The scalp protects the head, and the hair helps conserve warmth. However, all the hair follicles on the scalp make it vulnerable to infections and other problems that cause pain.

Some people may experience pain in the area when the hair moves. In other cases, the pain may also persist at other times.

There are many possible treatment options for a painful scalp, and they tend to depend on the cause. Home remedies are sometimes enough to treat the problem. In other cases, however, a trip to the doctor may be necessary.

This article will discuss the causes and treatments associated with a painful scalp that occurs when the hair moves.

A woman with painful scalp when the hair moves touches her head.Share on Pinterest
A hairstyle or an underlying medical condition may cause pain in the scalp.

A painful scalp is common. In fact, one 2012 article estimated that 44% of people in France experience scalp sensitivity.

Causes of a painful scalp when the hair moves range from hairstyling choices to underlying health conditions. Even rearranging the hair can cause some pain in the scalp.

Some conditions that may lead to scalp pain include:

Traction alopecia

Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that occurs due to wearing the hair pulled tightly back. For example, people who wear braids, ponytails, cornrows, or weaves are at risk of traction alopecia.

The condition is particularly common in African American women and people who wear tight hairstyles for work or leisure activities, such as ballet dancers.

Traction alopecia causes tenderness and stinging of the scalp.

Scalp psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes new skin cells to grow before the body can shed the old ones. The new cells build up on the skin, causing patches.

These patches can occur anywhere on the body. They develop on the scalp in around 50% of people with psoriasis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Scalp psoriasis causes discolored patches, scales, or flaking on the scalp. The patches are very itchy and can become sore. Scratching the patches can worsen them, cause bleeding, or lead to hair loss.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema that tends to develop in areas of oily skin. The scalp is oily due to the hair follicles, which makes it vulnerable to seborrheic dermatitis.

This condition is common in adults aged 30–60.


Folliculitis is usually the result of bacteria, yeast, or dust mites. When a person has folliculitis, their hair follicles become inflamed.

This causes small, itchy, and discolored bumps to develop over the skin. These bumps can become crusty and painful.


Allodynia is a condition that causes abnormal pain reactions, such as a sense of discomfort when the hair moves.

Some health conditions can cause allodynia, including fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia, and diabetic neuropathy.

Other causes

Some other possible causes of scalp pain when the hair moves include:

  • a reaction to shampoos, hair conditioners, or other hair products
  • heat
  • styling tools, such as hairbrushes
  • stress

In general, the symptoms of scalp problems include:

  • itching
  • pain
  • burning
  • prickling
  • soreness
  • tingling

Some conditions that cause a painful scalp also cause other symptoms, such as:

  • patchy hair loss
  • discolored patches
  • flaking
  • greasy, white or yellow scales on the scalp
  • small, itchy bumps

The key to reducing scalp discomfort is identifying what is causing it. This is sometimes a process of trial and error.

When certain hairstyles are causing scalp discomfort, the first step should involve changing the hairstyle. For example, this could be by freeing the hair from tight, pulling hairstyles, such as tight buns or braids.

If a person has scalp psoriasis, they may wish to try the following treatment options:

  • applying topical lotions
  • trying medicated shampoos
  • using scale softeners
  • taking biologics

For seborrheic dermatitis, treatment can include:

  • trying over-the-counter (OTC) dandruff shampoo
  • using a prescription antifungal cream or shampoo
  • gently cleansing the area with a 2% zinc product
  • moisturizing the scalp

Possible treatments for scalp folliculitis include:

  • frequently washing with a regular or antifungal shampoo
  • applying topical antibiotics or steroids
  • taking antihistamines
  • taking acne medications

Making lifestyle changes can also help. For example, eating a balanced diet, regularly exercising, and getting enough sleep are all good options.

For many people, changing hair products or practices can help reduce scalp discomfort. Trying OTC products can also be useful for scalp pain when the hair moves.

If there is no improvement after a few weeks of these treatments, it may be worth seeing a doctor.

Hair loss could indicate an underlying condition, such as traction alopecia or scalp psoriasis. A person may wish to see a doctor to identify the cause and find appropriate treatment.

There are many possible causes of a painful scalp when the hair moves. Finding the most effective treatment depends on what is causing the discomfort.

Several conditions, such as psoriasis, can cause a painful scalp. These conditions usually require medical treatment. In other cases, it may be certain hairstyles causing the discomfort. These are modifiable at home.

People with a sensitive scalp should carefully monitor their condition and hair care practices. If home remedies do not help, a doctor can identify the cause and suggest some possible treatment options.