This article covers everything you need to know about pyrithione soap. From the basics of how pyrithione zinc works to a summary of popular pyrithione zinc soap choices.
Table of Contents
- 1 Basics of How Pyrithione Zinc Soap Works
- 2 Review of Available Zinc Pyrithione Soaps
- 3 Zinc Pyrithione Safety
- 4 Zinc Pyrithione Soap Summary
Basics of How Pyrithione Zinc Soap Works
Pyrithione zinc is an antifungal agent used for the treatment of various skin conditions. Most notable, is it’s effect on suppressing the malassezia fungus (commonly considered as the main culprit in various skin diseases).
It is actually one of the most well documented treatments for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. And it is one of the most popular active ingredients in anti-dandruff shampoos (such as Head and Shoulders) worldwide.
What is malassezia?
Malassezia is a family of lipophilic yeasts (fungus) often linked to conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), tinea versicolor, and pytyriasis veriscolor.
This introductory section will briefly go over the underlying principles of how pyrithione zinc soap works to relieve seborrheic dermatitis (and various other skin conditions). For a more detailed review of pyrithione zinc, have a look at it’s relative online eBook section: Zinc Pyrithione
Basics of Seborrheic Dermatitis and Malassezia
The most prominent/popular malassezia related skin condition is seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). Accordingly, it’s helpful to try and understand how seborrheic dermatitis progresses.
Though this topic is highly debated and the research is somewhat mixed, there is a general theme that emerges. Here are some key points:
- Sebaceous gland activity (amount of sebum the skin produces) is often directly related to the location of the affected areas
- Malassezia yeast is a fungus that depends on oils for growth and is present on the skin of both healthy and affected individuals
- It appears that the skin does not actually react to the malassezia itself, but instead to the oleic free fatty acids it leaves behind
- Even without the presence of malassezia, oleic free fatty acids have been shown to cause seborrheic dermatitis symptoms in susceptible individuals
- Without the presence of malassezia, oleic free fatty acids are minimized and the resulting irritation may be avoided
Pyrithione zinc was first discovered in 1960s. It is during this time, research first demonstrated it’s beneficial antifungal activity against a fairly broad range of fungi. However, as noted earlier, the most relevant and desirable of it’s effects was it’s ability to suppress the malassezia fungus.
Why was this effect so desirable? Well, the majority of research on various skin disorders has revealed a strong link between malassezia and state of the skin. Some of this research also demonstrates that that once the fungus is suppressed, the associated symptoms resolve.
The list of skin conditions which malassezia appears to have a direct impact on, include (2):
- Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff
- Pityriasis versicolor
- Atopic dermatitis
- Malassezia folliculitis
Based on this understanding, most of today’s most popular zinc pyrithione products are formulated with this goal in mind (to suppress the malassezia fungus residing on the skin).
Put simply, zinc pyrithione containing products aim to resolve certain skin conditions by controlling the amount of malassezia present on the skin.
Researchers have also put forward other possible explanations for zinc pyrithione’s effectiveness. For example, one study suggests that it may cause genomic destabilization of keratinocytes, leading to potentially reduced rate of keratin production (3). But these ideas have so far failed to gain popularity.
Review of Available Zinc Pyrithione Soaps
Zinc pyrithione shampoos (Head and Shoulders, Garnier Fructis, Clear and various other brand names) are broadly available in most supermarkets. On the other hand, zinc pyrithione soaps are not very common and typically have to be purchased online (or in specialty stores).
This section will review the most prominent zinc pyrithione soaps currently available.
This list covers the most popular options
Please note, that this list is not all-inclusive, but simply tries to cover the most notable options.
Noble Formula – 2% Pyrithione Zinc Soap
At the time of this writing, this appears to be the most popular option on Amazon and has over 691 reviews. The average rating is 4.3 out of 5, but surprisingly only a little over 60% of the reviews feature a 5 star rating.
Here is a quick point-by-point summary of the reviews:
- Can be very helpful in cases of seborrheic dermatitis, acne, tinea veriscolor and folliculitis
- Some reviews complained the symptoms returned (even with regular usage)
- Can be quite drying and leading to an increase of skin flakiness
- Slimy texture and large oatmeal chunks
Most points discussed apply to all zinc pyrithione soaps
Since it’s the most popular choice, the discussion of it will be the lengthiest. But many of these points are applicable to the other products listed below.
The majority of the reviewers on Amazon indicate the soap works extremely well, however, in many cases a relapse of the symptoms does occur after continue usage. Difficult to say why this occurs, but it may come from two areas:
- Continued exposure of soap to water and air may be release free fatty (oleic) acids
- A shift in the microflora of the skin makes the action of zinc pyrithione ineffective
However, these are just speculations.
Noble Formula Soap Ingredients
The soap is made in the USA and the ingredients list is minimal and it doesn’t seem to contain anything unnecessary. The label indicates:
Saponified Olive Oil (infused with Calendula), Saponified Emu Oil, Ground Oatmeal, and Pyrithione Zinc 2%.
The first two ingredients make up the soap base, oatmeal is included as a skin soothing/protectant agent and the zinc pyrithione is the active ingredient.
One thing that seemed a little strange was the usage of saponified olive oil (likely sodium olivate) as opposed to any of the popular oils (such as coconut). Olive oil is quite high in oleic acid (up to 83%). And oleic acid (in it’s free fatty acid form) is the specific malassezia by-product which research has pin-pointed as being the cause of the skin irritation that occurs in seborrheic dermatitis.
Though there doesn’t appear to be any specific studies that link sodium olivate exposure to any of these skin conditions, perhaps replacing it with an oil low in oleic acid may have been worthwhile.
What is saponification?
Saponification is a process which basically breaks apart the fatty acids found in any given oil from their glycerin bond and binds the them to a salt such as sodium.
My Experience with the Noble Formula Soap
Reading the Amazon reviews of this soap made it an instant purchase. Initially my experience was highly favorable. Seborrheic dermatitis quickly resided and my skin cleared up within a few days. But only after a few weeks the redness and flakiness quickly returned.
As the effectiveness faded, attemps were made to increase the time the soap came in contact with my skin (leave on for a few minutes) prior to washing. But this didn’t do any good. Continued to use it hoping results would return, but nothing changed. As a result, usage was discontinued.
Other notes from my experience:
- Quite drying for the facial skin (expected from a hard soap)
- Skin became quite sensitive to sun and cold exposure (possibly as a result of the zinc pyrithione)
- Skin tone became quite pale
A few months later, decided to give it another try. Strange enough, experience was exactly the same. Skin cleared initially, but after a week or so the symptoms creeped back.
DermaHarmony – Zinc Therapy Soap
This is another highly popular option on Amazon and is also made in the USA. At the time of this writing is features 243 reviews and an average rating of 4.4 of out 5. Generally, the reviews are quite similar to that of the Noble Formula option discussed above.
DermaHarmony Soap Ingredients
The ingredients list is more significant. It contains:
Saponified Oils (from palm and coconut), Water, Glycerin (from vegetable oil), Titanium Dioxide (a natural mineral), Oatmeal, Olive Oil, Vitamin E, Table Salt, Salt of Pentetic Acid, Zinc Pyrithione 2%.
The base of the soap is made from saponified palm and coconut oils (which are low in oleic acid). This may help avoid any possible issues of using saponified olive oil (as discussed in the Noble Formula discussion). But interestingly, olive oil is still included later the ingredients list.
Though titanium dioxide is commonly used in sunscreen as UV blocking agent, this is unlikely the reason it was included here. Instead, it was likely added to simply give the soap a more aesthetic appearance (make the finished product look more white).
Quick overview of some of the other ingredients:
- Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is extensively used in skin care. It can help protect the natural oils present in the product, but has also been shown to be quite beneficial for the skin
- Hard to say what role the salt of pentetic acid plays. I couldn’t find much medical literature on it and there aren’t to many other products that use pentetic acid
- The salt was is likely included to increase the hardness of the soap.
- Glycerin is usually used in soap to helps moisturize the skin
In the end the inclusion of ingredients such as glycerin and vitamin E are welcomed when compared to the Noble Formula. But the inclusion of titanium dioxide and pentetic acid does raise some questions.
DermaZinc – Zinc Therapy Soap
This soap features a 4.4 out of 5 rating on Amazon and has over 216 reviews (at the time of this writing). It’s the third product on this list that’s also made in the USA.
The reviews are pretty much the same as the two products discussed above. There was some mention of people preferring this one to the Noble Formula though, due to it’s smoother texture.
DermZinc Soap Ingredients
The ingredients list is as follows:
Palm Oil, coconut oil, deionized water, sodium hydroxide, glycerine, zinc oxide, organic oatmeal, shea butter, cocoa butter, olive oil, grapeseed oil, salt, vitamin E.
Won’t go into too much discussion on these, but overall it looks to be a much more moisturizing and rich soap then the two options above.
The inclusion of zinc oxide is interesting, It’s often used in diaper rash creams to help with skin healing and in sunscreen to shield against UV rays. However, something tells me that it was included here to simply help with the aesthetics of the finished product (making it more white).
This product isn’t nearly as popular (on Amazon) as the options above. But this is likely in part due to it being of foreign origin. It ships from abroad (Paraguay), takes 3 to 6 weeks to arrive and the labelling is all in Spanish.
At the time of this writing, there are only 78 reviews and the average rating is 4.3 on average. However, five start ratings make up almost 70% of all the reviews.
Carbomed Soap Ingredients
The ingredients list is extremely minimal and the only items indicated are:
Linum Usitatissimun Seed Oil, Propilene Glicol and Pyrithione Zinc (translated to saponified flax seed oil, propylene glycol, and pyrithione zinc).
The usage of flax seed oil was interesting and may makes this soap less drying. Flax seed oil is high in ALA (~52%) and much lower in oleic acid (~20%). ALA is actually an omega 3 fatty acid and it’s topical usage has actually been shown to be quite beneficial in inflammatory skin conditions (4).
Simply from the ingredients aspect, this particular soap appears to be the most favorable. If the manufacturers also included vitamin E and replaced the propylene glycol with vegetable glycerin, it would be a clear winner in my books. However, the blue color of raises some questions to the completeness of the ingedients list.
Dermagor Gel Py-ZN
Technically, this product isn’t actually a soap, but a gel cleanser. And it’s popularity on Amazon is practically inexistent (zero reviews at the time of this writing).
The product is made in France and does have fairly good reviews on a French cosmetic review website. Overall, the reviews are similar to those found on the Amazon pages of the soaps mentioned above. But some unique points did catch my attention:
- Not too drying
- Skin feels very tight after usage
- Contains parabens
Nonetheless, it was included in this list as research suggests that well formulated cleansers may be more favorable in terms of moisture barrier disruption and skin pH level changes (5). Put simply, cleansers can be less drying and more gentle on the skin.
Dermagor Cleanser Ingredients
For a cleanser to provide the same level of cleansing, as offered by a soap, cleansers need to make use of a larger variety of cleansing agents. Accordingly, this option features a much longer ingredients list, including:
Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauryl Glucoside, Acrylates/Steareth 20, Methacrylate Copolymer, Zinc Pyrithione, Triethanolamine, Cocamide Dea, Laureth-2, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Edta, Parfum, Citral Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene Linalool.
An adequate discussion of each of this would be quickly lengthy. As a result, they will not be evaluated at this time.
Zinc Pyrithione Safety
Zinc pyrithione is an FDA approved antifungal agent for usage in cosmetics at concentrations anywhere from 0.3 to 2.0%. It appears to have good safety profile and it’s use has been tested in a large number of studies.
Adverse reactions are uncommon, but have been reported (6). The most common of these are:
- Severe redness and increase inflammation
- Worsening of the skin condition
Studies have also shown shown it to be toxic to human skin cells (7). And concentrations higher then those approved by the FDA are likely to lead to some negative outcomes.
Zinc Pyrithione Soap Summary
This article went over the basic principles behind zinc pyrithione soap and reviewed some of the most popular options. Here are the key points:
- Zinc pyrithione is a well researched anti-fungal agent first popularized in the 1960s for it’s ability to suppress the malasssezia fungus
- Malassezia is a lipophilic fungus often linked to various skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), tinea versicolor, and pytyriasis veriscolor
- Zinc pyrithione shampoos are a popular treatment choice for dandruff, but soaps are difficult to find and mainly available online
- Noble Formula’s zinc pyrithione soap is the most popular option on Amazon with highly favourable reviews
- Carbomed ZNP has a favorable ingredients list, but blue color raises questions and it has to be shipped in from abroad
- Finding a gentle cleanser containing zinc pyrithione may hold the most value as it can be gentler on the skin
Hope this information proves useful and can serve as a guide for anyone researching pyrithione zinc soaps. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further, simply drop a comment below.