You might be wondering, why is my scalp so itchy? An itchy scalp is a common problem that can cause frustrating symptoms, such as frequent scratching and discomfort. A variety of medical and skin conditions, as well as other factors, can cause your scalp to itch. These triggers can be broken down into the broad categories of skin diseases of the scalp, allergic reactions to hair care products, and our own actions & hair care practices. The best dermatologists know that the most common cause of itchy scalp is dandruff, and in a more severe form with redness and flaking is referred to as seborrheic dermatitis.
Itchy Scalp Common Causes
What Causes Itchy Scalp?
Seborrheic dermatitis is on a spectrum with psoriasis of the scalp (scalp psoriasis) which can also cause itching and flaking. In fact, with both conditions, we see inflamed areas where skin peels and flakes. Itching can be a very prominent symptom of this condition. Although the condition is slightly more common in men, seborrheic dermatitis can affect anyone including young children. Even infants can have seborrheic dermatitis.
Several other scalp diseases can cause each itching as well. However, scalp diseases are generally less common. Scalp diseases that can cause itchy scalp include folliculitis, which is an infection of the hair follicles-essentially a type of acne of the scalp.
Also, certain autoimmune conditions like discoid lupus and lichen planopilaris may cause itching. These two problems also tend to have hair loss (alopecia) accompany them.
Contact dermatitis which occurs either due to irritation or an allergic reaction to chemicals applied to the scalp may also cause itching.
Head lice infestation and ringworm (tinea capitis) may cause an itchy scalp as well. Symptoms of ringworm include itchy scalp, alopecia, and hyperpigmentation. Meanwhile, symptoms of head lice include itching and skin bumps on the scalp.
Hair Products Causing Itchy Scalp
Any hair care practice or product that causes irritation of the scalp may cause you to itch your scalp. This is especially the case for leave in hair conditioners and other hair care products such as hairspray and hair gel. Hair dye can also cause an itchy scalp if applied over a long period of time.
Many of these hair care products are alcohol-based, which can irritate the skin cells and result in a dry scalp. Using a blow dryer, especially on a hot cycle, curling iron usage, tight weaves, and braids as well as any form of heat therapy or heat treatment on the scalp can cause scalp irritation associated with itching.
So, what scalp treatments and other home remedies can help relieve an itchy scalp?
Top Tips (to think about to help alleviate your itchy scalp):
- Thoroughly review your hair care practices and the hair products that you use. Consider gradually changing them or dropping the use of all of your products aside from dandruff shampoo and conditioner. Before experimenting with different scalp treatments to relieve an itchy scalp, contact a local dermatologist.
- Do your best to avoid scratching your scalp. Scratching triggers the itch sensory nerves to fire more frequently, creating a vicious cycle we refer to as a neurodermatitis, where a person has persistent itching and scratching
- Keep an eye on your stress/anxiety levels. Those of us suffering from higher levels of anxiety tend to be itchier, and therefore do more scratching. Take measures to reduce your anxiety, such as meditation. To relieve stress and anxiety, try a 5-minute guided meditation daily. Or, try guided deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises are easy to find for free on the internet. Find distractions in hobbies and other activities to keep yourself (and your hands) busy. If your anxiety remains high, see your primary care provider for more assistance.
- Consider changing how often you wash your hair. Some people will find washing their hair more often can help; for others, the opposite is true.
- Try an over-the-counter anti-dandruff-medicated shampoo. Several are available including Head and Shoulders, Selsun Blue, Neutrogena T gel, and Nizoral 1%. However, remember that for any shampoo to work effectively it must have some contact time with the scalp and hair. Lather with your fingertips, and ideally leave in place for three to five minutes before rinsing.
- Never get in bed with wet hair! You should go to bed with dry hair to reduce your risk of hair breakage or fungal infection.
- Reduce how frequently you wear a hat. Sweat and body oils can build up underneath the hat and further irritate the skin worsening any situation where there is itchiness. The same sort of thing can go for a wig or any type of hairpiece worn daily.
Over-the-Counter Itchy Scalp Remedies
There are over-the-counter products that are best for treating an itchy scalp. Antihistamine medications taken by mouth can also help at times. There are two main categories of antihistamines that relieve itchy scalp. The original first-generation sedating antihistamines (which usually only last 4 to 6 hours) and the newer non-sedating second-generation antihistamines. The classic medication in the first-generation category is Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Zyrtec (cetirizine) is the most common newer antihistamine recommended for itching.
Be cautious when using antihistamine medications because sometimes they can interact with other medicines you take, particularly sedating medications. Because antihistamines make you sleepy, we always advise against taking these during the day until you know how they affect you.
Avoid driving a car or operating heavy machinery when under the influence of an antihistamine. This type of medication can be especially dangerous in patients over the age of 60 or children under 12.
Numerous applied over-the-counter medicated anti-itch remedies can also help, including Scalpicin, Sarna, and CeraVe Itch Relief.
Contact your dermatologist for further examination if the following problems persist:
- Itchy scalp lasting longer than a week
- Pain, sores, or swelling
- Intense itching interferes with sleep or daily activities
- Scaly patches appear
At-Home Itchy Scalp Treatment
While some causes of itchy scalp may require professional medical treatment, others can be treated with at-home itchy scalp remedies.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties of apple cider vinegar can help those suffering from an itchy scalp find relief by reducing itching as a result of dry skin. For itchy scalp relief, try diluting apple cider vinegar in warm water and rinsing your hair after using shampoo.
Organic Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is a saturated fat with antimicrobial properties. Itchy scalp sufferers describe the use of coconut oil to relieve itchy scalp as a soothing treatment. For individuals suffering from itchy scalp due to eczema and head lice, coconut oil is the best at-home remedy.
This at-home itchy scalp treatment option is best for reducing dandruff and soothing the scalp. Before shampooing, dilute the peppermint oil with a mixture of olive oil. Massage the mixture into your scalp and rinse your hair thoroughly.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil can be found at most local health food stores. The anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties of tea tree oil can help reduce or eliminate itching resulting from dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. For relief, add 10 to 20 drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo or olive oil and apply it directly to your scalp.
One can apply this medication to the hair and scalp to alleviate symptoms of dandruff, as well as other scaly and itchy skin conditions such as psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis. The active ingredient in this medication is coal tar, which is classified as a keratoplastic drug. By stimulating the shedding of dead cells from the top layer of the skin and slowing down the growth of skin cells, coal tar helps to reduce scaling and dryness. Additionally, coal tar may also help to alleviate itchiness associated with these skin conditions.
Salicylic acid is a common ingredient that can also be found in over-the-counter (OTC) dandruff shampoos. It can be useful in eliminating dandruff flakes while also providing moisture to a dry scalp. This shampoo can be used to treat seasonal dandruff or to keep your scalp well-hydrated with regular use.
Schedule an Appointment with a Dermatologist Near You
If itchy scalp symptoms persist after trying any of the itchy scalp at-home remedies listed above, contact your local dermatologist to discuss the underlying cause of your itchy scalp, as well as medical itchy scalp treatment options.
Advanced Dermatology of the Midlands | Best Dermatologist Omaha & Council Bluffs, IA | Board Certified Dermatologists
Whatever you do, if you are not finding relief with any home remedies, consider seeking medical advice from a dermatologist in a consultation. The best dermatologists evaluate and treat scalp problems daily. All our dermatology providers at Advanced Dermatology of the Midlands have extensive experience diagnosing scalp conditions and helping patients treat them successfully. If we may be of any further assistance, please reach out to us to schedule a consultation at 402-933-3770 or click here to fill out our contact form.