Why do you have an itchy scalp?There are a variety of reasons for scalp itch, like hygiene practices and lifestyle habits. It is important to find out why you’re scratching your head because a scalp itch can be a sign of an underlying condition.
DandruffDandruff is a prevalent scalp condition that causes flakes of skin to appear on your head. It is not contagious or dangerous but can be embarrassing and challenging to treat.
What causes dandruff?
Dandruff can be caused by the secretions from your sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are the oil glands located just beneath the skin on your scalp. They produce sebum, a natural oil that helps keep your hair healthy and shiny. However, if these sebaceous glands become overactive or inflamed and over-secrete sebum, they can contribute to oily scalp and dandruff.
If your scalp is too oily, it promotes the growth of Malassezia, a form of yeast that infects your hair follicles and causes them to itch.
Other reasons for dandruff include fungal colonisation on the surface of your scalp, not shampooing enough or over shampooing and overdrying your scalp, overexposing your scalp to dust, dirt or sunlight, and excessive pressure on the scalp from hats, caps and helmets.
Dandruff symptoms can wax and wane throughout your lifetime and it may be helpful to keep a diary of what triggers seem to be associated with your flare ups. This can aid diagnosis, as your doctor formulates a comprehensive dandruff treatment and prevention plan.
How to prevent dandruff?
There are several ways to prevent dandruff from occurring, including:
- Practising good hygiene.
- Finding the right shampooing balance for your scalp.
- Reducing stress.
- Getting 7+ hours of sleep per night.
- Limiting the wearing of hats and caps, especially those of synthetic materials.
- Limiting dietary dairy intake
Dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis?
Dandruff is often mentioned interchangeably with seborrheic dermatitis. While they have similar origins, there are differences between the two. One can think of dandruff as the milder, non-inflamed version of seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflamed version of pityriasis capitis that is associated with severe yellow-white flaking and severe itch. With seborrheic dermatitis, the inflammation can get so bad that hair follicles are scarred and damaged, leading to hair loss.
If you’re just learning about seborrheic dermatitis and want to know more about treatment options, read this handy guide we prepared.
Folliculitis occurs when your hair follicles are inflamed. Sufferers can experience symptoms like tenderness over the inflamed area, feeling of a bump on the scalp, itch, as well as the appearance of pus when the lesion ruptures.
It can be caused by infection, irritation of the skin, skin diseases or occlusion, when the pore where hair emerges from the skin is blocked. Folliculitis usually appears as a red spot with a pustule.
How to prevent folliculitis
The prevention of folliculitis is primarily the same as dandruff, as they are both hyper-seborrheic conditions. The only difference is that folliculitis is usually caused by scalp bacteria, like propionibacterium acnes and staphylococcus epidermidis, and not yeast.
Folliculitis can be particularly painful, itchy and difficult to treat if it is linked to the nosocomial methicillin-resistant staph aureus bacteria.
People seeking treatment for folliculitis may be prescribed an antibiotic regimen that spans between 6 months and a year. High levels of testosterone and hormones like DHEAS and DHT can increase sebum production on the scalp and lead to folliculitis.
These are some treatment options for folliculitis:
- exfoliation for hyper keratinisation, when follicle cells do not shed normally
- isotretinoin for suppressing sebaceous gland activity
- antibiotics like doxycycline and minocycline to eradicate folliculitis-causing bacteria
- steroid spray to directly treat inflammation
Head lice live only on humans and are obligate parasites, meaning they can’t survive without a human host. They have six legs with claws on the ends, which they use to attach themselves to hair.
Head lice infestations can affect anyone, but school-aged children are especially vulnerable.
Children in kindergarten and primary school are likelier to play in close proximity with more head-to-head contact and share hair combs or headwear. This is also why adults with young kids have a greater tendency to contract lice than other adults.
What causes head lice?
How to prevent head lice?Here are some simple steps to avoid head lice infestations:
- Prevent head-to-head contact during play time and other activities at home, school and elsewhere.
- Do not share clothes and head accessories like hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, etc.
- Do not share combs, brushes, or towels.
- Do not share stuffed animals or lie on beds, pillows, or carpets that have recently come into contact with an infected individual.
Scalp PsoriasisScalp psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease (caused by your immune system). It causes your skin cells to multiply abnormally quickly. Scalp psoriasis leads to thick, discoloured patches of skin (plaques) on your scalp and surrounding areas like your hairline, forehead, the back of your neck and around your ears.
What causes scalp psoriasis?Scalp psoriasis is caused by the following factors:
- Hereditary conditions
- Environmental exposures (E.g. skin trauma from sunburn)
- Inflammatory or autoimmune conditions
How to prevent scalp psoriasis?If you have scalp psoriasis, it will come and go throughout your life. It is, unfortunately, a chronic condition. However, leading an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and treating your scalp psoriasis with medications, such as corticosteroids, methotrexate and cyclosporin, can help make it less severe and less frequent. You can also consider treating psoriasis using ultraviolet (UV) light therapy. UV light therapy has been shown to improve symptoms of psoriasis by eliminating the cells responsible for the disease, reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the affected area.
Scalp RingwormScalp ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that causes rashes on your scalp. It typically results in itchy, scaly, bald patches on the head. Scalp ringworm gets its name from its circular shape (no actual worm is involved) and is most common in children.
What causes scalp ringworm?Scalp ringworm is caused by a fungus attacking the outer layer of scalp skin, causing hair to break. Scalp ringworm can spread in the following ways:
- Direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual.
- Touching a ringworm-infected animal, including pets like dogs and cats.
- Contact with objects or surfaces an infected person or animal recently touched, including clothing, towels, bedding, combs and brushes.
How to prevent scalp ringworm?These are the measures you can practise to prevent scalp ringworm:
- Shampoo regularly.
- Keep your scalp clean and dry.
- Stay away from infected animals.
- If you have pets or other animals that are prone to ringworm, have your veterinarian examine them for the infection.
- Do not share personal items like clothes, towels, hairbrushes, sports equipment, etc.
Atopic DermatitisAtopic dermatitis, also called eczema, causes itch, rash and dry skin. Atopic dermatitis usually affects people who are genetically more susceptible to allergic reactions like asthma, hay fever and food allergies.
What causes atopic dermatitis?Atopic dermatitis has no known single cause and is most likely the result of multiple conditions. However, there are numerous theories about the underlying mechanisms. Currently, research is being done to examine the roles of the immune system, skin structural gene mutations, defects in skin cells (keratinocytes), the skin surface microbiome (bacteria, viruses and yeasts) and many other factors.
How to treat atopic dermatitis flares at home?You can treat your flares at home by doing the following:
- Bathe in oatmeal. A 2012 study found that colloidal oatmeal, the powdered form of oatmeal used by patients, can soothe itching.
- Make use of a humidifier. Increasing the humidity in the air can keep your skin from becoming dry and itchy.
- Avoid scratching your skin and scalp. Instead of scratching itchy areas, apply pressure to them and keep your nails trimmed. If you have children, you may want them to wear gloves or mittens at night to prevent them from scratching themselves.
- Wear loose headwear that will not irritate your skin.