Ask an expert and they will tell you that the key to maintaining healthy hair is taking care of your scalp. After all, it is the natural oils present in the scalp that facilitate healthy hair growth. Also, the state of your scalp also determines how well your mane will behave. While it is not too tricky to maintain a healthy scalp, sometimes you might suffer issues that may or may not be under your control... like an itchy scalp! And while you might think that an itchy scalp is no cause for concern, our chat with an expert will prove otherwise. Here are all the causes, and some itchy scalp home remedies, doled out by a dermatologist.
According to Dr. Bindu Sthalekar, “Itchiness of the scalp is not normal, but when it does occur, it can be very debilitating to the person who is suffering from it. This is especially true when you consider the age of the person, as the causes of an itchy scalp differ with age. It is also important to deal with itchy scalps as some of the causes (head lice and fungal infections) are highly contagious and should be treated as soon as possible, along with the people who you have been in contact with.”
- 1. Causes of itchy scalp
- 2. Remedies for itchy scalp
- - Medicated shampoos
- - Organic coconut oil
- - Apple cider vinegar
- - Tea tree oil
- - Stress management
- 3. FAQs about itchy scalp
1. Causes of itchy scalp
1. Head lice (Pediculosis Capitis):
Usually occurring in children aged 15 and below, head lice is contagious and generally spreads from one child to another. It is intensely itchy and the diagnosis is made by looking at the scalp for active louse or the nits (eggs) that are stuck to the hair.
2. Fungal infections (Tinea Capitis):
Fungal infections are also contagious in nature and show up as small patches of hair loss (partial or complete) on the scalp. They are very itchy, with mild scaling and boils and pus.
3. Dandruff (Seborrheic Dermatitis):
Identified by a greasy scalp and white dandruff scalp, seborrheic dermatitis can be quite itchy as well. It is noteworthy to mention that dandruff cannot be fully cured, so itchiness associated with it can be controlled, but not permanently eradicated.
4. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema):
Another condition that produces dandruff flakes is atopic dermatitis (eczema) and occurs in people who have dry skin and a history of allergies. It differs from seborrheic dermatitis in the sense that the scalp is dry and not oily. It occurs due to scalp allergies to products and the environment, and inherent dryness of the skin.
5. Sebopsoriasis of the scalp:
Psoriasis of the scalp occurs in areas of the scalp with excessive oil production. It shows up as patches of excessive white scaling in localised areas that are also very itchy. You might also notice lesions of psoriasis on other parts of the body with this condition.
6. Urticaria (Hives):
Hives can occur at any age and show up as red wheels or raised patches on the body and on the scalp. They are caused by an allergic reaction to an internal substance with treatments included and limited to, oral antihistamine tablets.
7. Scalp irritations:
Scalp irritations occur due to an allergy to products like hair dyes (PPD), protein treatments (formaldehyde), hair straightening chemicals, and other hair treatments. These allergies are itchy and can spill over to your forehead and the eyes, causing swelling. Scalp irritations can also happen with your regular shampoos and conditioners and thus, are quite common in allergy-prone individuals.
2. Remedies for itchy scalp
As seen above, there are a variety of causes behind an itchy scalp, with each of them having their own solution. Here are some dermat-approved remedies for itchy scalp...
- Medicated shampoos
For conditions like head lice, medicated shampoos containing ivermectin can be quite effective and safe. For conditions like tinea capitis (fungal infections), a dermatologist will prescribe oral antifungal medications, and medicated shampoos (1-2% ketoconazole, ciclopirox olamine, or salicylic acid), that are available to purchase over the counter and should be used in combination. For seborrheic dermatitis, anti-dandruff shampoos (with zinc pyrithione or selenium sulphide) are a very effective solution.
For sebopsoriasis, look for medicated shampoos containing 1-2% coal tar, or solutions with topical steroids in them.
- Organic coconut oil
Organic coconut oil can relieve atopic dermatitis to a large extent. While dandruff is treated with medicated shampoos, oil application, or oil-infused moisturising lotions specifically meant for the scalp, can be used to ease itchiness caused by eczema. Infused with lauric acid, a saturated fat, organic coconut oil can soothe itchiness related to dry scalp tremendously.
A word of caution: do not use oil for dandruff, as the scalp is already quite greasy and can cause further complications.
- Apple cider vinegar
According to Dr. Sthalekar, “Apple cider vinegar could be effective because it is acidic in nature. Using it as a rinse can help dandruff and scaling because it is able to change the pH of your scalp.” It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to the overall maintenance of scalp health. To use ACV for the scalp, dilute it with water and use it as a rinse after washing your hair.
- Tea tree oil
An essential oil that has been shown to alleviate the itchiness of the scalp is the tea tree. Infused with antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties, tea tree oil can help with issues like seborrheic dermatitis and head lice. However it can be quite irritating to the skin, so make sure not to use it directly on the scalp. Mix a couple of drops of tea tree oil with a base oil (like olive oil) and add the mixture to a mild, sulphate-free shampoo right before a hair wash. Wash normally and follow with the conditioner for best results.
- Stress management
Hair and scalp health have long been associated with management of stress levels in the body. For instance, meditation can help relieve anxiety, which in turn can avoid over oiliness of the scalp that can lead to itchiness. While this might not be an immediate solution to an itchy scalp, it can safeguard long-term scalp health to avoid any future recurrences.
3. FAQs about itchy scalp
1) Can dandruff be permanently cured?
A. According to Dr. Sthalekar, “Dandruff can be controlled and never cured. It can show up at puberty and increase during times of stress. So, a lifestyle change can definitely help as high fatty diets or junk foods, can also increase dandruff.” In addition to anti-dandruff shampoos, overall health also has to be observed to control itchiness caused by dandruff.
2) Is an itchy scalp a serious issue?
A. While itchiness triggered by scalp irritations can easily be fixed by identifying the offending agents and getting rid of them, some causes do raise a cause for concern. According to Dr. Sthalekar, “Causes like sebopsoriasis need to be treated immediately as lesions can show up on the body as well. Urticaria is a sign of allergies, so the cause has to be eliminated. The itching, swelling and scaling caused due to allergic reactions need to be properly diagnosed and anti-allergic medications (or oral steroids in case of severe reactions) need to be prescribed.”
3) Can I use peppermint oil to treat my itchy scalp at home?
A. While peppermint oil is known to be a good solution for dandruff and itchiness, Dr. Sthalekar cautions against it. It can be quite irritating to your scalp and in fact, can overly sensitise it if used for a long time.