If you're scratching your head over what's causing your itchy scalp, it's worth noting that flaky and inflamed skin on this part of the body affects most women at some point.
The reason for your discomfort could be anything from dandruff to an allergic reaction but symptoms such as flaking, scaling, redness and bald patches shouldn't be ignored as they are red flags that your scalp has been thrown out of whack.
“A scalp condition needs consistent treatment and care to help to bring it under control, in the same way as a skin condition,” says Anabel Kingsley, brand president and trichologist at Philip Kingsley, adding: "You would prevent yourself from scratching and itching your skin on your face or body, and you should try to do the same with your scalp.”
As ever, identifying the root cause is the first step to less inflamed skin and being back on good terms with your hair. With the help of a panel of experts, we reveal the 13 reasons your scalp may be itchy – and, all importantly, how you can rectify it.
What causes an itchy scalp?
Cause: This is the most common cause of an itchy scalp. A yeast-like fungus called Malassezia is responsible for the snowy white flakes that drift down and settle on your shoulders.
Treatment: A golden rule is to avoid going to bed with wet hair as the moist environment between the pillow and your strands provides an ideal environment for fungi, bacteria, and a yeast called Malessezia to thrive.
Contrary to popular belief, dandruff is not caused by dry skin, so applying a trusty hair oil in a bid to add hydration will only make matters worse. “Dandruff is almost always oily," says Anabel. "Applying hair oils simply results in stickier, greasier flakes.” Instead, choose an over-the-counter product laced with antimicrobial agents, such as piroctone olamine. Zinc is another go-to ingredient. As well as unplugging pores, salicylic acid can also help to reduce the flaking and itching associated with dandruff.
2. Dry scalp
Cause: When the outermost layer of skin lacks moisture, it can leave you with a dry scalp – a condition that is more common during the winter months, when you are exposed to cold weather outside and central heating indoors.
If you find the itching gets worse at night, it's most probably the result of transepidermal water loss, a phenomenon where water evaporates from the skin, leaving it feeling drier. Your levels of anti-inflammatory hormones (corticosteroids) also naturally drop overnight, which may exacerbate itchiness.
Treatment: Dial down the temperature of your shower as well as your heated styling tools, such as your blow dryer and tongs, as volcanic temperatures of any kind can dry out the scalp. “Make sure you use hair products, particularly conditioners and hair masks with the word ‘hydrating’ in the product description,” says Wil. Ingredients such as aloe vera and hyaluronic acid, as well as natural oils including coconut oil and argan oil will help to replenish lost hydration.
3. Psoriasis or eczema
Cause: Psoriasis or eczema, which are inflammatory skin conditions that can appear on the scalp. “They're not contagious and can't spread from person to person," says Wil Fleeson, owner of Rainbow Room International's Stirling and Buchanan Street Salons and director of Trichology Scotland. "However, you can be more likely to develop psoriasis or eczema if someone in your family has it. Both conditions cause red, scaly and itchy patches on the scalp, but, like dandruff, these conditions can be treated to reduce the symptoms,” he continues.
Treatment: If you think your itchy scalp may be the result of psoriasis or eczema, your first step should be a consultation with a trichologist or dermatologist in order to establish the root cause and create the correct treatment plan based on the severity of your condition.
4. Allergic reaction
Cause: Fragrance is often an allergen, but your diet can also be a factor. “Similar foods that affect the skin on your face also impact your scalp,” Anabel says, noting that the main culprits are dairy products and very sugary and spicy foods. “Other scalp aggravators are white wine, champagne and red peppers,” she adds.
Treatment: Opt for fragrance-free hair care. Any of these soothing ingredients might help such as camellia, algae and lavender extracts to ease irritation. Likewise, products infused with hydrating and balancing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and celery seed extract work great as well.
6. Hard water
Cause: The build up of minerals such as calcium and magnesium found in hard water, produces a film on the scalp that blocks the follicles. This makes it difficult for moisture to get through and can lead to itchiness and inflammation.
Treatment: Try a good Scalp Detox – a pre-cleanse oil, which breaks down build-up, delivers nourishment directly to the hair follicle and stimulates blood flow for hair growth.
7. Atopic dermatitis
Cause: Skin that shows up as red and itchy could be atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that is usually genetic and also typically affects the elbows and backs of the knees.
Treatment: First seek a diagnosis from a trichologist or dermatologist. It's also worth avoiding fragranced hair products, which could exacerbate the symptoms and invest in a super hydrating conditioner or hair mask for added relief.
8. Product build-up
Cause: Product buildup can make your scalp really dry, itchy and irritated. Many hair styling products, shampoos and conditioners contain allergens and irritants and the longer these are left on the scalp, the more likely they are to cause flare-ups.
“Product build-up can also interrupt your natural shedding rate,” warns Wil. “Naturally, we should lose between 50-100 hairs a day, but product buildup can interrupt this natural shedding process and cause hair to become dry, flaky and itchy."
Treatment: Wil recommends streamlining the number of styling products you use on your hair, particularly those that contain silicones. Also beneficial is adding a clarifying or detox shampoo into your weekly hair routine to melt away product buildup.
The orIginal article can be found on GLAMOUR UK.