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What to Know About Using Zinc Pyrithione for Hair, According to a Trichologist

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When you think of zinc, you probably first think of the supplement aisle of your pharmacy. But you’ve likely seen forms of zinc in different types of beauty products, likely either in mineral sunscreens (as zinc oxide) or acne treatments (as zinc PCA). But it’s also a powerful ingredient in haircare—or, more specifically, scalp care. Zinc pyrithione is one of the most common active ingredients in treating dandruff, but it doesn’t necessarily get the recognition it deserves. We reached out to Kerry E. Yates, a trichologist and the founder of Color Collective, to explain just what this treatment does, who it can help, and more. Read on for the full breakdown.


About the Expert:

Kerry E. Yates is a trichologist, beauty expert, and the founder of Colour Collective.

What is zinc pyrithione?

Zinc pyrithione is a compound of molecules—yes, zinc and pyrithione—and is an effective antimicrobial and antifungal ingredient. But isn’t dandruff just dry scalp, you ask? Not so fast: Dandruff is a common form of seborrheic dermatitis, a type of eczema, and is actually caused by an overgrowth of fungus called malassezia. So zinc pyrithione has become a go-to ingredient in over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos, conditioners, and other hair treatments. “Zinc pyrithione is a hero ingredient for anyone suffering from dandruff,” says Yates.

The benefits of zinc pyrithione for hair:

Here’s what to expect when using a product containing the active ingredient.

  • Treats dandruff: More often than not, zinc pyrithione formulas are recommended as treatments for flaky scalps due to dandruff. “This hair hero tackles fungal infections with ease and helps to treat dandruff without the negative side effects like scalp drying or even irritation,” says Yates.
  • Relieves itchiness: As if flaking wasn’t enough, it’s often accompanied by an itchy scalp. So when zinc pyrithione helps kill that fungus, it can also reduce the itch factor.
  • Promotes scalp health: An overly oily scalp is one of the causes of dandruff, as sebum on the scalp creates a perfect environment for fungus to grow. Zinc pyrithione helps balance those levels, which can lead to not only a healthy scalp, but healthy hair too.
  • Helps with hair growth: By helping clear away the buildup of dead skin cells and excess sebum from the hair follicles, it’s thought that zinc pyrithione hair treatments may help fight thinning hair—or potentially even hair loss.
  • Clears fungal acne: Also called pityrosporum folliculitis, fungal acne isn’t really acne at all, but a skin condition caused by the same fungus as dandruff that can be treated with the same active ingredient. In other words: Don’t be surprised if you see spots around your hairline clear up when using dandruff shampoo!

How often should you use zinc pyrithione on your hair?

That depends on you and your scalp, according to Yates: “It is safe for daily use, but based on your scalp condition that may not be necessary,” says the expert. As things improve, you can start swapping in another shampoo (or hair care products) suited to your hair type. “As a minimum, use two to three times per week until your scalp challenges subside, then use once a week to keep dandruff at bay.”

Are there any side effects of using zinc pyrithione?

The good news is there are few to no side effects when zinc pyrithione is used correctly. However, “Like anything in this world, there are some people that experience a level of sensitivity using this ingredient,” Yates states, adding, “If you experience any level of irritation cease using and contact your dermatologist.”

Zinc Pyrithione Shampoos to Try:

1. BIODERMA Nodé DS+ Shampooing

BIODERMA Nodé DS+ Shampooing
Courtesy of BIODERMA

Yes, the beloved French pharmacy brand makes more than just micellar water! Leave their creamy medicated shampoo on for five minutes for a gentle yet intense dandruff treatment.

2. MALIN + GOETZ Dandruff Shampoo

MALIN + GOETZ Dandruff Shampoo
Courtesy of MALIN + GOETZ

A eucalyptus scent keeps this formula from feeling overly clinical, but it’s not messing around either. With pyrithione zinc, amino acid-based cleansers, and tea tree oil it will have your scalp refreshed, soothed, and flake-free in a snap.

3. KERASTASE Bain Anti-Pelliculaire

KERASTASE Bain Anti-Pelliculaire
Courtesy of KERASTASE

This high-end formulation promises a flake-free appearance in just eight weeks by offering a dual-action treatment. It targets dandruff-causing fungus directly with zinc pyrithione, while also gently exfoliating the scalp with salicylic acid.

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About the author
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Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated August 6, 2021 12:00 AM