Many factors can cause paresthesia — a tingling, prickling, or pins-and-needles sensation — on the scalp, including anxiety, problems with the nerves, and skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

In most cases, tingling on the scalp is temporary. It occurs due to various causes, including skin irritation, head lice, and medication side effects. People may also feel itching, burning, or numbness.

However, this tingling is not always unpleasant. For example, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a pleasurable tingling sensation that begins in the scalp and moves down the back.

If paresthesia lasts for a long time or comes back regularly, it may result from an underlying nerve disorder or nerve damage.

This article explores the factors that can cause a tingling sensation on the scalp, including diagnosis steps and possible treatments.

A person with a tingling scalp lying on their back and receiving a massage on the bottom of the scalp.-2Share on Pinterest
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ASMR is a sensory experience in which an auditory or visual trigger stimulates a tingling sensation on the skin.

This tends to start in the scalp and move down the neck into the back, following the line of the spine and spreading into the arms, as well. Many people describe it as a pleasurable or relaxing experience.

Not everyone experiences ASMR. For those who do, watching online videos can stimulate the sensation and help with relaxation or sleep.

Contact with things that irritate the skin can cause tingling on the scalp. A trigger for this irritation may be chemicals in a product, such as:

  • laundry detergent or dyes
  • heat treatments for the hair
  • hair dye or bleach
  • highly fragranced shampoos or conditioners
  • other cosmetic products

Also, when too much shampoo or conditioner remains on the scalp, this can cause tingling and itching, so it is important to rinse the hair thoroughly.

Some people have more sensitive scalps than others. This sensitivity may relate to having fewer oil-producing glands on the scalp, making it drier. Or it may result from having more sensitive nerve endings.

When a doctor can find no other apparent cause of scalp tingling, sensitivity may be to blame.

A range of skin conditions can cause tightness, itching, and a tingling sensation on the scalp. The specific symptoms of these conditions may vary.

Some of these skin conditions include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This condition causes swollen patches of skin that may have white- or yellow-crusted scaling. It can also cause itching and scalp tingling. In infants, doctors call seborrheic dermatitis “cradle cap.”
  • Scalp eczema: Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema causes itchy, dry, thick patches of skin. It is more common in children than adults, and it often affects the nape of the neck.
  • Psoriasis: One form, called plaque psoriasis, causes inflamed patches of skin with raised scales to develop on the body, and scalp psoriasis is a common manifestation.

Certain medications can cause paresthesia as a side effect. People should speak with a doctor if they experience side effects from medication, particularly if the tingling is extremely bothersome.

A doctor may recommend that someone stops taking the medication or may switch them to a different type when possible.

Labetalol (Trandate), a beta-blocker that treats high blood pressure, can cause a mild, temporary tingling sensation on the scalp or skin. This usually occurs when a person starts taking the medication.

Some medications that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have this side effect. For instance, lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) caused paresthesia in 2% of participants who took it during a clinical study.

Ringworm is a fungal infection that can cause symptoms in areas with hair, such as the scalp. When it affects the scalp, it is called tinea capitis.

The infection can cause hair loss in addition to scalp tingling and pain.

Topical and prescription antifungal treatments are available, including antifungal shampoos.

Head lice are small insects that live in a person’s hair and feed on blood from their scalp. Their bites can be very itchy.

One of the early signs of head lice is a tingling sensation on the scalp or the feeling of something moving under the hair. A person may also notice itching and painful red areas of skin where the lice have fed.

People can sometimes see the lice or their eggs near the base of hair shafts. Lice have six legs and are black or whitish gray as adults, while the eggs may appear as small white or yellow dots.

Lice are most common among children. They can pass from person to person and are especially likely to spread in kindergartens, day care centers, and other schools.

Alopecia is a blanket term for conditions that cause hair loss. When hair follicles are damaged or irritated, it can cause itching or tingling, as well as areas of hair thinning.

When tingling, discomfort, or pain in the scalp results from hair loss, the symptom is called trichodynia. It can occur due to conditions such as telogen effluvium and alopecia areata.

A tingling sensation in the scalp can be due to issues with the nerves, and some people experience nerve-related symptoms due to anxiety or stress.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, panic attacks can cause paresthesia. This may relate to how blood flow changes in response to psychological stress and may also be linked with stress hormones.

Other symptoms of a panic attack include:

At the onset of a migraine episode, a person may have a sensory experience called an aura. The sensations may be visual, auditory, or tactile and can include tingling or prickling sensations on the skin.

Visual auras are the most common type, occurring in more than 90% of people who experience auras during migraine episodes. The next most common type is a paresthesia aura, which involves a pins-and-needles sensation.

This sensation travels outward from its origin and may only affect one side of the face or body. People may also experience numbness afterward.

Shingles is a medical condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

It occurs in people who have previously had chickenpox, which results from the same virus. After chickenpox subsides, the virus lies dormant in the body and can reactivate years later, causing shingles.

Shingles causes a blistering rash. This tends to develop on one side of the face or body — including the scalp — and often on a single strip of skin. A person may experience itchiness, pain, or tingling on the skin days before the rash develops.

Shingles also causes the following symptoms:

The nerves relay sensory information from the skin to the brain. When something interrupts this signal, people may experience unusual sensations on their skin.

A tingling sensation can arise when there is pressure on the nerves, such as when a person sits in a position that causes their legs to “fall asleep.” This is paresthesia, and it goes away when someone relieves pressure on the nerve.

A pinched nerve or nerve injury can cause paresthesia that lasts longer or returns frequently.

Medical conditions that affect the nerves can also cause tingling and numbness in various parts of the body.

One example is multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic nerve condition. In people with MS, paresthesia most often occurs in the arms, legs, or face.

Some people with diabetes also experience tingling and numbness. Diabetes can cause small blood vessel damage that leads to nerve damage.

The medical term for this nerve damage is diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and it usually affects the feet, arms, or legs, but it can arise in other parts of the body.

Fibromyalgia is an example of a chronic pain syndrome. It causes a person to have a heightened response to pain. Fibromyalgia also commonly involves paresthesia.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • headache
  • stiff muscles in the morning
  • poor sleep
  • fatigue
  • cognitive difficulties
  • widespread pain without an obvious trigger

To diagnose the cause of a tingling head, a doctor will typically first ask someone about their symptoms, such as when the symptoms appeared and what makes them worse or better.

They may also perform a physical exam to look for rashes, bites, burns, and other signs.

If the doctor suspects a skin condition is causing the tingling, they may take a small sample of skin from the scalp to examine under a microscope. This is called a skin biopsy.

They may also collect some hairs and examine these for signs of affected growth, lice, or other signs of damage.

If the doctor suspects a condition that affects the nerves, they may perform other tests and assessments, such as a nerve conduction test, which stimulates the nerves using electricity.

Treatments for scalp tingling depend on the underlying cause.

It may help to use products that do not contain fragrances or harsh chemicals. Switching to a soft-bristled brush and avoiding heat treatments can also help.

Avoid products that contain the following irritants:

  • alcohol
  • parabens
  • phthalates

People may also wish to avoid prolonged contact with products that contain high concentrations of sodium lauryl sulfate.

The labeling for many products refers to sodium laurel and sodium laureth sulfates as SLS.

A doctor can advise about the best treatment when paresthesia results from an underlying condition, such as those involving the nerves or skin, migraine episodes, or infection.

There are many causes of a tingling sensation on the scalp, including skin conditions, irritation, head lice, medication side effects, and nerve damage or irritation.

For most people, this is a temporary symptom, but if it lasts for an extended period or arises frequently, it can indicate an underlying medical condition.

People can speak with a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This may include medication or lifestyle changes, such as avoiding irritants.