Did you know that one of the most common complaints seen by dermatologists is an itchy scalp? (1)
An itchy scalp is something no one wants to deal with. This annoying and embarrassing problem can also be accompanied by scalp pain, redness, and scabbed or flaky skin.
Causes can range from sensitivities to certain types of hair products or medications, skin conditions, and even more serious underlying health issues. But the two main culprits of itchy scalp are dandruff and psoriasis. (2)(3)
If you’re not sure why you’re suffering from this and what to do about it, keep on reading! We’ll delve into the most common causes of why your scalp itches and how to relieve it with and without washing.
Contents:Don't Let Your Itchy Scalp Ruin Your Hair
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (4), these are the top 10 reasons why your scalp skin itches:
Researchers believe that about half the world's population is affected by dandruff and/or Seborrheic Dermatitis (SD). SD and dandruff are essentially the same things—the only difference is dandruff only affects the scalp, while SD can also affect the face and chest and be a bit more severe.
Contact dermatitis is just a fancy term for a skin reaction or irritation caused by a negative reaction to hair products or dyes, especially black hair dyes. This often manifests as a rash, in addition to an itchy scalp. (6)(7)
Head lice are tiny, parasitic bugs that spread through close contact and live on the scalp. This is why it’s often associated with children and is depicted in movies as something that ends up plaguing the entire household once the child brings it home from school. (9)(10)
Would you believe me if I told you that ringworm isn’t caused by a worm? It’s a fungus called tinea capitis. (13)
When the fungus embeds itself into the hair follicle it can cause circular patches of hair loss that become more pronounced over time. It also causes severe itching and redness.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes scaly red patches that itch to appear on the skin. Approximately 50% of individuals who suffer from psoriasis experience these symptoms on the scalp—otherwise known as scalp psoriasis—at some time in their life. (14)(15)
Atopic dermatitis is a certain type of eczema that affects the scalp and can cause a scaly appearance, redness, and itching so severe that it’s often associated with a high risk of infection. (16)(17)
Nerve damage from scarring, as well as neuropathy, can cause the scalp to itch. Neuropathy can be caused by certain diseases such as diabetes and shingles. (4)
Cancer is a very serious, but unlikely, possibility when it comes to why your scalp is itching. Nevertheless, there are cases where an itchy scalp is associated with skin cancer so always check with your dermatologist if you’re concerned about this. (4)
For more on this, check out these 7 little-known causes of unhealthy hair, some of which can also contribute to an itchy scalp.
The treatment of your itchy scalp should be dependent on the cause.
If you have a hunch that your itchy scalp is caused by a reaction to hair products or dyes, the simplest way to determine if this is the issue is to do a little process of elimination technique where you discontinue your use of a product and see if your symptoms improve.
In cases where an itchy scalp is caused by scabies or ringworm, you will require a prescription from a doctor to treat the issue.
Some of these culprits that cause an itchy scalp, such as head lice, can often be treated at home with OTC (over-the-counter) products and a good deep-clean of the household and any shared household items, while you would need to see a dermatologist to determine whether atopic dermatitis, nerve problems or skin cancer lay at the root of your problem. (4)
Home remedies and lifestyle modification tactics are by no means to be forgotten!
If your itchy scalp stems from poor hygiene or lack of a hair-washing routine, lucky for you these are easy fixes! Get into a consistent habit of washing your hair a certain number of times per week. It’s important to note that your hair-washing routine should be dependent on your hair type and texture.
For curly and textured hair types, there’s no need to wash every day or even every other day. Once a week is usually sufficient when it comes to washing your hair.
For those with straight hair, it’s recommended to wash every day or every other day since oil build-up is more common with these hair types. A study on Asian populations, for example, showed that the optimal frequency to wash your hair was 5-6 times per week. (23)
Another great tip when it comes to washing hair is to take extra care when rinsing to ensure there’s not any product left on the hair or scalp that could cause or worsen irritation.
Other popular home remedies used to treat an itchy scalp include (2):
- Colloidal oatmeal (26)
- Essential oils of herbal origin, such as tea tree oil, lime oil, and rosemary oil (27)
- Lemongrass oil (28)
- Nerolidol (29)
- Salicylic acid (30)(31)
- Selenium sulphide (32)
- Zinc pyrithione (33)(34)
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