Does Head and Shoulders cause hair loss?

Published on December 1, 2023
Updated on December 1, 2023
Bottlles of Head and Shoulders Deep Hydration, Deep Cleanse Oil Control, Deep Cleanse Scalp Detox, and Deep Cleanse Itch Relief Shampoos
Head and Shoulders® products, which contain either zinc pyrithione or selenium sulphide, can combat dandruff and related scalp issues.

Head and Shoulders® is a well-known brand that claims to be able to stop dandruff. While their products are sometimes thought to be harsh and may dry out hair, there’s little proof that this brand and its products cause hair loss… or hair growth. 

What Head and Shoulders® can do is help with dandruff. It contains active ingredients that have been shown to help improve the scalp microbiome. If anything, by helping improve scalp health, this shampoo might even be able to help (a little!) with hair loss.  

Does Head and Shoulders® cause baldness?

There’s no evidence that Head and Shoulders® shampoo causes baldness or any other type of hair loss. Like any other shampoo and hair product, it has the potential to cause issues like scalp irritation or allergic contact dermatitis, particularly if you have sensitive skin. That, in turn, could result in hair loss or aggravate hair loss symptoms. But the solution to this is easy: Switch to a different shampoo and the issue should go away within a few weeks. 

If you’ve just started using a Head and Shoulders® product and it seems like you’ve either started losing hair (or your hair loss symptoms have gotten worse), you’re likely responding to an ingredient in the shampoo. And while it may seem strange to be allergic to an ingredient in a hair care product, it’s completely possible. People can even be allergic to ingredients in hair loss treatments – and those are specifically designed to improve hair growth!  

If you really like Head and Shoulders® as a brand, but you still suspect that one of their shampoos is the cause behind your hair loss, why not switch to another product? They currently sell over 30 shampoos, on top of nearly two dozen more 2-in-1 shampoo-and-conditioners. 

American Head and Shoulders® Products 

When you think of Head and Shoulders®, chances are you’re thinking of their anti-dandruff shampoo. But Head and Shoulder products have evolved a lot over the years.  That quintessential white and blue bottle is now just one of many Head and Shoulders® products… and one of many of their anti-dandruff shampoos.

These days, the Head and Shoulders® brand sells almost a hundred different products within the United States, most of which are shampoos, 2-in-1 shampoo-conditioners, and conditioners. These include:

  • Aloe Vera Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Classic Clean Shampoo, Conditioner, and 2-in-1
  • Clinical Dandruff Defense Sensitive Shampoo
  • Clinical Dandruff Defense + Advanced Oil Control Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense Intensive Itch Relief Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Coconut Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Deep Moisture Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Conditioner, and 2-in-1
  • Dry Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Conditioner, and 2-in-1
  • Green Apple Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Conditioner, and 2-in-1
  • Itchy Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Lavender Mint Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Lemon Oil Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Men’s Advanced Series Charcoal Deep Clean Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Men’s Advanced Series Bourbon Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Men’s Advanced Series Sage + Mint Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Men’s Advanced Series Sandalwood Anti-Dandruff 2-in-1
  • Men’s Charcoal Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
  • Men’s Full & Thick Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Men’s Old Spice Pure Sport Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Men’s Old Spice Swagger Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Men’s Refreshing Menthol Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Royal Oils Moisture Boost Shampoo
  • Royal Oils Sulfate Free Scalp Care Shampoo
  • Scalp X Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
  • Smooth & Silky Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Conditioner, and 2-in-1
  • Supreme Soothe & Strengthen Shampoo
  • Supreme Sulfate Free Clarify & Volumize Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Supreme Sulfate Free Color Protect Shampoo
  • Supreme Sulfate Free Detox and Hydrate Shampoo
  • Supreme Sulfate Free Nourish and Smooth Shampoo
  • Tea Tree Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and 2-in-1
  • Volume Boost Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner
  • White Charcoal Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner

This wide range of products allows them to market to people with all sorts of hair types and scalp issues, ranging from dandruff associated with seasonal dry flakiness to itchy scalps, sensitive scalps, and severe or persistent dandruff. 

Head and Shoulders® ingredients 

Despite the wide range of products they sell, Head and Shoulders® only list two active ingredients on their products: zinc pyrithione and selenium sulphide. Zinc pyrithione is the active ingredient you’ll find in most products, while selenium sulphide is the active ingredient in their “Clinical” products range which includes Clinical Dandruff Defense Sensitive, Advanced Oil, and Intensive Itch Relief.

What is zinc pyrithione?

Zinc pyrithione – also referred to as pyrithione zinc – is an antimicrobial agent with antibacterial and antifungal properties. According to a study in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology, it’s been used for over half a century to treat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly, flaky skin.   

Zinc pyrithione is infused into skin and hair products that you can apply to your skin. Once applied, the zinc pyrithione particles are deposited and retained there, even after the product itself has been rinsed off. These zinc pyrithione particles have the ability to interact with any microbes living on your skin, continuing to fight off harmful bacteria and fungi even on the days you’re not using the product. This helps maintain a healthy scalp microbiome and can also support healthy hair growth. 

According to the West Japan Dermatology Journal, zinc pyrithione is usually used in concentrations between 0.95 to 2 percent in shampoo. It may also be used in concentrations between 0.1 to 0.25 percent in hair styling products. In Head and Shoulders® products, it’s used in a concentration of 1 percent.

What is selenium sulphide? 

Selenium sulphide is another antimicrobial agent. According to MedlinePlus and the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, it has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Selenium sulphide is thought to help prevent the turnover of skin cells. Combined with its antimicrobial properties, this helps it combat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. It’s most commonly used in concentrations of 1 percent.

According to a study in Pediatric Dermatology, 1 percent selenium sulphide is also able to help stop tinea capitis. Tinea capitis, commonly known as ringworm, is a fungal infection that causes itchy, scaly patches on the scalp. If left untreated for long enough, it can lead to circular bald spots on the head. However, you should know that in order for selenium sulphide to benefit people with tinea capitis, it needs to be administered with oral antifungals. 

Do Head and Shoulders® ingredients differ across products?

Despite belonging to the same brand, Head and Shoulders® products differ massively in ingredients – especially across product families. For example, you’ll find that products within a certain group – like the different products in Head and Shoulders®’ Clinical line – have much more in common with each other than they do when compared to any other product type. 

But despite these differences, you should be able to get similar results when using most of their products. Any beneficial effects you get from using a Head and Shoulders® product likely comes from one of their active ingredients.

Remember the signature blue and white bottle that became their trademark? You’re probably thinking of Head and Shoulders® Classic Clean. 

According to the National Library of Medicine’s database DailyMed, Head and Shoulders® Classic Clean contains just one active ingredient: Zinc pyrithione 1 percent. It also contains a number of inactive ingredients, which are:

  • Water
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth-3 sulfate
  • Glycol distearate
  • Zinc carbonate
  • Sodium chloride  
  • Sodium xylenesulfonate        
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine  
  • Dimethicone  
  • Sodium benzoate       
  • Magnesium carbonate hydroxide
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone  
  • Methylisothiazolinone         
  • Fd&c blue no. 1
  • D&c red no. 33
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride

Most Head and Shoulders® products contain zinc pyrithione. The exception is their Clinical range, which contains a different active ingredient: selenium sulfide.  

For example, DailyMed states that Head and Shoulders® Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense Intensive Itch Relief contains 1 percent selenium sulfide, along with the following inactive ingredients:

  • Edetate disodium  
  • Menthol, unspecified form  
  • Coco monoethanolamide    
  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Hypromellose, unspecified
  • Cetyl alcohol    
  • Water  
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate    
  • Glycol distearate      
  • Sodium chloride  
  • Ammonium xylenesulfonate  
  • Dimethicone  
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone  
  • Methylisothiazolinone  
  • Fd&c red no. 4         
  • Sodium citrate         
  • Citric acid monohydrate  
  • Peppermint oil         
  • Mentha arvensis leaf oil

Will all Head and Shoulders® products have the same effect?

Head and Shoulders® products are likely to have similar effects as long as they contain the same active ingredient. This means you could probably swap Head and Shoulders® Classic Clean for Green Apple Anti-Dandruff Shampoo without issue. Since both products contain zinc pyrithione, you shouldn’t see a huge difference when switching between products. In fact, besides for the way your hair smells after using them, there may not be any difference at all. 

But be aware that there’s more than just a difference in active ingredients across Head and Shoulders® products. For example, if you compare the ingredients lists for Head and Shoulders® Classic Clean and Head and Shoulders® Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense Intensive Itch Relief, most of the inactive ingredients are different, too. In fact, besides for six ingredients (water, dimethicone, glycol distearate, methylisothiazolinone, sodium benzoate, and sodium chloride), there’s almost no overlap between these two products. 

If you’re wondering what those six ingredients even are, Head and Shoulders® says that: 

  • Dimethicone is a conditioning agent
  • Glycol distearate is used to make your shampoo look opaque and shiny
  • Methylisothiazolinone is a preservative
  • Sodium benzoate is also a preservative
  • Sodium chloride is a thickening agent to make your shampoo less runny

There’s nothing wrong with using different ingredients across a line of branded products. But if you did switch from a product like Classic Clean to Green Apple Anti-Dandruff and noticed that your hair seemed to react differently to both products, the difference in inactive ingredients could be a reason why. 

Does Head and Shoulders® prevent hair loss?

While there’s no proof that Head and Shoulders® products cause hair loss, there have been a variety of studies showing that Head and Shoulders® can improve the scalp microbiome. Since dandruff is associated with hair loss, this, in turn, can help stop hair loss, or at least prevent the worsening of hair loss symptoms.

Does Head and Shoulders® make dandruff worse?

Head and Shoulders® products don’t seem to make dandruff worse. In fact, some of their products actually stop dandruff and its related symptoms.

According to the West Japan Dermatology Journal study, Head and Shoulders® shampoo (with 1 percent zinc pyrithione) and Head and Shoulders® conditioner (with 0.3 percent zinc pyrithione) are capable of reducing dandruff. And not only that – they seem to be better at doing so than similar alternative products (namely, Merit shampoo and moisture rinse). Head and Shoulders® also seems to be better at reducing related symptoms related to dandruff, like scalp dryness and itching. 

Is Head and Shoulders® bad for your hair?

There are no studies that prove that Head and Shoulders® is bad for your hair. If anything, Head and Shoulders® may be good for your hair. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help balance the scalp microbiome. This, in turn, can help improve scalp health and hair growth

Head and Shoulders® has been shown to work against dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. And its active ingredients have even been shown to help boost the effects of oral antifungals when treating conditions like tinea capitis. 

However, you can still be allergic or have adverse reactions when using Head and Shoulders® products. If you feel like your shampoo or 2-in-1 shampoo-and-conditioner has caused your hair loss to get worse, consider trying a gentler shampoo or hair product. A more natural shampoo may be a better solution for sensitive skin struggling with hair loss.  

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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