Hair, Scalp Itchy: 13 Scalp Problems And How To Fix Them
Ever find yourself relentlessly scratching at your head? Unless you have not taken a bath in several days or you're trying to piece together a 1,000-piece puzzle, an itchy scalp might likely be a cause for concern.
It feels like the end of the world when you can't seem to find relief for your itchy scalp. Now you're probably reminiscing the days you didn't have one.
But not to worry. You can get down to the bottom of things. An itchy scalp is a probable sign of dandruff, head lice, or a chemical reaction to a hair care product. We've developed a simple guide below to get rid of your itchy scalp once and for all.
1. Allergic Reaction
Does your entire scalp feel itchy, dry, and even greasy? You're likely dealing with an allergic reaction. Your scalp and hair get irritated if you put too many products on them.
For instance, hair products like hair sprays contain ingredients that can cause an irritating chemical reaction.
Propylene glycol is usually the source of the allergen. While some people don't have a problem using products with this ingredient, it causes irritation in some.
Propylene glycol is used for fragrance or moisturisation. Another ingredient to watch out for is paraphenylenediamine, or PPD.
Look at your hair dye package or shampoo bottle. If it contains any of these ingredients, it's advisable to stop using the product for at least seven days. If there is a noticeable relief for your itch, go for fragrance-free products.
Everyone knows what dandruff looks like. They start as small white flakes on your hair strands. The next thing you know, you've got flakes all over your dark-coloured shirt or shoulders.
So what causes dandruff? A common culprit is dry skin. It's easier to tell, especially if the skin in other parts of your body is also dry.
Dandruff gets much worse in the cold months, wherein your skin becomes drier. You can ease your itchy scalp by massaging your hair with anti dandruff shampoos or zinc and salicylic acid-containing product.
Other causes of an itchy scalp due to dandruff is improper hygiene or a medical condition known as seborrheic dermatitis.
Make it a habit to shampoo every two to three days to keep your hair moisturised but not too greasy. As for seborrheic dermatitis, it's best to consult with a doctor on proper treatment. They may recommend tar-based shampoos, but they may not be ideal for people with light-coloured hair.
Psoriasis is a skin condition causing a rash and red, itchy patches on your skin. It usually attacks the skin on the knees, trunk, elbows, and scalp.
Unfortunately, psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can get debilitating for some patients with severe psoriasis. It is also an autoimmune condition that runs in families, causing skin cells to replace faster than usual.
Professional medical attention is key to relieving psoriasis symptoms. Your dermatologist may recommend using a shampoo that contains coal tar. Coal tar helps slow down rapid skin cell growth and restore your skin's youthful appearance.
4. Hair Dryer
Proper hair or blow drying won't necessarily damage your hair and scalp. But applying additional heat to an already dry hair can lead to brittleness, dryness, and breakage.
Aside from hair dryers, curlers and hair straighteners can dry your scalp. Avoid this by keeping the settings low to medium. Avoid staying too long in a single spot when blow-drying, as this could lead to heat buildup.
Bring your hair back to a healthy state by nourishing it with a moisture repair shampoo or applying a small amount of olive oil.
5. Head Lice
Head lice are almost microscopic parasites that spread through contact with an infected person. They're not as common in adults as in children, who tend to be more active and play with other children.
If you're unsure whether you have head lice crawling all over your scalp and hair, a good test would be to sit unmoving. Is there a tickling sensation on random parts of your scalp? If yes, then you have your answer.
The best remedy against head lice is prevention, similar to most itchy scalp conditions. Don't make it a habit to share your comb, brush, or any headwear with someone else. This can drastically reduce the chances of infection.
Permethrin is another effective treatment against lice. Products with this ingredient often contain piperonyl butoxide (PBO), which "overexcites" the lice's nervous system, causing them to drop dead.
6. Scalp Ringworm
Scalp ringworm or ringworm of the scalp is a rash from a fungal infection. Aside from the all-too-familiar itchy scalp, this condition causes scaly and bald patches on the scalp.
The name sounds startling, but there are actually no insects involved. It derives its name from the circular appearance of hairless spots.
Like head lice, scalp ringworm is highly contagious and can spread through person-to-person contact. Fur parents are also likely to get this condition if they have pets who are also infected.
Fortunately, you can get relief by using an antifungal medicine or antifungal medicated shampoo. However, your doctor or dermatologist may prescribe a steroid lotion or ointment in serious cases.
7. Atopic Dermatitis
An itchy scalp is often the first tell-tale sign of eczema or dermatitis. It refers to a group of skin conditions that cause itchiness, inflammation, or rashes.
Some forms of dermatitis are entirely treatable and will disappear with proper intervention. But other cases are more chronic. They require long-term treatment and intervention.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, appearing on the scalp, elbows, and behind the knees. Its symptoms vary, but it manifests as red, crusty, itchy, and flaky patches on the scalp, usually circular.
You can get relief from atopic dermatitis by figuring out your triggers. For example, scented products, irritants, and abrasive shampoos may cause symptoms. Other triggers include:
- Dry weather
- High humidity
- House mites
- Dust mites
- Pet fur
You can also get relief from atopic dermatitis by taking short, warm showers instead of bathing in scalding hot water.
Hives appear as red, extremely itchy bumps that appear on your scalp. They can be found anywhere on the skin, like hands, back, feet, legs, etc.
Most cases of hives disappear after an hour or two, but if your hives last for more than several weeks, you likely have a chronic condition.
Treat an itchy scalp caused by hives by applying a cold compress. Wrap some ice cubes in a washcloth or small towel, then repeatedly apply it to the itchy scalp. Do this several times a day.
However, if your scalp hives are triggered by the cold, orally taking anti-itch medication (antihistamine) is your best bet. Steer clear of topical antihistamine or anti-itch ointment as they can worsen the condition.
9. Seborrheic Dermatitis
Also known as seborrhea, this scalp condition causes red, scaly patches on the skin. Stubborn dandruff may also appear, especially in those with an oily scalp and dry hair combination.
When left untreated, seborrhea can worsen into red swelling, inflammation, and even scalp buildup. There is no clear culprit for this condition, but dermatologists say using antifungal shampoo is most effective.
10. Skin Cancer
A scalp skin cancer may appear as a mole, ulcer, sore, or some type of growth. These can change in appearance, colour, and shape and, in most cases, lead to an itchy scalp.
Common skin cancers on the scalp include squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. They are likely the cause of excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, especially in those with baldness, hair loss, or thin hair.
If you spot any unusual growth in your scalp, have a doctor immediately inspect it. They may get a tissue sample to determine if the growth is cancerous. They will prescribe a treatment plan that includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, etc.
Another contagious skin disease, scabies, comes from tiny mites which burrow into the scalp. It manifests as a scalp itch that gets worse in the evening and doesn't seem to go away.
Although scabies is not common, someone with this condition may have gotten it from an infected individual. For example, they may have recently stayed in a hotel or shared accommodation.
Unfortunately, scabies won't go away on their own and will require proper scalp treatment. Constant scratching may lead to further bacterial infection.
You're advised to talk with a dermatologist immediately if you suspect scabies. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication can be ineffective. Your dermatologist may recommend permethrin, which also treats lice.
Another common skin condition, folliculitis, occurs when bacterial or fungal infections cause the hair follicles to inflame. Folliculitis starts as small red bumps or white-head-type pimples near the follicles. If it's the latter, these bumps likely contain pus, which can burst if not properly drained.
Infected hair follicles can die, inadvertently leading to temporary hair loss and bald spots. You'll likely get this condition from improper shaving, skin injuries, adhesive bandages, or wearing tight clothing.
Mild folliculitis usually disappears without treatment. In the meantime, you can ease its symptoms by frequently washing your hair with warm water and lathering it with an antibacterial shampoo.
13. Autoimmune Disorders
The causes of an itchy scalp may be too difficult to pinpoint. After all, the symptoms are similar from one condition to another. It starts as dead skin flakes or an intensely itchy scalp causing redness.
Try as you might reduce itching, none of your remedies seems to work. Often, itchy scalp conditions can also get misdiagnosed as something minor when they're actually symptoms of an autoimmune disorder.
For instance, a dermatologist may misdiagnose lupus as an itchy scalp. Discoid lupus occurs in the back of the scalp and feels like dry, raised skin patches.
Ultimately, a seasoned dermatologist will help determine if you have an underlying autoimmune disorder. You can consult with them and discuss your options from there.
Conclusion About Itchy Scalp
The culprit of an itchy scalp, also known as scalp pruritus, can be difficult to identify. Most scalp-related conditions have similar symptoms (i.e. itching, red patches, bald spots, dryness, dry scalp, etc.).
Often, scalp conditions are due to allergic reactions from using hair products with specific active ingredients. But if they persist and won't go away after several days or weeks, it's time you consult with a professional.
Frequently Asked Questions About Itchy Scalp
Why Is My Scalp Itchy But No Dandruff?
If your scalp is itching without any signs of dandruff, you may have a nerve condition known as neuropathy. It's nerve damage resulting in numbness, weakness, and pain in the affected region.
How To Moisturise Your Scalp?
Bring nourishment back to your scalp by using moisturising products like:
- Peppermint oil
- Exfoliating gel
- Coconut oil
- Tea tree oil
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar
How Do You Know If You Have A Healthy Scalp?
A healthy scalp is free from dandruff, flakes, irritation, redness, dryness, or any other sign of infection.
Can You Clean Scalp Without Washing Hair?
Yes. You can try rinsing your hair with apple cider vinegar if you're an infrequent bather. Massage your scalp and roots, making sure the mixture covers everything.