Itchy Scalp: Causes, Treatment, Prevention


  • Common causes of a scalp itch include dandruff, lice, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.
  • To treat a scalp pruritus, see a primary care or dermatologist who can determine the cause.
  • Home remedies for itchy scalp include apple cider vinegar, jojoba oil and tea tree oil.
  • Visit the Insider Health Reference Library for more tips.

Itchy scalps are common and can happen to anyone, he says Annie Gonzalez, MD, a dermatologist with Dermatology Riverchase.

There are many different causes for itchy scalp, and while it can be irritating and even painful, the good news is that itchy scalp is rarely a cause for concern and is generally treated easily.

1. Dandruff

If small pieces of dry skin peel off your scalp when you are itchy, then dandruff can be to blame. Dandruff is the most common cause of an itchy and affected scalp half of the adult population, he says Michele Green, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist with her private practice.

Dandruff can have many causes, including sensitive skin or even a yeast-like fungus.

In addition to a itchy scalp, other symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Skin flakes on the scalp or sometimes the eyebrows
  • Bleeding or dragging when scratching

How to treat it:

To properly treat dandruff, you may need to see a dermatologist or a primary care doctor who can get to the root of what causes it, Green says. But you can find some relief with a dandruff-free shampoo, such as Head & Shoulders.

2. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a autoimmune disorderr which causes your immune system to attack healthy skin cells. This can lead to a rash and blur of the skin that can occur on any part of the body, including the scalp, Green says The condition affects about 125 million people worldwide.

Other symptoms of psoriasis include:

  • Dry and cracked skin that can itch
  • Inflation in the articles
  • Pieces of red skin are scaly

How to treat it:

Psoriasis should be treated by a medical expert and treatment plans will vary. In general, a doctor may suggest topical treatments, oral medication, or a combination of the two.

3. Lice

Lice are small insects that feed on blood from the human scalp, and the scabs that follow can be itchy. Anyone can get lice, but it is the most common children between 3 and 12 years old because they tend to be in closer contact with each other, giving the lice the ability to spread easily.

Symptoms of lice include:

  • Extreme itching
  • A feeling of relief in my head
  • Sores on the neck or scalp
  • Small white, brown or dark gray spots on the hair and scalp

How to treat it:

The best way to get rid of lice is to contact your primary care doctor or dermatologist for a prescription treatment, says Gonzalez.

4. Stress Rash

When your nervous system is overwhelmed by stress, your body releases a so-called compound histamine – the same compound released in allergic reactions.

This causes inflammation, which can cause itchy hives. These hives, called a stress rash, are most common on the neck, arms, and chest, but can sometimes occur on the scalp, Gonzalez says.

A period of high stress or a stressful life event can cause a stress rash. Symptoms include:

  • Raised itching
  • Swelling
  • Burned when the rash was touched

How to treat it:

To prevent new hives from growing, try without a prescription antihistamines like Allegra or Claritin, says Gonzalez. The application of a cold compress or a topical steroid such as hydrocortisone and clobetasol can also reduce itching, redness and inflammation.

5. Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema, sometimes causes itching of the scalp. It is a chronic skin disorder, and the exact cause is unknown. However, a combination of environmental factors, such as allergens or irritants and even genetics play a role, Gonzalez says.

Other symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Gray-brown patch on hands, neck and wrist
  • Small raised edges that can leak fluids when scratched
  • Dry skin
  • Red patches are scaly

How to treat it:

Best treatments for atopic dermatitis include ointments and creams, such as topical corticosteroids that reduce redness and swelling during flare-ups, says Gonzalez. Fragrance-free moisturizers can also reduce itching by keeping the skin hydrated.

Take away the Insider

Most people will deal with an itchy scalp at some point in their life and there is a wide range of factors that can cause it.

If your itchy scalp lasts more than a week or if sores begin to develop, contact a primary care doctor or dermatologist who can help determine the underlying cause and come up with a treatment plan for relief.

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