The Truth About Your Itchy Scalp And Hair Loss | 5 Big Causes

Itchy scalp hair loss can be a real pain especially because it is not easy to find out the exact cause, however in this article I’ll show you natural ways to stop any further iriitation.

In most cases, it is just a symptom of other underlying medical conditions that interfere with the normal working condition of the scalp.

As such, the best response to itchy scalp hair loss can only be accomplished after prior understanding of the medical conditions that directly affect the scalp.

Here are the main ones:

Dandruff

This is a chronic inflammatory malady that manifests as itchy, reddish-brown patches on the scalp. Its scientific name is Pityriasis Capitis.

The buildup of white sebum on the scalp can be a sign of an unhealthy scalp and possible future hair thinning

The condition exhibits symptoms that are similar to those of a closely related disease known as seborrheic dermatitis. However, while seborrheic dermatitis may affect other parts of the body including the face and the neck, Dandruff exclusively attacks the scalp.

According to the National Institute of Health, dundruff has a worldwide prevalence rate of between 2% and 5%. It affects both sexes, though it’s more prevalent in men and usually sets in after puberty. In infants, the disease is known as cradle cap.

If you use a minoxidil product then this can also cause itching, dryness and dandruff. This is mostly from the alcohol content that most products use as a solvent – and it’s why I recommend alcohol free versions of minoxidil.

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Dandruff Causes

Strong scientific evidence suggests that the disease is caused by a species of yeast known as Malassezia, which normally lives in the skin. The disease responds to antifungal medications very strongly, a fact that supports the argument that yeast is a causal agent.

Physicians usually carry out a scalp biopsy, where a small part of the scalp skin is removed and examined under a high resolution microscope.

The following are the risk factors for Dandruff:

  • Infrequent hair cleaning
  • Weather extremes
  • Stress and fatigue
  • Skin disorders such as acne
  • Recovery from chronic conditions like heart attack and stroke
  • Age, especially young adulthood
  • Excessively oily scalp

In addition, individuals with head injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions are more prone to dandruff.

Dandruff Symptoms

  • Intense itching prompting scratching of the scalp and hence hair loss
  • Flaky white or yellowish scales in the hair and on the shoulders
  • Red patches on the scalp in extreme cases
  • Head may feel sore and tingly
  • Scaling rash on scalp

Why Is Dandruff is Bad for Your Hair?

Dandruff does not directly cause hair loss. It is the intense itching that makes people lose hair. If your scalp feels itchy, you quite naturally tend to scratch it. Constantly rubbing the hair causes the individual hairs to loosen and enventually fall out.

Dandruff Hair Loss Treatment

Dandruff treatment has been the subject of numerous studies aimed at finding the most efficient and reliable product, with most studies concentrating on antifungal products.

According to a study published in the International journal of Cosmetic Science, shampoos containing Zinc pyrithione perform significantly better than other products without it. Other numerous studies also seem to suggest that Zinc pyrithione is the go-to chemical.

A different study revealed that shampoos containing Zinc pyrithione have the ability to treat a dandruff scalp well enough to bring it towards the characteristics of a non-dandruff scalp. However, studies in this area remain inconclusive. Besides Zinc pyrithione, other anti-fungal treatments that are commonly used include:

Dermatologists advise people to stop using anti-fungal shampoos as soon as dandruff disappears. If one product does not work for you, try combining two anti-dandruff products.

Tips to Help You Get Rid of Dandruff for Good

Scalp Psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is a chronic scalp disorder that is associated with sharply demarcated lesions with silver colored scaling on the scalp. People with scalp psoriasis often complain of intense irritation that forces them to keep scratching their hair repetitively. This way, many people with the condition have suffered hair thinning from an uncomfortable scalp.

Scalp Psoriasis Vs Dandruff: How do You Distinguish Between the Two?

It might be difficult to tell the difference between Dandruff and scalp psoriasis, since both conditions are associated with an irritable scalp conditions. It’s important to learn how to tell one from the other, especially because the treatment for each can be quite different.

A woman holding up her hair with a scalp fungal infection

A man with scalp psoriasisA man with scalp psoriasis

Dandruff, as we saw earlier, causes the formation of white or yellowish flakes on the scalp and that’s where the condition is restricted. Scalp psoriasis, on the other hand is associated with silver colored scales that build on the scalp resulting into thick plaques.

In extreme cases, red patches appear on the forehead. It is important to note that psoriasis may appear on other areas of the body, not just the scalp.

What Causes Scalp Psoriasis?

Scalp psoriasis is triggered by a faulty immune response that authorises the white blood cells to generate new cells at a very fast rate. Normally, generation of new cells takes time and neither you, nor anyone else can ever tell when you’re losing dead skin.

With a malfunctoning immune system, new cells form in days rather than weeks. The cells pile up on the surface of the scalp resulting into thick flakes.

Risk Factors

Research has revealed a genetic linkage between certain families and scalp psoriasis, but the condition can also be triggered by other factors . These include:

  • Stress – According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, stress is a major trigger for people with scalp psoriasis and usually causes the condition to flare up for the first time and also worsens the diagnosis.
  • Scalp injury – anything that inflicts injury on the scalp can pave the way for scalp psoriasis
  • Beta blockers and lithium, used to treat high blood pressure and mental disorders respectively. Dermatologists advise people to switch medication to other drugs that are not known to increase the risk of scalp psoriasis.
  • Respiratory infections – colds and throat infections may activate the immune system and cause scalp psoriasis to flare.
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol

Psoriasis Symptoms

  • Silvery-white scales
  • Dry scalp
  • Red patches on the scalp and forehead
  • You may experience a burning sensation
  • Intense itching
  • Hair loss

Scalp Psoriasis Treatment

  1. Topical treatments

Topical treatments are applied to the scalp and are used to treat mild to moderate scalp psoriasis. The most prescribed topical medications are corticosteroids as they effectively reduce swelling and redness of lesions. Other topical medications may include:

  • Synthetic vitamin A
  • Anthralin
  • Synthetic vitamin D3

Treatments that contain coal tar and salicylic acid are very effective, besides gaining approval by Food and Drug regulatory bodies in most countries.

  1. Systemic Medications

Systemic medications are prescribed for individuals with moderate to severe scalp psoriasis. Most of them come in form of pills or liquids. They include:

  • Cyclosporine
  • Retinoids
  • Trexal
  • Hydroxyurea
  • Oral drugs

Oral drugs are some of the newest medications being used to treat scalp psoriasis. The main one is Otezla. The added advantage that comes with oral drugs is that they can be combined with topical treatments.

Home Remedies For Scalp Psoriasis

  • Wash the hair daily – it can help to remove the flakes. In doing this, avoid using water that is too hot
  • Apply moisturizer to your hair soon after bathing so as to keep it well oiled
  • Avoid too much exposure to direct sunlight so as to ensure the scalp doesn’t get too dry.
  • Yoga sessions can help you relieve anxiety and release stress, which are major risk factors.

Lichen Planopilaris

Lichen planopilaris is an inflammatory condition that results in progressive and permanent hair loss on the scalp. It destroys the hair follicle replacing it with scarring.

 

According to public data released by the British Association of Dermatologists, the condition is about five times more common in women than it is in men and mostly attacks caucasian adults.

Although the condition is rare, it is a common form of scalp itchiness.

Cause

Scientists contend that the exact course of Lichen planopilaris is unknown but research suggests it may be linked to the immune system.

The immune system attacks the hair beginning at the base of the hair follicle. The disease is not known to be contagious.

Is Lichen Planopilaris Inherited?

No. The condition is not inherited but research has revealed that there are genes that increase the risk of developing Lichen planopilaris. These genes inhibit the normal functioning of the immune system.

A study revealed a close association between the disease and the following genes: HLA DQB1*03 and HLA DRB1*11.

Risk Factors

  • Patients with liver diseases, such as cirrhosis
  • Middle aged females
  • Certain drugs , such as antimalarials
  • Gold injections used to treat arthritis
  • Thiazide diuretics
  • Phenothiazines
  • Hair transplants. There is overwhelming evidence that suggests an association between hair transplant surgery and the development of Lichen planopilaris

Symptoms

  • Intensely uncomfortable scalp, especially at night
  • Scalp tenderness
  • Burning sensation
  • Patches of hair loss
  • Redness and irritation
  • Tiny bumps on the scalp

How To Distinguish Lichen Planopilaris from Other Scalp Conditions

Lichen planopilaris leads to redness of the skin around the base of a hair. The hair follicles are blocked by scales that make tiny bumps on the scalp, giving it a rough texture.

The disease completely destroys hairs, leaving behind a smooth shiny scalp. In severe cases, facial and body hair may be affected.

The condition is closely related to the following :

  • Frontal fibrosing alopecia. This condition usually affects women in their late 40s. It is associated with recession of the frontal hairline, with scarring at the sides of the scalp. This may also be accompanied by loss of body hair and eyebrow hair
  • Graham little syndrome. The condition attacks the hair leaving behind round patches that are very similar to Lichen planopilaris itself. However, pubic and armpit hair is also lost.

To confirm the diagnosis, doctors may remove 2-3 small sections of the scalp skin under local anaesthetic. The scalp is then subjected to microscopic analysis.

Treatment Options for Lichen Planopilaris

It’s worth noting that the condition cannot be cured. Hair loss is ussually permanent and treatment aims to preserve and protect the remaining hair.

Treatment may also control symptoms. To date, there is no single proven effective treatment for this disorder.

Some patients do not respond to the various medications available while others prefer not to have any treatment at all. We advise you to discuss all the options with your dermatologist, family or friends before making a decision.

  • Topical corticosteroid treatments. Steroids are applied to the scalp and help reduce the itching. Ensure that only the right amount of steroid is applied, as excess amounts may cause thinning of the scalp
  • Calcineurin creams. These creams do not cause thinning of the scalp as seen with tropical steroids. The downside is that patients may experience stinging on initial use.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs. These include methotrexate, azathioprine, ciclosporin, and mycophenolate

Since 2009, pioglitazone, which is a diabetes drug, has also been used to treat lichen planopilaris effectively.

How to Cope With Permanent Hair Loss Caused by Lichen Planopilaris

  • Camouflage with hair coloring
  • Using wigs, hair pieces or hair fibres
  • Wearing caps, hats or some other head clothing

Tinea Capitis

Tinea capitis is a cutaneous fungal infection of the scalp and hair. The disease attacks the hair shaft and hair follicle leading to total and sometimes permanent obliteration of hair on the scalp.

A woman presenting with tinea capitis
Source.

It leaves behind round rings with a ‘black dot’ pattern. Tinea capitis is predominantly seen in pre-pubertal children, especially boys. Neverthless, the disease is also present across other age groups including senior adults.

Is Tinea Capitis caused by ringworms?

No. Although the description suggests the disease is caused by actual ringworms, this is just a scientific term used to describe the condition.

The term ‘ringworm’ was first used to describe skin diseases that assumed a ring form, back in the 16th century.

Tinea capitis is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes in the Trichophyton and Microsporum genera.

According to the World Health Organization, Trychophytons now account for more than 90% of cases in Europe and the Americas.

Is Tinea Capitis Contagious?

Yes. The condition can be spread through physical contact with infected individuals, especially contact with hair.

Risk Factors

  • Sharing of combs or clothing with infected individuals
  • Pets, particularly cats
  • Major or minor scalp injuries
  • Having a wet skin for a long time, such as from excessive sweating
  • Poor hair hygiene
  • Age, especially children between 5 and 10 years

Symptoms

  • Thickened boggy swellings
  • Round rings on the scalp
  • Severe itching of the scalp
  • Broken hairs that are shorter than the rest
  • Gray patches
  • Dandruff may appear
  • The rings may appear red and scaly

How is Tinea Capitis Diagnosed?

Tinea capitis can be difficult to distinguish from other scalp conditions, such as psoriasis and dandruff. The diagnosis is based on microscopic examination of the infected scalp.

When taking specimens, a blunt scalpel is used to scrap and harvest the affected hairs and broken hair stubs.

Alternatively, the scalp can be rubbed gently with a moistened gauze swab, harvesting affected hairs in the process. These are then subjected to microscopy.

Positive diagnosis shows the hairs as being invaded by spores or hyphae, allowing treatment to commence immediately.

Treatment of Tinea Capitis

Antifungal treatments are the most appropriate. These may include griseofulvin, terbinafine, and intraconazole. Most importantly, there are a number of steps that you can take at home to keep the condition at bay. These include:

  • Washing your hair or that of your loved one with medicated shampoos. This will help control the spread of the infection and works well alongside approved medications
  • Ensure pets are always clean,especially cats
  • Wash towels and clothes in warm soapy water each time they are used by an infected person
  • Combs and brushes should be soaked in a mixture of breach and water for at least one hour (A ratio of 1 unit of breach to 10 units of water is appropriate)
  • Avoid sharing of hats, towels, combs, and pillowcases.

Head Lice

Head lice are grey-brown insects that live only on human scalps. They range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a sesame seed. They cannot fly or jump around, nor can they burrow into the body.

Head lice

Despite these inabilities, head lice present a major scalp irritation. They feed on human blood, causing a lot of irritation and social disruption.

Who is at Risk?

Head lice can attack anyone. You might think that they are attracted by poor hygiene but actually, they are not! They can attack anyone with long or short hair, no matter how clean the hair might be.

They are usually very common among school-going children because kids tend to have close physical contact with each other. They also tend to share personal items, giving head lice the opportunity to spread with ease.

How Are Head Lice acquired?

Head lice can only be acquired from a fellow human. They are spread through head to head contact.Animals do not spread them. In fact, once detached from human hair, head lice will die within 24 hours.

In addition, they cannnot be inherited from family members, though several members of a family may be attacked at the same time.

What Are the Symptoms of Head Lice?

Female lice lay eggs and attach them to the base of hair shafts, near the surface of the scalp. The eggs are white or yellowish in colour, and hatch after a week.The empty egg cases left will gradually be lifted up and away from the scalp as the hair grows, and might become visible with time.

Other symptoms associated with head lice include:

  • Lice droppings, which appear as round black specks on pillows or clothing
  • Scratching due to the body’s reaction to lice saliva
  • A sticky weaping scalp
  • Enlarged glands in the neck

How to Treat a Head Lice Infestation

Treatment is only necessary when an active louse is present. Physicians use a special magnifying glass to look for moving lice and egges attached to hair shafts.

Itching and irritation should not prompt you to seek head lice treatment right away, as the cause could be the other scalp conditions that we have already discussed.

Once the decision to seek treatment has been made, there are usually two options:

  • Physical Removal of Lice and their eggs – The lice together with their eggs can be removed by regular daily combing. Combing should go on untill no lice have been found for two weeks. The trick is to ensure that all mature lice are eliminated, including any unhatched eggs.The process is made easier by using a wet comb or lubricating the hair with a conditioner.
  • Chemical treatment – Chemicals commonly used to kill rice include malathion, permethrin and phenothrin. Physicians usually recommend application of the treatment to all areas of the scalp, including the hairs. The products should be washed off within 12 hours of application.

What To do To Get Rid of Head Lice Completely

  • All affeced family members should be subjected to treatment at the same time
  • After treatment, you should conduct weekly checks, for up to a month, to ensure head lice do not re-emerge
  • Use chemicals only when it is necessary. Studies have proved that head lice become resistant to treatment in the long term.

Less Severe Causes of Itchy Scalp Related Hair Loss

  • Allergic reactions to some chemicals – These may inlude perms that may contain harsh chemicals that cause irritation and itching. Other possible hair products
  • Hormonal changes – They are common in women of child-bearing age and result from reproductive hormones interfering with general body metabolism, including the area around the scalp
  • Age – The older you get, the drier your skin becomes. This makes the scalp susceptible to cracks resulting to itching. The injured scalp can also be attacked by other skin infections causing hair loss and pain.
  • Folliculitis – An infection of the hair follicles that causes red pimplesthat are itchy and whivh may leak pus or blood. Hair loss is only caused by excessive sratching.
  • Certain medications – These are usually anti-depressants e.g. wellbutrin, which causes itching of the scalp in some individuals especially women.
  • Exposure to too much direct sunlight – Direct sunlight causes a rough, dry scalp which is susceptible to cracks and attacks by fungal infections.

Home Remedies For An Irritable Scalp

Good health for your hair and scalp actually starts at home. Having studied the major conditions that could affect your scalp, you might have realized that some symptoms appear across the board.

This suggests there are certain things that you can incorporate into your lifestyle that will go a long way in improving the overall health of your hair and scalp. Let’s look at a home remedy that can bring you amazing results.

Honey-Tea Tree Oil shampoo

Total time: 15 minutes

Serves: About 10 ounces

Ingredients:

  • 12 drops tea tree oil
  • 12 drops rosemary oil
  • 2 teaspoons castile soap
  • 2 tablespoons raw,melted honey
  • 5 ounces aloe vera gel
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 4 tabespoons purified water
  • Plastic dispensing bottle

Directions:

  • Begin by mixing the honey and the apple cider vinegar in a medium sized jar. Stir to obtain a fine mix
  • Add the grape seed oil and aloe vera. Blend well
  • Once you obtain a fine solution, transfer the contents into a mixing bowl
  • Now, add the castile soap and water. Blend again
  • Add the remaining oils one after the other as you stir continuously
  • Transfer the solution into the bottle, then place the cap on tightly and give the solution a good shake
  • Rub down gently into the scalp, covering all the areas and leaving it in for 15 minutes
  • Rinse well

Benefits

The tea tree oil comes with natural antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help treat a damaged scalp. Besides containing valuable nutrients, honey acts as a humectant, thus ensures your scalp is moist all day long.

The apple cider vinegar is associated with anti- inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that destroy any fungal elements on your scalp. The grape seed oil locks in moisture and prevents frizz.

Castile soap is gentle on the skin, making it good enough for use by adults as well as kids. Aloe vera contains proteolytic enzymes which repair dead cells on the scalp, as well as preventing itching.

Conclusion

An uncomfortable scalp is itself not a diagnosis; it’s a symptom. Most scalp conditions are associated with an painful scalp that leads to hair loss.

While each condition has a few distinctive symptoms, it’s still very difficult to know the exact condition that has attacked you at any point in time, without a diagnosis.

In addition, each condition has its own treatment and therefore, you should seek advice from a dermatologist before making a decision regarding your hair.

Most importantly, there’s so much that you can do at home that can guarantee you safety from most scalp maladies.

I advise you to embrace homemade remedies that have been proven to be as effective as commercial treatments.

Use of approved shampoos alongside the homemade ones will give you the right balance that will ensure your hair and scalp are healthy in the long term.

4 thoughts on “The Truth About Your Itchy Scalp And Hair Loss | 5 Big Causes”

  1. Personally as my hair loss has gotten worse my scalp has become more itchy. It’s hard to tell if there’s a cause effect relationship but IMHO if your scalp is irritated and inflamed it’s only going to make your hair loss worse.

  2. I need something to control and nourish my scalp & make my hair grow, it itches badly & I don’t know what to do.

    • Hi Clara, I recommend to stop using any kind of shampoo and just use apple cider vinegar twice per week. Also, you need to check your diet and remove anything that could irritate your skin. Go for natural, real foods where possible and avoid yeast, gluten and processed sugar where possible. You can also try a homemade soothing hair mask.

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