Itchy scalp is not only embarrassing but annoying. Allowed to continue, the chronic scratching can cause swelling, welts, redness, bald spots, damaged hair, and skin infections. An itching scalp is not a disorder or disease but a symptom of some other underlying problem or condition.
What Causes an Itchy Scalp?
1..Dandruff or Seborrheic Dermatitis
Dandruff, also called seborrheic dermatitis, is caused by an overgrowth of yeast which causes itching and flaking on the scalp. This condition is not only physically annoying but also embarrassing for many sufferers. The chronic scratching causes loose skin particles to develop in the hair and on clothing. The flakes are extremely noticeable on dark clothing. Unfortunately, many people erroneously think that the flakes are a sign of uncleanliness or some parasite infestation.
Mild cases of dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis can be treated with over-the-counter shampoos that contain selenium or zinc pyrithione. Both active ingredients help control the overgrowth of yeast that occurs on the scalp. Serious or chronic dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis often requires a prescription-strength anti-fungal medication or shampoo to control. Topical cortisone and medicated foams or creams are also frequently prescribed by physicians to treat the condition.
2. Head Lice
Head lice often occur in school-age children but they can also infest adults. They appear as small white flecks in the hair and are often mistaken for dandruff. However, unlike dandruff, they cannot be shaken off the hair shafts because they are holding on and the egg sacs, known as nits, are glued to the hair shafts. If you look closely you can see clusters of small eggs attached all along the various hair shafts. Adult lice move readily through the hair and across the skin of the scalp. The adults often congregate near the temples, the base of the skull, and behind the ears.
Many people mistakenly believe that head lice only happen because of lack of personal hygiene. However, this is untrue because head lice typically prefer clean hair instead of oily or dirty hair.
Head lice cannot be killed or controlled using normal shampoo. No matter how many times you wash your hair, the lice will reappear and you will be unable to effectively kill the nits. Specialized head lice shampoos must be used to kill the lice. The shampoos are readily available online and at most department stores. Special fine-toothed combs are also used to break the nits away from the hair shafts. In severe cases, a physician may prescribe a prescription-strength shampoo or treatment. In order to successfully treat head lice, all bedding and clothing must also be thoroughly washed and dried in a high heat clothes dryer. Nowadays, head lice are becoming more difficult to eradicate as the insects become resistant to many of the insecticides used in the shampoos.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes red, itchy, raised spots on the skin of the scalp. Currently, researchers are unsure what causes the disorder but it is not contagious. Shampoos that contain tar or salicylic acid often help alleviate symptoms. Severe cases may require prescription-strength shampoos and topicals.
4. Tinea Capitis
This fungal infection is commonly called ringworm. It can spring up on any part of the body but often occurs more frequently on the head. The fungus reaches deep into the hair follicles and causes hair loss. Sufferers develop round, bald patches. The skin appears red and scaly. In some cases, there are black dots 0n the skin’s surface too. As the fungus increases the bald spot grows in size and more spots may develop.
Although over-the-counter antifungal creams are available that treat ringworm on the skin it is difficult to control on the scalp because the fungus is deep in the hair follicles and creams cannot penetrate the skin’s layers to reach the fungus. A physician will usually have to prescribe oral medication to eliminate the fungus from the body’s system. The oral antifungal medications are extremely powerful so most physicians will do a skin test to determine if the disorder is truly tinea capitis. After a firm diagnosis, the physician will then prescribe the medication.
5. Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions to hair dyes, shampoos, conditioners, hair products, eczema and atopic dermatitis all can cause an itchy scalp. Such reactions will usually go away once the sufferer discovers what they are allergic too. In some severe cases, a dermatologist may need to do specialized tests to determine precisely what is causing the allergic reaction.
6. Washing Your Hair can Help an Itchy Scalp
Often the exact cause of an itchy scalp is hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it seems like a scalp just itches on occasion and there is no real health issue causing the annoying itch. Often the best way to treat an unknown itch is with a good old-fashioned shampoo and head massage. Scrubbing and massaging the scalp removes dead skin cells and oil that has built up on the skin’s surface. Use warm water to wash away the residue.
7. Soap and Conditioner Buildup on the Scalp
Another cause of itchy scalp is shampooing your hair too much and not getting the soap or conditioner out of your hair when you rinse. The buildup of soap scum and conditioner oils causes a chronic itch. Whenever you wash your hair you should focus on making sure all shampoo and conditioning products are adequating washed from the hair and scalp.
8. Stress and Scalp Itching
Stress has been shown to aggravate dandruff in susceptible individuals. Your immune system is naturally compromised from high levels of stress which allow the yeast fungi (malassezia) that cause dandruff to flourish. Relaxing and avoiding stress triggers can help naturally control the fungi and boost your immune system.
9. Overuse of Hair Products
There are so many hair products available nowadays that do a wide array of things. Curl enhancers, straighteners, leave-in conditioner, mousse, gel, volumizer, definer, hairspray, and many other products. Over time, these products can build up on your scalp and cause chronic itching if you do not successfully wash them out every time you shampoo your hair. Overuse of hair products frequently causes flaking, itching, irritation, and oily residue to develop.
10. Silicone Shampoos and Conditioners
Many shampoos and conditioners contain silicones to control frizz. The silicone coats the hair shaft and it also leaves a fine layer on your scalp. Overuse can actually suffocate your scalp. You will start to notice symptoms similar to dandruff. The white flakes are usually a combination of the excessive silicone mixed with your hair’s natural oils and the dead skin cells of your scalp. Silicone shampoos and conditioners should never be overused. You should alternative using them with a regular silicone-free shampoo. When using the regular shampoo, massage your scalp and hair vigorously to remove the silicone buildup.
11. Wigs Suffocate the Scalp
Regularly wearing wigs prevents airflow to your scalp which suffocates the skin and may cause excessive flakiness. If you must wear a wig, always remove it in the evening and at night to allow your scalp ample time to breath.
Brush Your Hair Nightly
A century ago, women regularly brushed their hair a hundred strokes before bed. This was done for a variety of reasons but in many cases, it was because of a lack of indoor plumbing. Without indoor plumbing, regular hair washing was rare. Women who brushed their long locks regularly distributed the oil in their hair evenly and broke away the dead skin cells on their scalp in an exfoliating fashion. This kept the hair shiny and helped keep the scalp clean of skin debris buildup and unwanted flakiness. It also improved blood circulation.
Wintertime Itchy Scalp
During the winter months, it’s not uncommon to suffer from a dry and itchy scalp. The lack of humidity in the air and the drying effects of a home’s heating system or wood stove all dry out your hair and skin which causes a wintertime itch and dandruff-like symptoms.
Natural Remedies for an Itchy Scalp
If your scalp itches frequently and you don’t want to turn to chemicals or prescription medication then you might want to seek out natural remedies.
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is commonly called melaleuca. It is a natural microbial that can fight bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. Tea tree oil also appears to be a natural anti-inflammatory. Tea tree oil is available as shampoo, medicated soap, or oil.
2. Banana, Avocado, and Honey Hair Mask
This hair mask smells so yummy that you are probably going to want to eat it. The microorganisms in honey are a strong antibacterial. Ancient Egyptians used honey to treat wounds and fight infections. It is also believed to help fight numerous fungi. To create the hair mask simply mash an overripe banana, with half an avocado to form a paste. Then add two tablespoons of honey to the mixture. Cover your hair with the mask and work it down to your scalp. Leave it on for thirty minutes and then wash your hair. You will be amazed at how good your hair smells and how shiny it looks. The mixture also helps relieve any itching.
3. Hemp Oil
Hemp oil is an ideal scalp moisturizer. It is filled with vitamins, fatty acids, and proteins. It naturally moisturizes your scalp and adds shine to your hair. The skin readily absorbs hemp oil and there is no extensive oily residue left behind. Hemp oil can also be consumed orally to aid your hair and skin. It is packed with fatty acids like omega 9 and omega 6.
4. Yoga and Exercise
Okay, you are probably wondering what yoga and exercise have to do with an itchy scalp. Well, regular exercise and yoga help you control your breathing and improve blood flow which naturally reduces inflammation in the body. It also helps alleviate stress which has been shown to cause chronic itching.
5. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is a natural antiseptic. It is extremely beneficial in treating dandruff. Apply the lemon juice to your scalp for five minutes and then wash it away with shampoo. Continue using it daily until the itching subsides. You can also mix the lemon juice with yogurt to form a hair mask.
6. Baking Soda
Baking soda exfoliates the scalp and helps treat dandruff. It is an effective anti-fungal. To use baking soda on your scalp create a paste of baking soda and water. Rub olive oil lightly onto your scalp and then apply the baking soda paste. Leave the paste on your scalp for ten to fifteen minutes and then wash out.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar quickly kills yeast and is a strong antibacterial. It also has the ability to balance the pH level of your scalp which might reduce irritation on the scalp’s surface. Lightly spritz your hair and scalp with apple cider vinegar. Leave it on for at least five minutes and then shampoo. Use apple cider vinegar at least once or twice a week if you frequently suffer from dandruff.
8. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a natural moisturizer that can relieve and prevent dry skin. Rub coconut oil directly onto your scalp. Leave it on for 30 minutes and then wash it out using shampoo. Use coconut oil at least three times a week to treat dry skin on your scalp. You can also melt coconut oil directly into your shampoo and use it daily every time you wash your hair. Just use a small amount of coconut oil when mixing it with your shampoo or your hair will turn out overly oily.
9. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is a wonderful moisturizer that combats dry, flaky skin. For optimum absorption, use aloe vera gel. Apply it directly to your scalp and leave it on for five or ten minutes. Shampoo your hair to remove the aloe vera gel. Use several times a week to moisturize your scalp skin.
Regular hair and skin care can significantly reduce itchy scalp. However, if the condition becomes severe you may want to consult with your physician to rule out any underlying health issues.