Sores or scabs on the scalp are often harmless and clear up on their own. However, they are sometimes a sign of a condition that may require treatment, such as psoriasis, contact dermatitis, or head lice.
This article looks at the possible causes of sores or scabs on the scalp and their treatment options. It also covers prevention tips and when to contact a doctor.
Psoriasis is a condition where the body replaces skin cells much faster than usual. This may cause dry, discolored, and scaly patches of skin. These patches can occur almost anywhere on the body, including the scalp.
Some people with psoriasis find certain things could trigger or exacerbate their symptoms. For example, cigarette smoking typically worsens psoriasis and could make the condition more difficult to clear.
It may occur when an irritating substance comes into direct contact with a person’s skin. When contact dermatitis develops on the scalp, the irritating substance is often a shampoo, hair product, or soap.
Contact dermatitis usually resolves once a person identifies and avoids the irritant. If the rash is very painful or itchy, a doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo or corticosteroid to relieve symptoms.
Unlike psoriasis, contact dermatitis occurs as a reaction to irritants. The condition will also not result in thick plaques as psoriasis would.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition that causes itchy, flaky skin and may result in skin scales developing. This rash occurs in areas with lots of sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum.
Seborrheic dermatitis may appear greasy or scaly. In severe cases, it could also cause raised bumps and scaly skin at the hairline. In adults with seborrheic dermatitis, stress, lack of sleep,or other triggers may cause recurring symptoms.
Infants often develop a type of seborrheic dermatitis called cradle cap, which usually clears independently. However, caregivers may need to apply dandruff shampoo or other treatments to loosen the scales.
The greasy nature of seborrheic dermatitis may help people distinguish it from contact dermatitis and psoriasis, which typically result in drier patches of discoloration and irritation.
A minor injury to the scalp may cause a cut or scrape. Intense scratching could also cause breaks in the skin and sores that may lead to scabs.
A person may usually treat small cuts and scrapes at home. However, if the wound is large and painful, it may require medical care.
Avoiding irritants such as shampoo and styling products may help speed up healing.
Learn more about open wound care.
An injury to the scalp could lead to infection, causing painful scabs, blisters, and swelling. Signs of infection may include:
- pain or tenderness around the injury
- skin discoloration around the injury
- slow healing
- oozing,crusting, and bleeding
Learn more about recognizing and treating infected wounds.
Impetigo can occur after Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria enter a cut or wound. The infection is highly transmissible and common among young children.
Although mild impetigo may clear up on its own, prompt treatment is still critical. A doctor can prescribe topical or oral antibiotics. This will help:
- prevent the infection from worsening
- reduce the risk of passing the infection to others
- reduce the risk of complications
For people who shave their heads, the following may help prevent folliculitis on the scalp:
- exfoliating the scalp before shaving
- keeping the razor dry between uses
- wetting the skin and using a cream or gel before shaving
- always using a clean, sharp razor
- applying an aftershave treatment
Unlike other conditions, folliculitis specifically affects the hair follicles. It appears more as dots rather than patches.
Acne is a skin condition that may cause pimples and other lesions to develop in body areas where there are hair follicles, including the scalp. Acne typically occurs when hair follicles clog with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria, so people with oily hair may be more likely to develop acne on the scalp.
A person can treat scalp acne at home with medicated shampoos and regular hair washing. For severe or persistent acne, a doctor may prescribe acne medications or antibiotics.
Head lice are tiny bugs that live in human hair. They lay their eggs near the bottom of the hair shaft and survive by feeding on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp.
Over time, these eggs hatch and create larger and larger infestations. Head lice are highly transmissible, especially among children who come into close contact with each other or share brushes and hair care products. Around
Head lice may cause intense itching. Scratching the scalp could cause sores and scabs that worsen the itching. It is possible for these sores to become infected, and this may require antibiotic treatment.
People can treat head lice at home with medicated shampoos and using special combs to kill lice and remove their eggs from the hair. It may take several treatments to get rid of a head lice infestation completely. It is best to follow the instructions that come with head lice products carefully.
Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that could develop just below the skin. They may also contain sebum and keratin, which are types of cells that make up the skin.
They may vary in size and may feel sore or tender. Cysts that develop around the hair follicles are known as trichilemmal or pilar cysts.
As a cyst grows, it may burst, causing sores and scabs. If infected cysts burst, the infection may spread to other parts of the scalp. People should avoid manipulating cysts, as squeezing them may cause them to rupture internally, causing severe inflammation, swelling, and pain.
A person should contact a doctor if they suspect their cysts are infected. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat an infected cyst.
Many causes of sores and scabs on the scalp are not transmissible. While medications and lifestyle remedies may help manage symptoms of skin conditions, they cannot prevent them entirely.
Some other causes of scalp sores are preventable. A few strategies include:
- making sure children wash their hands regularly and avoid close contact with those who have infections
- washing hair regularly to help prevent acne and reduce the risk of scalp infection after an injury
- avoiding touching or scratching the scalp excessively
- using shampoo that does not irritate or dry the scalp
- contacting a doctor about scalp issues that do not resolve on their own
Scabs and sores on the scalp are often harmless and clear on their own without treatment. However, people should speak with a doctor if the scabs or sores:
- are very painful or itchy
- do not start clearing up after a few days
- keep recurring or worsen
- are on a young child’s head
- do not heal at all
People should also seek immediate medical attention if:
Some home remedies may help reduce scalp irritation. However, treating the underlying cause is always the best way to get rid of scabs and sores.
Medicated shampoos could help reduce irritation in conditions that cause a dry scalp, such as scalp psoriasis and dandruff. Some people may also benefit from using natural remedies such as colloidal oatmeal, tea tree oils, and apple cider vinegar.
While home remedies may help reduce symptoms, they may not treat underlying conditions. A dermatologist will be able to assess what is causing the scalp scabs or sores and prescribe treatments accordingly.
What causes scabs on the scalp?
There are many causes for scabs, sores, and lesions to appear on the scalp. Although they are typically harmless, these symptoms may indicate an underlying medical condition that could require treatment.
Some possible causes for scabs on the scalp include:
- contact dermatitis
- infected wound
- seborrheic dermatitis
- minor injuries
- head lice
Is it typical to have scabs on your scalp?
Scabs on a person’s scalp may simply be a result of using a certain shampoo, soap, or other skin care product. Many scabs are harmless and may go away on their own by avoiding the irritant.
That said, some scabs may signal an underlying medical condition.
A person should speak with a doctor if their scabs are painful, itchy, and worsen over time.
How do I get rid of scabs on my scalp?
Treatment for scabs on a person’s scalp will depend on the cause.
However, a treatment plan may include:
- avoiding certain irritants
- using medicated shampoos or corticosteroids
There are many possible causes of sores or scabs on the scalp. While many lesions on the scalp are harmless, some can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
It is advisable to contact a doctor about sores and scabs that do not resolve on their own, keep reoccurring, or are very painful or itchy. People should seek prompt medical attention if they suspect the scabs or sores may be infected.