Are you unconsciously driving your hand towards your hair to itch your scalp? While a bit of scratching is not bad in itself, dryness or dandruff are not the only reasons for an itchy scalp.
An itchy scalp, also called scalp pruritus, is a common condition that can cause extreme discomfort. Repeatedly scratching your scalp may even lead to excessive hair fall and other complications. If not taken proper care of, the condition can escalate from itching to inflamed rashes, damaged hair, and baldness.
To soothe the inflammation and protect your hair and skin from further damage, you need to figure out the underlying cause of the condition and pick a suitable treatment option. So, here are some main reasons and remedies for an itchy scalp.
If you find dry, white flakes on your hair, shoulder, and clothes when you comb or scratch your head, you may have dandruff.
Dandruff is the outcome of an overgrowth of Malassezia, a common type of fungus present on all types of scalps. It releases oleic acid that triggers irritation and flaking on your scalp. Malassezia yeast flourishes in sebum – or the natural oils released by your scalp.
Luckily, getting rid of dandruff is not difficult. Washing your hair with anti-dandruff shampoo is a good step forward. Search for products with active ingredients like salicylic acid, sulfur, ketoconazole, selenium oxide, zinc pyrithione, or coal tar, which helps control yeast overgrowth.
Coconut oil is an effective treatment for an itchy scalp thanks to its antifungal properties. Apple cider vinegar and aloe vera can also hydrate your scalp and eliminate dry and white flakes. However, run a patch test on your arm before applying it directly to your scalp.
An itchy scalp could result from allergens, irritants, or sensitizers (substances that make your scalp become sensitive over time). These chemicals are present in certain over-the-counter shampoos, hair dyes, hair sprays, conditioners, and sometimes food.
Some known allergens or irritants include:
- Paraphenylenediamine in hair dyes
Some ingredients present in make-up and perfume can also cause a dry and itchy scalp. Plus, food products like processed sugar, peanuts, and soy products may contribute to the condition of allergic reactions/contact dermatitis.
You should first identify the allergens that are irritating your scalp and stop using them. If you cannot identify the underlying culprit, consult your dermatologist for some assistance. The better remedy is to use gentle and less chemical-based products to wash your scalp.
Seborrheic dermatitis is an autoimmune condition that manifests as inflammation of the hair follicles and causes severe itching and flaking. While its causes are not completely known,seborrheic dermatitis can be triggered by the Malassezia yeast found in the oily areas of your skin and scalp.
It’s best to consult your dermatologist for the most effective ways to keep your seborrheic dermatitis under control. Steroid creams prescribed by doctors like hydrocortisone and fluocinolone can treat the condition. Medicated or antifungal products may also help you cure the problem. In addition, cool showers can relieve bad flare-ups and other,skin problems in the summer.
You may experience dryness when your scalp is stripped of natural moisture in the form of sebum. A dry scalp can have many contributing factors, some of which include:
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Psoriasis Vulgaris
- Low humidity winters
- Hot summers
- High use of cleansing agents
Regardless of the cause, a hydrated and moisturized scalp is essential to avoid irritation and flakiness
Here are some remedies and skincare tips for a dry scalp:
- Nourish your scalp with hot oil treatments using coconut oil or olive oil.
- Avoid using harsh chemical shampoos that dry out your scalp.
- Include more essential fatty acids and vitamins B6 and B12 in your diet
- Hydrate your body regularly.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder with dry, red, and scaly patches that appear on the skin and scalp. It is one of the most common reasons for an itchy scalp, affecting 125 million people worldwide.
The condition is the result of an overgrowth of the cells and causes extreme discomfort and itchiness. Moreover, scalp psoriasis is associated with hair loss and needs proper treatment to prevent the same.
While you cannot cure psoriasis, you can certainly find ways to control the symptoms. Over-the-counter medicated shampoos containing salicylic acid or coal tar can remove the scales and reduce inflammation.
However, since psoriasis is a serious condition, you should see a dermatologist for the most effective prescription shampoos for you, such as topical corticosteroids.
Ringworm, or Tinea Capitis, is a fungal infection caused by dermatophytes. These fungi penetrate deep into the hair follicles, causing red and circular inflammations on the scalp. If the ringworm is left untreated, it can lead to more complex issues.
It’s possible to cure ringworm of the scalp by taking oral antifungal pills. You can also try topical ointments and shampoos, but they might not be able to kill the fungus entirely since the infections exist deep inside the hair follicles.
Lice are often common among school children, which is not to say they don’t affect adults. Since they spread from head-to-head contact, a lice infestation is common in places where many people congregate together
Lice can cause severe itchiness and dryness. The eggs of lice, known as nits, stick to the hair follicle and aren’t easily shaken off from the head. You may also experience a crawling sensation on your head.
Before you try any remedies for your itchy scalp, sit under a bright light and use a fine-toothed comb to detect the lice.
Over-the-counter shampoos with ingredients like pyrethrin or permethrin can get rid of the lice infestation. However, if the irritation continues, see your doctor for prescribed medication, which may contain lindane, malathion, or benzyl alcohol.
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, develops on various parts of the body, including the scalp. About 1% to 3% of adults suffer from atopic dermatitis around the globe.
The skin condition manifests as red rashes on the scalp, accompanied by burning sensations and itchiness. Although atopic dermatitis is not directly linked to hair loss, excessive itching can result in temporary hair loss.
Treating atopic dermatitis or eczema can reduce hair loss and bring relief to your itchy scalp. Keep your hair and scalp moisturized and stick to using gentle shampoos specifically formulated for sensitive scalps.
When Should You See a Dermatologist?
While these are some common reasons for an itchy scalp, inflammation can be the result of a multitude of factors. Each specific problem – which could be as common as dandruff or as complex as psoriasis – needs its own medical attention. So, consider speaking to a dermatologist who can identify the specific problem and help you relieve it soon.
Your hair is only about as healthy as your scalp. A dry, flaky, and itchy scalp might look like it’s harmless, but it could be the symptom of any of the above conditions and worsen over time. Thus, it’s best not to ignore an itchy scalp and visit your dermatologist for the best possible treatment.