A variety of things can cause your scalp to itch. These triggers can be broken down into the broad categories of skin diseases of the scalp, hair care products, and our own actions & hair care practices. The best dermatologists know that the most common causes 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
This condition is on a spectrum with psoriasis of the scalp which can also cause itching. In both conditions, we see inflamed areas where skin peels and flakes. Itching can be a very prominent symptom of this condition. Though 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, but these generally are more uncommon. They 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) along with them. Contact dermatitis which occurs either due to irritation or allergy from chemicals applied to the scalp may also cause itching. Of course, head lice and ringworm (tinea capitis) may be itchy.
Hair Products Causing Itchy Scalp
Any hair care practice or product that causes irritation of the scalp may make us itch. This is especially the case for put-on and leave-on products such as hairspray and hair gels. Hair coloring can also become an issue over time. Many of these products are based on alcohol, which can be drying and irritating to the 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 irritation associated with itching.
So, what can you do at home to help with this problem?
Top Tips (to think about to help alleviate your itchy scalp):
- Thoroughly review your hair care practices and the products that you use. Consider gradually changing them or dropping the use of all of your products aside from shampoo and conditioner and continue to experiment to see if you can find relief.
- Do your best to avoid scratching! Scratching triggers the itch sensory nerves to fire more, 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 level. Those of us suffering from higher levels of anxiety tend to be itchier, and therefore doing more scratching. Take measures to reduce your anxiety, such as meditation. Try a 5-minute guided meditation daily. Or, try guided deep breathing exercises. These 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 more often can help; for others, the opposite is true.
- Try a medicated over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo. Several are available including Head and Shoulders, Selsun Blue, Neutrogena T gel, and Nizoral 1%. Remember that for any shampoo to work effectively it must have some contact time with the scalp. Lather with your fingertips, and ideally leave in place for 3 to 5 more minutes before rinsing.
- Never get in bed with a wet head! You should go to bed with dry hair to reduce your risk of hair breakage or fungal infection.
- Reduce how frequently you are wearing a hat. Our 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.
There are over-the-counter products that are specifically geared to treat the itching. Antihistamine medications by mouth can help at times. There are two main categories of these—the original first-generation sedating antihistamines (which usually only last 4 to 6 hours) and the newer non-sedating second-generation ones. The classic medication in the first-generation category is Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Zyrtec (cetirizine) is the most common newer antihistamine recommended for itching.
You need to be cautious with using these medications because sometimes they can interact with other medicines you take, particularly sedating medications. They can also make you sleepy, so 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 these medications. They 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.
Advanced Dermatology of the Midlands | Best Dermatologist Omaha & Council Bluffs, IA | Board Certified Dermatologists
Whatever you do, if you are not finding relief, consider seeing a dermatologist in 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.