Scalp infections, both mild and serious, should always be tended to. But how exactly are you supposed to deal with them? We spoke to an expert and got the lowdown on the same. “Broadly speaking, scalp infections can be caused by fungus, bacteria and virus,” says Dr Monisha Aravind, M.D.DVL, PDFC Aesthetic Dermatologist & co-founder Armoraa Skin, Hair and Laser Clinic, Chennai. She also revealed that the scalp plays the most important part when it comes to hair health — as the scalp is the heart of the hair. Oxygen and nutrients required to maintain hair health comes from the follicle in the scalp. If the infections aren’t treated early, it can lead to hair loss and scarring (yikes!). There are also chances of inhibiting hair growth completely in a specific area of infection. Sometimes follicles can also be destroyed, leading to permanent scarring.
To understand how to deal with scalp infections, you have to know what causes them. Here are the major types of scalp infections and their causes.
- Types of scalp infections
- Expert tips on keeping scalp infections at bay:
- When should you see a doctor for a scalp infection
Types of scalp infections
- Dandruff (Seborrheic Dermatitis): A very common scalp infection faced by many — dandruff is caused by Malassezia, the organism which is present as a commensal on our scalp. It increases when too much of dryness and too much of oil production disturbs the scalp environment, leading to dandruff. Stress (both emotional and physical), alcohol, eating disorders, and excessive sweating are a few triggers.
- Tinea Capitis: A fungal infection caused by a dermatophyte fungus;. this infection occurs as a patch of hair loss with scaling and sometimes appears as black dots, or like an abscess or as a yellow crust on the scalp. The main cause for this is sharing towels, comb, hats, pillowcases — as it is known to spread from one person to another.
- Folliculitis: Occurring as small pustules, pimple-like eruptions, folliculitis is usually painful and occurs in clusters. That main cause of it is bad hygiene of the scalp, and is seen in immunocompromised (those whose immune system's defenses are low) people as well.
- Alopecia Areata: This scalp condition occurs in the form of patchy hair loss. It is caused by an abnormality in the immune system that damages hair follicles. It can also occur when bacteria or fungus attack the hair follicle.
- Lice (Pediculosis Capitis): This is the most difficult condition as getting rid of lice is an elaborate process — without the guarantee that they won’t occur again. It's not an infection, but an infestation — which can cause secondary infection on the scalp leading to hair loss.
- Viral Warts: This scalp infection occurs as painless rough bumps, usually acquired by getting your hair shaved or trimmed at salons (if the comb, scissors, towel used are unsterile). It’s better to deal with it immediately as it spreads from the scalp to other areas of the body.
Expert tips on keeping scalp infections at bay:
- Wash your scalp regularly — at least twice or thrice weekly. For dandruff or lice, use an anti-dandruff or anti-lice shampoo. Dandruff shampoos should be left on for at least 5-10 minutes on your scalp before rinsing.
- Scalp infections can be avoided by following proper scalp hygiene — do not share combs, hats or towels. Cleanse your scalp with the right shampoo depending on your hair and scalp condition to maintain proper hygiene.
- Make sure you choose an authenticated salon for your hair cuts, massages and have a check if they sterilise the combs, scissors, towels before every use.
- Do not apply oil on the scalp and leave it overnight, especially coconut oil. Why? Simply because oil is good food for fungus and bacteria to grow.
- Regular cleaning of headgears like scarves, helmets are of utmost importance to keep infections at an arm’s length.
- Make sure you cleanse your scalp with a mild pH balanced shampoo post-working out, as sweat is your scalp’s enemy.
When should you see a doctor for a scalp infection
As mentioned before, if left untreated, certain scalp infection can cause permanent damage. So, when should you be getting it checked? Dr Monisha says, “Not all scalp infections are troublesome. As dandruff is a common problem, which everyone faces — using an anti-dandruff shampoo would fix it. But if you have a patch of hair loss, severe itching, pain, boggy lesions, with pus oozing out, yellow crusts, red inflamed scalp, then it’s time for you to consult a dermatologist and not delay it any further.”