A variety of health issues can cause bumps to form on the scalp, including folliculitis, acne, head lice, and eczema.
Many causes of bumps in this area are harmless, but receiving a prompt diagnosis and treatment can address any concerns and resolve the issue quickly.
In this article, learn about the health conditions that can lead to bumps on the scalp and when to contact a doctor.
Acne that forms on the scalp can be similar to acne in other areas. A person may have raised bumps, whiteheads, or blackheads, which may be itchy, sore, or tender.
Scalp acne occurs when pores or hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells or oil. If a person has oily hair or adds certain products to their hair, they might be more susceptible to scalp acne.
Factors that may contribute to scalp acne include:
- a buildup of hair products
- washing the hair infrequently or ineffectively
- sweating in a hat, hood, or beanie
- regular delays between working out and washing the hair
If scalp acne develops consistently, wash the hair more thoroughly, and try hypoallergenic hair products.
If the issue persists or gets worse, contact a dermatologist for specific guidance.
Folliculitis is a common infection that develops in hair follicles. It can look similar to acne and causes raised, round, inflamed, and itchy bumps.
The infection develops when bacteria enter damaged follicles, and the underlying cause may involve:
- shaving, plucking, or waxing,
- spending time in an improperly maintained hot tub
- wearing tight clothing or headwear
- taking certain medications
- gaining weight
To relieve any pain and help the skin heal, apply a warm compress to the area three or four times a day, for 20 minutes at a time.
If the issue worsens, or the cause is unclear, contact a dermatologist.
Itchiness is the most common symptom of head lice, but bumps on the scalp can also indicate their presence.
Have someone closely examine the area for white eggs or moving lice.
Treatment for head lice typically involves using medicated shampoo and combing the area to kill and remove the bugs and their eggs.
There are many types of eczema, and two that can affect the scalp include:
This type of eczema can develop anywhere on the body, including the scalp.
It causes the skin to become inflamed. On a person with darker skin, the affected areas may become darker, grayish, or purplish. On a person with lighter skin, the areas may redden.
In children, it typically affects the hands, backs of the knees, insides of the elbows, scalp, and face.
Adults with this chronic form of eczema on the scalp may notice color changes such as redness, as well as swelling and greasy scaling.
Beyond the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis can affect the:
- nose, and sometimes just the sides
- upper back
For eczema on the scalp, try medicated shampoos, creams, or ointments.
Scalp psoriasis is a common issue that causes inflamed, sometimes thickened patches of skin covered with silvery-white scales.
A combination of care strategies, medicated shampoos, and topical ointments can help.
Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with an allergen or irritant.
When this issue develops on the scalp, hair products containing fragrances or specific chemicals may be responsible.
When the scalp reacts to an irritant or allergen, such as a chemical, it can cause itchiness, a burning sensation, and sometimes blistering.
The reaction can occur within minutes of contact with the irritant.
It is important to avoid further contact with products that may be responsible. Also, a doctor may prescribe topical steroids.
These fluid-filled cysts
The cysts are typically large and smooth, and they may be tender. Sometimes, more than one occurs in one area.
Pilar cysts typically go away on their own. To reduce the swelling and any tenderness, try applying a warm, clean washcloth to the area.
If a cyst becomes infected, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Also, a doctor may recommend the surgical removal of a cyst.
Hives are a rash consisting of itchy, raised bumps. The rash forms as part of an allergic response, and it can affect any part of the body, including the scalp.
Hives usually go away on their own within a few days. However, a doctor can prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids.
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin, and it can form on the scalp. Healthcare professionals may refer to this as tinea capitis.
- itchy skin
- a ring-shaped rash
- inflamed, scaly, cracked skin
- hair loss
Tinea capitis is
Creams, powders, and lotions
Melanomas can appear on the scalp, as can:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: These lumps can be flesh-colored with varying degrees of scaling, crusting, ulceration, and thickening of the skin.
- Basal cell carcinoma: This type of cancer can cause a smooth, pearly bump to form.
- Merkel cell carcinoma: This rare form of skin cancer can appear as a raised, red or violet patch of skin that is fast-growing, painless, and firm.
Unlike the other bumps or blemishes described above, lumps caused by skin cancer continue to change shape and size.
If any bumps on the scalp may indicate cancer, contact a dermatologist immediately.
After making a diagnosis, the doctor will describe the treatments, including surgical and nonsurgical options.
A person can treat most of the health issues that cause bumps on the scalp at home, with care strategies, such as using warm compresses or switching shampoos, and over-the-counter medications.
However, contact a healthcare provider about any unusual growths or symptoms of ringworm or atopic dermatitis.
Also, if any scalp issue persists or worsens, consult a dermatologist.
Bumps on the scalp can result from a variety of health issues, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, pilar cysts, hives, or ringworm.
Some causes of bumps, such as skin cancer, require urgent medical attention. But often, a person can address the issue at home.
If any lump, bump, or blemish on the scalp is concerning, or if home care is ineffective, contact a dermatologist or another healthcare professional.