Has your scalp been itchy recently? As we head into the winter season, this isn’t unusual. Many people have dry skin this time of year, and sometimes that can extend to your scalp as well. Additionally, when people have an itchy scalp, they often think of dandruff, which is a type of fungus or yeast.
That said, there are many reasons beyond both dry skin and dandruff that your scalp could be itchy. Here’s what you should know if you’re trying to find and treat the root cause of your itchy scalp
1. Dry skin
People often mistake dry skin for dandruff because they both cause flakes and itchy skin on your scalp. However, dandruff causes larger, oily flakes while dry skin will produce smaller flakes. When you have a dry scalp, your skin gets irritated and flakes off as a result.
If you struggle with dry skin on other parts of your body such as your arms and legs, then this could help you put together the pieces that the flakes on your head are also dry skin.
Dry skin is caused by the following:
- Cold, dry air
- Contact dermatitis, which can be prompted by a reaction to products (i.e., styling gel, hairspray, and shampoo) you apply to your scalp
- Older age
- The use of products that strip away your skin’s natural oil
The solution: Use a shampoo specifically intended for dry scalp. Often, the words “gentle” will be used in the description of this shampoo. Here is a good co-wash to try — Creamy Curly Co-Wash.
Dandruff is an overgrowth of yeast caused by too much oil on your scalp. When there is excess oil, it causes skin cells to build up and shed more quickly than is typical.
Most people will have dandruff because of seborrheic dermatitis. This condition turns the skin oily, red, and scaly. With dandruff, large white or yellow flakes are common. You can get seborrheic dermatitis anywhere you have oil glands, including your scalp, eyebrows, upper back, ears, nose, groin, armpits, chest, etc.
Another common cause of dandruff is the fungus called Malassezia. This fungus lives on the scalp, and when too much is present, it causes the skin cells to multiply and shed more quickly than usual. An overgrowth of Malassezia can be caused by age, hormones, stress, underlying medical conditions, and nutritional deficiencies.
Keep in mind that having dirty hair won’t cause dandruff. However, if you don’t wash your hair often enough, then that can create an oily buildup that will contribute to flakes.
The solution: Using a dandruff shampoo and scalp treatment is often the best way to get rid of the yeast or fungus that is causing the issue.
3. Allergic reaction to a product
Hair products can help hair, but they can also cause irritation and itchiness. If you’re experiencing a dry or flaky scalp, consider the products that you’re using. In some cases, you may be using something that is generally irritating to your body, or you may not be rinsing it well enough.
The solution: Stop using the product that’s causing the allergic reaction. If you’re not sure exactly what the issue is, reach out to a dermatologist for help. They can isolate the product or ingredient, so you can get relief from the reaction.
Do you have red, raised, itchy bumps? Hives are no fun, and when they form on the scalp, they can be especially miserable because they feel itchy underneath your hair.
Some people have trouble identifying if they’re suffering from hives or something else. One tell-tale sign of hives is that they come and go. You may be feeling itchy for an hour or two, and then the sensation will be gone. Then, all of a sudden, the hives are back. Hives can also last for a long period of time (6 or more weeks). If this is the case, then you have a case of chronic hives.
The solution: Hives can be a reaction that’s a result of many other issues. Fortunately, they often go away on their own, which means you won’t necessarily need to do anything. That said, if you’re experiencing chronic hives then you can reach out to a dermatologist for help.
5. Head lice
This is most people’s worst nightmare when it comes to an itchy scalp. If you think head lice could be the reason that your head itches, make sure you closely examine the scalp for bugs. Don’t fret if you have it though. There are plenty of solutions that can help you treat the issue.
The solution: To get rid of the itch, you have to address the root cause which is the lice. Get checked for head lice and then learn how to treat them at home or visit a local clinic.
Similar to lice, scabies is another worst-case scenario for many. They’re tiny bugs known as the human itch mite. The mites burrow into your scalp and make it itch. The itch can be so intense that it’ll keep you awake at night.
The solution: To diagnose whether you have scabies or not, see your primary care doctor or dermatologist. The treatment for scabies is only available with a doctor’s prescription.
7. Scalp ringworm
Ringworm is an infection caused by a fungus (not a worm). If you get scalp ringworm, then you’ll notice a red and intensely itchy rash.
The solution: Visit the dermatologist to get diagnosed and seek treatment. Like scabies, ringworm requires a prescription medication that your dermatologist will need to provide.
8. Scalp psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis can flare up on the scalp as well. About half of the people with this type of psoriasis experience a dry scalp with reddish patches. They may even see dandruff-like flaking and silvery-white scales. These patches can be anywhere from mildly to intensely itchy. If this is your first psoriasis flare-up, then you may be wondering what’s happened.
The solution: Visit a dermatologist so you can seek treatment for your scalp psoriasis. There are several treatments including a medicated shampoo.
9. Atopic dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema that develops on your scalp. It often looks red and scaly. This may also be a burning type of itch.
The solution: Head to the dermatologist to set out a plan for treating atopic dermatitis. The skin on your scalp is different than the rest of your body. Even if you have AD elsewhere, it’s best to consult a doctor when trying to figure out a treatment plan. Having the right treatment can bring a lot of relief.
10. Nerve problems
Is your scalp itching, but you can’t find signs of a rash or any topical issue? Go see a doctor. It could be a sign of a nerve problem. Your doctor may tell you that you have neuropathy. This means that there is a problem along a nerve due to damage or disease. There could also be an abnormality in the way the nerve works. Examples of diseases that impact your nerves include shingles and diabetes.
If you’ve experienced hair loss that caused scars that run deep, then this could have damaged your nerves. The nerve damage could be causing your scalp to itchy.
The solution: Don’t delay going to the doctor if you have any of these symptoms. The best thing you can do is go in and get everything checked out so you can come up with a treatment plan.
11. Skin cancer
Skin cancer can also cause your scalp to itch. Go to the doctor to have your scalp examined if you’re worried about the potential for cancer. A professional can help clarify whether you should have something on your scalp biopsied or if the itch is caused by something else.
12. Autoimmune disease
If your head feels itchy and you’re noticing some irritation, this could be a sign of an autoimmune disease. You should try substituting your shampoo or increasing your hair washing first. However, if the problem persists, head in to see a doctor. They can let you know whether you’re experiencing symptoms of a condition like lupus that revolves around the hair manifesting itself as an itchy scalp
The solution: Try substituting products and increasing your hair washing first. With no luck, grab an appointment with your provider and come
When Should You Worry About Scalp Itchiness
While scalp itchiness is irritating, you shouldn’t worry too much. The following signs are when you should take additional action and see a doctor.
- You switch products or use over-the-counter shampoo, and it doesn’t make a difference
- You find the itching wakes you up or keeps you up at night
- You see lice or nits in your hair
- You find that the itchy spots are also very sore to touch
A dermatologist is a great resource for anyone with a persistent itchy scalp. Many people think that dry skin or dandruff is the end-all, be-all when it comes to scalp itchiness. However,
Scalp itchiness can sometimes be related to the hair care products you’re using, and other times, it can be a medical issue. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a healthcare professional to get a second opinion if you’re struggling to keep your scalp healthy.
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