that makes Act+Acre Plant Based Dry Shampoo appealing on its own — but the ingredients list is impressive for other reasons, too. Not only will it prolong the time until your next hair wash, but it also helps enhance both volume and shine. Made with oil-absorbing rice and tapioca powders, as well as fulvic acid to nourish and detoxify the scalp, this non-aerosol spray is free of talc, alcohol, parabens, phthalates, and fragrance.
Dr. Susan Bard, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Brooklyn, NY.