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People can often experience both an itchy scalp and hair loss, which suggests that these health issues may have a common cause or that one may cause the other.

Scalp pruritus, or 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 conditions.

Although these conditions 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 an individual’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 intensely, they can damage their skin and hair follicles. This damage can result in temporary hair loss, bleeding, and scabbing from the scratching. Once the person stops scratching, the hair will usually grow back.

In other cases, such as hereditary hair loss or male and female pattern hair loss, 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:

Scalp ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that causes a very itchy red rash in the shape of a ring. 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

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 hair follicles and cause hair loss.

People can have this type of allergic reaction to any product that they use on their hair, including:

  • shampoos
  • conditioners
  • hair dyes
  • hair gels
  • hair mousses

A common cause of allergic scalp reactions is the chemical paraphenylenediamine, which is an ingredient in many dark hair dyes.

Allergy creams or medications can often treat itchiness. If a product causes an allergic reaction, a person should stop using it and switch to a different product or brand.

Folliculitis

Folliculitis refers to inflammation of hair follicles. Typical causes of folliculitis include fungal and bacterial infections.

The infection can often cause itching and temporary hair loss.

Treating folliculitis with antibiotics or antifungal medications can reduce itching.

Lichen planopilaris

Lichen planopilaris is a condition that causes the scalp to become inflamed. Experts believe lichen planopilaris is the result of a weakened immune system.

The condition can cause:

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a condition that can cause all or patches of a person’s hair to fall out. It can also lead to scalp itchiness.

Although scientists are not sure exactly why alopecia areata occurs, they believe it develops because a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles.

Alopecia areata is most common in individuals with an autoimmune condition or a family history of one.

Standard treatments for these conditions often include:

  • immunotherapy
  • antifungal medications and ointments
  • steroids

People who experience hereditary hair loss may find one of the following treatments effective:

Atopic dermatitis

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

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes dry, red patches with a covering of silvery scales to form. Psoriasis scales can also develop on the scalp, and often, they can be itchy.

Hair loss might occur if an individual scratches the psoriasis scabs on their scalp, and the scabs fall off.

People can develop a treatment plan with a doctor to manage their psoriasis.

Dandruff

Dandruff causes a dry, itchy scalp. A person can notice flaking skin throughout the day and after scratching.

Dandruff can cause hair loss, although this is very rare. Typically, dandruff only causes hair loss if a person goes for extended periods of time without treating it, and scratching the scalp a lot.

Treatment options include over-the-counter (OTC) anti-dandruff shampoos, ointments, and creams. A person can also apply natural oils, such as coconut oil, to the scalp before shampooing to help exfoliate the dead skin and flakes from the scalp.

There are several at-home or natural remedies to treat conditions that cause itchiness and hair loss.

Some methods to consider include:

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: Products suit a range of budgets.
  • Ingredients: Products clearly list all ingredients.
  • Skin concerns: Where appropriate, MNT selects products that target a specific scalp concern, such as dryness or oiliness.
  • Safety: Products contain ingredients that are safe for topical use.

Below is a selection of products a person may wish to use to relieve itchy scalp.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best zinc shampoo: DHS Zinc Shampoo

  • Price: list price of around $15
  • Size: 16 fluid ounces (fl oz)
  • Active ingredients: 2% zinc pyrithione

According to the company, this product is suitable for people with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

The shampoo contains 2% zinc pyrithione, an effective treatment for dandruff. Many OTC anti-dandruff shampoos use it as an active ingredient.

The company recommends using this product 3–4 times per week, or as a doctor directs.

Pros and cons

This product contains zinc pyrithione, which is an effective dandruff treatment. Also, the shampoo is free from para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and sulfates.

However, some reviewers state that they experienced hair loss while using this product. Others say the shampoo made their scalp drier than before.

Best anti-dandruff shampoo: Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: list price of around $26
  • Size: 7 fl oz
  • Active ingredients: ketoconazole

The company states this shampoo treats and prevents dandruff and has an anti-inflammatory effect on any redness and itching.

It also claims that the product’s targeted action treats the underlying cause of dandruff using its active ingredient, ketoconazole, which is a medication that treats fungal infections.

Nizoral recommends working the shampoo into a lather and leaving it on the scalp for 3–5 minutes before thoroughly rinsing.

It also suggests using this product 3–4 days for the first 2 weeks, then once every 1–2 weeks to prevent dandruff from returning.

Pros and cons

This shampoo is cruelty-free, which means the company has not tested it on animals. Additionally, ketoconazole, the active ingredient, is effective at treating fungal infections.

However, the shampoo is not suitable for people with broken or inflamed skin or for everyday use.

Best scalp ointment: Yes To Tea Tree Scalp Relief Soothing Scalp Treatment

  • Price: list price of around $8
  • Size: 3 fl oz
  • Active ingredients: tea tree oil

This scalp treatment contains tea tree oil, witch hazel, and apple cider vinegar, which the company states may help soothe itchy scalp.

The company recommends using this treatment 1–3 times per week. A person should apply it to their scalp and comb it through their hair, leaving it on the scalp for 5–10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.

Pros and cons

This product is cruelty-free and does not contain parabens or silicones. It is also one of the more affordable scalp treatments available online.

However, there is limited evidence that tea tree oil is effective at alleviating scalp itchiness.

The following table compares the three products in this article.

DHS Zinc ShampooNizoral Anti-Dandruff ShampooYes To Tea Tree Scalp Relief Soothing Scalp Treatment
List pricearound $15around $26around $8
Active ingredients2% zinc pyrithioneketoconazole• tea tree oil
• witch hazel
• apple cider vinegar
Featuresfree from PABA and sulfatescruelty-free• cruelty-free
• free from parabens and silicones
• affordable

When choosing products, a person may wish to consider the following:

  • Price: People should ensure that the product fits their budget.
  • Allergies: It is advisable to always check the ingredients list carefully to ensure a product does not contain any allergens. If a person experiences any irritation while using a product, they should discontinue use immediately.
  • Medication: Individuals should consult a doctor before using any hair loss treatment to check whether it could interact with any medication they are taking.

If a person wants to prevent or treat hair loss or other hair-related issues, they should seek guidance from a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist. They may recommend certain products or prescribe medication.

There are several possible ways to help prevent hair loss, such as:

  • avoiding excessive scratching
  • using only gentle shampoos
  • eating a balanced diet
  • avoiding directing high heat at the scalp
  • avoiding excessive chemicals in hair products, such as dyes, shampoos, conditioners, and mousses
  • keeping the hair clean and dry
  • massaging the scalp to help stimulate blood flow to hair follicles
  • following recommended treatment plans for existing health issues, such as psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions

A person should contact a healthcare professional if they experience any of the following:

  • sudden hair loss
  • development of bald patches
  • hair falling out in clumps
  • severe itching and burning of the scalp, especially if the person also experiences hair loss

Individuals should contact a healthcare professional prior to using any hair loss or scalp treatment.

Below, we answer some commonly asked questions about itchy scalp and hair loss.

Is there a vitamin deficiency that causes hair loss?

There may be a connection between low vitamin and mineral levels and hair loss.

A 2019 study found that low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of hair loss. However, the authors note that more research is necessary to determine the link between hair loss and low levels of iron, zinc, vitamin A, and biotin.

Can stress cause an itchy scalp?

Research suggests a connection between stress and itching. People who experience stress and anxiety may have itchy skin, which in turn may increase the levels of stress and anxiety.

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 managing underlying health conditions.