When your scalp itches, it can be difficult to think about anything else. You may feel that the itch will never stop, but relief is possible. You may think your constantly itchy scalp is just dandruff, but it might be something else. Getting rid of the itch begins with finding out why your scalp itches. It might be just as simple as finding the right shampoo!
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This infographic is not meant to diagnose your condition or treat your condition, nor is it intended to confirm that you don’t have any specific condition. If your itchy scalp persists, see a dermatologist get a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Here are 5 reasons you may have an itchy scalp and what to do about it.
1. Dandruff/Seborrheic Dermatitis
Even though dandruff may not be the cause of your itchy scalp, it is a common reason for this condition. Dandruff is an inflammatory response by your body to an extreme overgrowth of yeast. It is this overgrowth that causes the flaking and itching that are a hallmark of the condition.
Some yeast lives on your scalp and other areas of your body. It is only a problem when there is more than a healthy amount of yeast present.
What to do: If you have a mild case of dandruff, over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos that contain zinc pyrithione or selenium should help control the yeast. If it is a serious case, you may require an antifungal shampoo, medicated foam, topical cortisone, or other medicated solution, cream, foam, or ointment available only with a prescription.
This chronic autoimmune disease results in reddish, raised, scaly areas on the scalp or skin. While the cause of this skin condition is not clearly understood, experts do know that you can’t catch psoriasis. You are more prone to suffer from psoriasis if a family member has it.
What to do: Try OTC medicated shampoos that contain salicylic acid or coal tar to help tame psoriasis on the scalp. If that doesn’t give you relief, you may need a prescription for topical cortisone and stronger shampoos.
3. Tinea Capitis
Commonly known as ringworm, tinea capitis is a fungal infection that affects the scalp and other areas of your body. The fungus extends down into the infected follicles, causing round areas of hair loss that get increasingly bigger. The rash is usually raised with black dots or a stubby appearance.
What to do: Ringworm infections on the skin can be treated with an OTC antifungal formula. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the scalp. Because the fungus is deep within the hair follicle, you need a prescription oral antifungal medication to clear it up.
4. Head Lice
Often considered a children’s condition, head lice can infect anyone’s scalp. Lice prefer clean hair, so if you have head lice, it doesn’t indicate poor hygiene. Lice nits or eggs will appear clinging on individual hair strands, usually at the root. The best place to look for them is behind the ears. They may look like dandruff, but they don’t flake off because they are attached to the hair. You may see adult lice moving on your scalp, but they are harder to see than the eggs.
What to do: Treat head lice with OTC shampoos that contain the insecticides permethrin or pyrethrin. Follow the instructions on the box as each shampoo formula has its own protocol for treatment.
5. Allergic Reactions
An itchy, dry, and flaky scalp could mean that you need to do a better job of rinsing the shampoo from your hair. However, you may have a case of contact dermatitis caused by an irritant or allergen. Common allergens include the fragrance, botanicals, and surfactants that create foam or lather.
What to do: Allergic reactions usually go away once you are no longer exposed to the chemical that caused the reaction. However, this can be challenging, and you may need specialized tests by a dermatologist.
When Should You Worry about Scalp Itchiness
Although annoying, an itchy scalp isn’t usually a serious condition. In some instances, it can be an indication of something more serious. See a doctor if:
- OTC shampoos don’t relieve the itching.
- Itching keeps you awake at night.
- You find nits or lice in your hair.
- The itchy areas are tender and sore when you touch them.
It’s always wise to visit a dermatologist if your itchy scalp persists, even if you’re sure it’s just dandruff. A dermatologist or physician will investigate what’s going on and offer remedies to give you relief.