An itchy scalp, or scalp pruritus, is a common condition many people experience throughout their lifetime . And while an itchy scalp and hair loss can occur independently, there are sometimes reasons these will be linked, with an itchy scalp leading to hair loss in some cases or vice versa.
Let's look at how these may be connected, and how you can relieve the itchiness and stop hair loss.
What are the symptoms of an itchy scalp?
Your head may be itchy for many reasons, but knowing why your scalp is itchy can help you get the needed treatment .
Different causes will create various symptoms, such as:
- Flaky skin or dandruff
- Dry skin
- Oily skin
- Inflamed skin
- Raised or bumpy skin
If the cause of an itchy scalp isn't treated, complications can occur. These may include:
- Hair loss
- Rash or irritation in other areas of the body
- Secondary skin infection
If the itching is severe enough, it may even disrupt your sleep, self-esteem and routine.
What can cause an itchy scalp?
There are many causes for an itchy scalp. Some include:
Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of skin inflammation that only occurs in areas of the body that naturally produce sebum (oil) — usually the scalp, face and torso .
Also known as seborrhoeic eczema, seborrhoeic dermatitis may be caused due to an immune reaction to a microscopic fungus called Malassezia, which is usually present on healthy skin in areas where sebum is produced. The reason behind this reaction is unknown, but seborrhoeic dermatitis is not contagious, nor a sign of poor hygiene.
It can lead to dandruff and it typically looks like patches of oily, flaking or scaly skin, with affected areas usually being red, scaly and itchy.
You may also have crusting yellow sores that develop on the scalp. The good news? Treating at home with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, such as anti-dandruff shampoos, is usually possible.
Dandruff is considered to be a mild form of seborrhoeic dermatitis. It occurs when the scalp becomes dry, and as the scalp sheds skin, it does so in larger flakes.
Scalp ringworm, or tinea capitis, is a rash caused by a fungal infection and usually causes itchy, scaly and bald patches on your head. Its name comes from the fact that it usually appears in circles, not because a worm is involved.
Medication can be taken to kill the fungus that causes scalp ringworm, while medicated shampoos can help stop the spread of the infection.
You may have an itchy scalp due to an allergic reaction to a hair care product. It's also common in people who dye their hair.
To stop the itchiness, you will need to figure out which product is causing you to have a reaction and stop using it. If you can't figure out what is causing the reaction, be sure to see a dermatologist.
Folliculitis is a common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become inflamed . It is caused by a bacterial infection and may at first look like small pimples around where the hair follicles grow.
It can also spread and turn into crusty sores, though if it is mild, it will likely heal without scarring and medical attention. In severe cases, you may need to use prescription medicine to prevent permanent hair loss and scarring.
Lichen planopilaris is a condition that causes inflammation in your scalp and hair follicles and can lead to patches of hair loss due to scarring .
It mainly affects women between the ages of 40 and 60, with symptoms including bald patches on your scalp, red or scaly patches of skin, scalp pain, and itching or burning.
Its cause is not fully understood, however, it seems as though T-cells, part of your immune system, attack your hair follicles. For this reason, it's believed to be an autoimmune disease.
Alopecia areata often causes hair loss on the scalp without signs of a rash, redness or scarring. However, some people have suggested that before they lose their hair, they will feel tingling, itching or burning, where the hair will fall out .
Alopecia areata will often mean quite sudden hair loss, with patches growing larger and larger to become one large bald spot.
Scalp psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to reproduce too fast, creating thick, discoloured patches of skin (plaques) on your scalp, as well as your hairline, forehead, back of the neck, and skin around the ears .
The plaques can be itchy and painful, and scalp psoriasis can cause hair loss, which can be accelerated by scratching plaques.
Is there a link between an itchy scalp and hair loss?
While you may experience an itchy scalp or hair loss, you may not always experience them together. However, there is a link between the two.
Fungal infections, allergic reactions and inflamed hair follicles may cause the scalp to become itchy, which can also damage hair follicles, leading to hair loss.
Hair loss can also lead to an itchy scalp, as the scarring damages the nerve fibres on the skin and causes itchiness.
If you're constantly itching your scalp, it can damage the skin and hair follicles, which may result in temporary hair loss, bleeding and scabbing. However, the hair will usually grow back once the scratching has stopped.
Hereditary hair loss usually occurs without scalp itching, and any scratching will not affect whether or not the person loses hair.
What causes hair loss?
Hair loss has many causes , including:
- Hereditary hair loss
- Childbirth, illness or other stressors
- Hair damage
- Hormonal imbalance
Hereditary hair loss, or androgenic alopecia, is the most common form of hair loss. It's genetic and causes hair follicles to shrink, so they eventually stop growing hair.
For men, the first sign is usually a receding hairline or a bald spot at the top of the head. For women, overall hair thinning or a widening of the part is the first noticeable sign.
How to relieve an itchy scalp
Regular washing of the scalp with a medicated soap could be all that you need to relieve an itching scalp. Ingredients to look out for in anti-dandruff shampoos include:
- Zinc pyrithione or zinc omadine
- Selenium sulphide
- Piroctone olamine
- Anti-fungal agents, such as Ketoconazole
- Salicylic acid
Some anti-dandruff shampoos are mild enough to be used every day, while others should only be used weekly. If you have a scaly scalp, you should typically be shampooing every day to get rid of scale build-up.
If your itching is due to an allergic reaction, find out what product is causing the reaction and stop using it. Other causes, such as scalp ringworm, may require prescription medication.
Topical corticosteroid lotions can also provide relief, but it's best to visit a doctor or pharmacist for instructions on what may suit you best if the itching is severe.
Home remedies also include:
- Apple cider vinegar: Due to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, apple cider vinegar can help reduce itching caused by dry skin. You can try diluting apple cider vinegar in warm water and using it to rinse after shampooing the hair.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties that soothe an itchy scalp.
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties, as well as anti-inflammatory effects. Try adding 10-20 drops to a gentle shampoo, but keep in mind that too much of this oil can be irritating to the skin.
How do I stop hair loss?
Losing your hair can cause significant emotional stress and affect your self-esteem. Aside from maintaining good hair and scalp care, the best thing you can do for hair loss is to use a clinically proven medication.
Pilot's hair loss treatment helps you keep and regrow your hair by blocking the enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – a hormone that stops hair growth. It also improves the delivery of vital nutrients to follicles, helping to regrow your hair.
When you sign up for this program, you get access to support from practitioners who will guide you through the treatment, as well as medication that we mail straight to your door. All of this without having to leave your house.
In 3 months, you can expect to see less hair fall and thicker growth. In 6 months, bald patches will be less noticeable, and in 9 months, your hair will continue to grow longer and stronger.
If you're looking for a non-prescription product instead, or something to add to your prescription plan to boost your hair growth, Pilot's Hair Growth Booster Kit is another tool to add to your belt.
In the Hair Growth Booster Kit, you will receive:
- Pilot's Thicken Shampoo & Keep Conditioner, which gives your hair follicles the best possible growing environment.
- Biotin Hair Gummies to support the synthesis of Keratin, the protective protein that makes up your hair and makes it less prone to damage.
- A Derma Roller to gently do your own micro-needling, with tiny needles that rupture the dermis's outer layer, stimulating blood flow and triggering a healing reaction in the scalp.
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