Scalp pruritus, commonly known as an itchy scalp, is a common problem that many people experience at some point during their lifetime. Often, a person's hair will regrow after they receive treatment for the underlying cause.
In this article, we discuss common causes of scalp itching and hair loss, along with ways to treat and prevent these issues.
What is the link?
Certain conditions can cause an itchy scalp and hair loss.
Although they can occur independently, there may sometimes be a link between hair loss and scalp itching.
Fungal infections, allergic reactions to hair products, and inflamed hair follicles can cause the scalp to itch and also damage hair follicles, leading to hair loss.
In other cases, scarring on the scalp can cause severe itching because scar tissue can damage the nerve fibers in the skin. If a person's hair loss has led to the formation of scar tissue, this may be causing the itching.
When a person scratches an itchy scalp repeatedly or aggressively, they can damage their skin and hair follicles. This damage can result in temporary hair loss, bleeding, and scabbing from the scratching. Once the scratching stops, the hair will usually grow back.
In other cases, such as with hereditary hair loss or male and female pattern baldness, hair loss occurs without scalp itching. In these cases, scratching the scalp may cause damage, but the underlying cause of the hair loss does not relate to the itchiness. Scratching will not affect whether or not a person loses their hair due to hereditary hair loss.
The following conditions and factors can cause both an itchy scalp and hair loss:
Ringworm is a fungal infection that causes a very itchy red rash to form. Ringworm and other fungal infections can weaken a person's hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss.
People with ringworm may notice distinct patches of hair loss on the scalp.
Prescription antifungal creams can treat scalp ringworm, and the hair will regrow after treatment.
Allergic reactions to hair products can irritate the scalp and hair follicles, resulting in itching. In most cases, the reactions are mild, and any scalp irritation or inflammation is temporary. However, if the irritation persists, it can damage the hair follicles and cause hair loss.
People can have this type of allergic reaction to any product that they use on their hair, including:
- hair dye
- hair gel
- hair mousse
A common cause of allergic scalp reactions is a chemical called paraphenylenediamine, which is a component of many black hair dyes.
Allergy creams or medications can often treat the itchiness. If a product causes an allergic reaction, it is important to stop using it and try switching to a different brand if necessary. People may benefit from using gentle products that contain fewer harsh chemicals.
A person can treat folliculitis with antibiotics when a bacterial infection is the cause.
Folliculitis is the inflammation of hair follicles.
Typical causes of folliculitis include bacterial or fungal infections.
The infection can often cause temporary hair loss in addition to itching.
People can get rid of folliculitis by treating the bacterial or fungal infection with antibiotics or antifungal medications respectively.
Lichen planopilaris is a condition that causes the scalp to become inflamed. Scientists believe that lichen planopilaris is the result of a compromised or weak immune system. It can cause itchiness, scaly skin, and hair loss.
Alopecia areata is a condition that can cause small patches of hair to fall out. It can also cause scalp itchiness.
Although scientists are not sure exactly why alopecia areata occurs, they believe that it develops because a person's immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles. The condition is most common in people with an autoimmune disease or a family history of one.
Standard treatments for these conditions often include:
- antifungal medications and ointments
People who experience hereditary hair loss may have success using one of the following treatments:
- hair transplants
- minoxidil (Rogaine)
- finasteride (Propecia)
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 80 million men and women in the United States have hereditary hair loss.
Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema that causes a red rash and itchiness. Although it is not a direct cause of hair loss, atopic dermatitis can lead to excessive scratching, which may cause temporary hair loss.
People can treat atopic dermatitis using creams and ointments. A healthcare professional can provide advice on treatment options.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes dry, red patches with a covering of silvery scales to form around a person's trunk and major joints. Psoriasis scales can also develop on the scalp, and they can often be itchy.
Hair loss might occur if a person scratches the psoriasis scabs on their scalp and the scabs fall off.
People can develop a treatment plan with their doctor to manage their psoriasis.
Dandruff causes a dry, itchy scalp. A person often notices flaking skin throughout the day and after scratching. Dandruff can cause hair loss, but this is very rare. Typically, dandruff only causes hair loss if a person goes for extended periods without treating it.
Treatment options include over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos, ointments, and creams.
A person could try several at-home or natural remedies to treat conditions that cause itchiness and hair loss. Some methods to consider include:
- using essential oils for hair growth
- eating foods that promote healthy hair growth, including eggs, fish, and Brazil nuts
- using fortified shampoos containing zinc, which can help fight fungal infections
- using shampoos to help with dandruff
- using creams or ointments that help prevent itchiness
Using gentle shampoos without harsh chemicals can help prevent an itchy scalp and hair loss.
There are several possible ways to help prevent hair loss, including:
- avoiding excessive scratching
- using only gentle shampoos
- eating a healthful diet rich in vitamins and minerals
- avoiding directing high heat at the scalp
- avoiding excessive chemicals from dyes, shampoos, conditions, and mousses
- keeping the hair clean and dry
- massaging the scalp to help stimulate blood flow to the hair follicles
- following recommended treatment plans for existing health conditions, such as psoriasis or other autoimmune disorders
There is not always a link between an itchy scalp and hair loss, but when there is, treating the underlying cause of these issues will usually allow the hair to grow back over time.
Although hair loss and scalp itchiness are not always avoidable, people can help prevent these issues by using gentle hair products, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and keeping underlying health conditions under control.