In the world of skin care, we often hear the term “sensitive skin” and come across many beauty products that are formulated with sensitive-skinned folks in mind. However, it’s important to remember that sensitive skin can exist beyond the face and body. That’s why it’s imperative for people with sensitive scalps to find the appropriate hair-care products so as to avoid any sort of irritation or reaction.
According to Philadelphia-based, board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology, “sensitive scalp is an umbrella term to describe stinging, burning, itching, and other similar symptoms on the scalp.” Per the dermatologist, this can encompass a broad range of conditions, such as contact dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and certain types of alopecia. Dr. Farber also explains that headaches, nerve damage, and physical and emotional distress are just some of the contributing culprits of sensitive scalps. “Common causes of irritation on the scalp include fragrances, as well as detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate,” Dr. Farber adds.
With all this in mind, Mona Gohara, MD, a Connecticut-based, board-certified dermatologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, says that those with sensitive scalps should avoid “sulfates and other harsh surfactants that can strip the skin of natural oils and compromise skin health.” As such, she recommends shopping for shampoos and conditioners that are formulated with anti-inflammatory ingredients “such as honey and coconut oil” as well as “humectants such as glycerin to pull in hydration and shea butter to enhance scalp and cuticle health.”
To keep your scalp healthy and irritation-free, we’ve rounded up the best shampoos and conditioners for sensitive scalps, including derm recommendations and favorites from Allure editor-approved brands like Nécessaire, Briogeo, and Kristin Ess.
1. Vanicream Free and Clear Shampoo & Vanicream Free and Clear Conditioner
“Vanicream Free and Clear Shampoo is free of fragrances and other common irritants that can contribute to sensitive scalp[s],” says Dr. Farber. Although the formula is lanolin-, paraben-, phthalate-, and sulfate-free, it is enriched with glycerin for added hydration. Pair this shampoo with its corresponding conditioner, which comes highly recommended by New York City-based, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD. Per the dermatologist, the glycerin-infused conditioner also contains “gentle ingredients that work as an emollient to condition the hair and prevent tangles.”
2. Kristin Ess Extra Gentle Conditioner for Sensitive Skin + Scalp
While it does have a subtle scent, the Kristin Ess Extra Gentle Conditioner for Sensitive Skin + Scalp is best suited for — you guessed it — people with sensitive skin. Its formula, which is both color- and keratin-safe, helps moisturize, soften, and smooth the hair. Ingredient highlights include glycerin, fatty acid-packed avocado and castor seed oils, and mango seed butter, the latter of which is rich in vitamins A, C, and E. As a bonus, the conditioner also features the brand’s signature Zip-Up Technology, which is described by the company as a “proprietary strengthening complex” that targets split ends, weak areas, and damaged cuticles.
3. Serge Normant Meta Silk Shampoo
Diane Madfes, MD, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recommends the Serge Normant Meta Silk Shampoo for sensitive scalps. According to the dermatologist, its conditioning formula — enriched with glycerin and camellia seed oil, which is high in vitamins A and C — “clean[s] the scalp and hairs while maintaining moisture.”
4. DHS Clear Shampoo
According to Dr. Farber, the DHS Clear Shampoo “gently cleanses” while balancing your scalp’s pH levels. (Put simply, when your skin deviates from its natural pH, it could trigger inflammation and skin conditions like eczema.) The shampoo’s fragrance-free formula helps eliminate flakes and buildup, leaving your hair soft, clean, and conditioned.
5. Necessaire The Shampoo and Conditioner
Nécessaire is known for its nourishing body-care products, but don’t sleep on the brand’s signature shampoo and conditioner (aptly named The Shampoo and The Conditioner). Both products are hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic (meaning they won’t block pores) and have impressive ingredient lists, which include moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid, niacinamide (which has been shown to help with hair thickness and fullness), strengthening vitamin B5 (a.k.a. panthenol, and hydrating aloe extract. They’ve also been awarded Seals of Approval from the National Eczema Association.
6. Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra-Soothing Shampoo
The Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing Shampoo is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, which means it’s suitable for even the most sensitive scalps. Its nourishing formula features soothing aloe vera, fatty acid-rich oat milk, and antioxidant-spiked green tea — on top of some mainstay hydrating ingredients we love, like glycerin, panthenol, and meadowfoam.
7. SheaMoisture Wash ‘N Go Conditioner
According to Dr. Gohara, the SheaMoisture Wash ‘N Go Conditioner has “all the right actives” to keep hair “healthy but also looking good.” Its ultra-hydrating formula — which features smoothing and moisturizing shea butter and a blend of coconut, baobab, and sweet almond oils — is especially ideal for folks with curly hair. P.S. You can also buy the Wash ‘No Go Shampoo and Conditioner duo.
8. Neutrogena Gentle & Soft Healthy Scalp Shampoo
Neutrogena’s Gentle & Soft Healthy Scalp Shampoo is formulated to cleanse and soften the hair, sans irritating the scalp. What’s more, its pH-balancing formula is enriched with micellar water, a gentle yet powerful cleanser that works to clear buildup, debris, and excess sebum. It’s also safe to use on color-treated hair.
9. Philip Kingsley No Scent No Colour Gentle Conditioner
Those with easily irritated scalps should incorporate The Philip Kingsley No Scent No Colour Gentle Conditioner into their hair-care routine, stat. This fragrance-, dye-, and paraben-free conditioner is even suitable for use on keratin-treated hair. Plus, with ingredients like amodimethicone and hydrolyzed elastin – which cosmetic chemist Ginger King notes are conditioning and moisture-boosting, respectively — it’s gentle enough for people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. (Kingsley originally formulated the conditioner for his wife while she battled breast cancer and endured chemotherapy sessions.)
10. The Honest Company Purely Sensitive Conditioner
The Honest Company Purely Sensitive Conditioner is gentle enough for the whole family (babies, too!). Featuring a slew of key moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil, aloe, shea butter, and glycerin, this fragrance-free, hypoallergenic conditioner is specially formulated to soften hair while simultaneously taming frizz.
11. Klorane Ultra-Gentle Conditioner with Oat Milk
For lightweight, shiny-looking hair, look no further than the Klorane Ultra-Gentle Conditioner with Oat Milk. The conditioner’s hero ingredient, oat milk, is known for its skin-soothing properties. Plus, according to Dr. Gohara, “oats can reduce inflammation and also be cooling in situations when there is inflammation.” Simply lather it on, leave for two to three minutes, and rinse.