Causes of an itchy scalp: 6 common causes
Having an itchy scalp is not only uncomfortable it’s also a sign you have an underlying scalp condition. It could be dandruff, it could be ringworm or simply a build-up of styling products. Irritation is your body’s way of speaking.
When your scalp is itchy its biology has become unbalanced.
This article has been reviewed by
Pharmacist, Varde Pharmacy
Anne has a MSc in Pharmacy from the University of Southern Denmark and has worked as a pharmacist at the Varde pharmacy for several years. Here she advises both costumers and doctors about the correct use of medical products. Here you can see Anne’s profile »
Itchy scalp causes – What causes itchy scalp?
As there are many common causes of an itchy scalp, most people will suffer from itchy scalp at some point. Some itchy scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis (more about this soon) are most likely to affect oily scalps, whereas others such as contact dermatitis are most likely to affect sensitive and dry scalps.
There are also itchy scalp causes which are not picky about your scalp type for example head lice.
6 common causes of an itchy scalp
It is important to identify the cause of your itchy scalp because once you know this you can pick an effective and proven treatment. Understanding the cause of your itchy scalp comes from knowing your scalp type, recognising your secondary symptoms and identifying potential danger areas in your scalp care routine.
There are 6 very common causes of itchy scalp;
1) Dandruff also known as seborrheic dermatitis
Dandruff is a very common cause of an irritated, itchy and flaky scalp. It’s the most talked about itchy scalp condition with the most readily available treatment products. If dandruff is the cause of your itchy scalp, you will be spoilt with choices for how to reverse it.
Dandruff clinically known as seborrheic dermatitis is caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast. All scalp types are naturally home to Malassezia yeast, however when dandruff strikes, Malassezia yeast populations grow out of control.
Dandruff is known as seborrheic dermatitis – seborrheic describing oily skin and dermatitis referring to skin reaction. For this reason, dandruff is most common on oily scalps. If you have a dry flaky scalp, you may want to skip forward to itchy scalp causes 2, 5 and 6.
Oily scalp types are prone to dandruff because Malassezia yeast thrive in oil. In fact, dandruff can affect all areas of oily skin with hair follicles, you can get eyebrow dandruff and you can also get facial dandruff.
If you have dandruff, your itchy scalp will be home to large, creamy-yellow flakes and clumps of dead skin. Your scalp will be oily which is likely to be red and itchy.
Read more About: HOW TO GET RID OF DANDRUFF
2) Contact dermatitis also known as an allergic reaction
Do you have sensitive skin? Have you reacted to skincare products in the past? Do you have food intolerances or allergies? Do you have asthma? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, your itching scalp may be caused by contact dermatitis.
Some scalp types are naturally more sensitive than others. There are many known irritants, allergens and sensitisers found in shampoos, hair sprays and styling products. Many dry shampoos contain fragrance, a common source of allergens. Ever sneezed from a vase of strong smelling flowers? It’s similar.
Allergens, irritants and sensitisers are easily able to absorb into your skin. Usually skin is expert at keeping things out, so when it accidently lets troublesome ingredients slip through the skin’s immune function is set-off.
When skin senses an ingredient as dangerous, inflammation is triggered to isolate and kill it. Inflammation comes hand in hand with a red itchy scalp.
Even if you’ve made no change to your scalp care routine, you may still be suffering contact dermatitis. Sensitisers are ingredients which may not cause you an allergy when you first start using them, instead your skin gradually becomes sensitised to them.
A shampoo you have used for years could be the cause of your itching scalp.
3) Ringworm technically known as Tinea capitis
Don’t let the name scare you. Ringworm does not mean you have worms in your skin. Ringworm is called ringworm because of the patterns it makes on your skin, although likelihood is, you won’t be able to spot these on your red, itchy scalp by yourself.
Ringworm is similar to dandruff in that it’s caused by a fungus called Trichophyton rubrum. Ringworm is contagious. If you have been in close contact with someone who has ringworm there is a strong chance your itchy scalp is because you have contracted it from them.
Left untreated scalp ringworm can cause significant hair loss. The fungus responsible for ringworm isn’t just active on your scalp, it’s also active deep inside your hair follicles. If you suspect you have ringworm, you may need a prescribed oral medication in addition to some of our itching scalp treatment recommendations.
4) Head lice
Myth – Head lice only live in dirty hair… Myth – Head lice can jump.. Myth – Head lice prefer long hair… There is only one difference which decides your risk of getting head lice and it is this – how often do you rub heads with other people? If you are a child, this is likely often. If you are an adult with children, nieces or nephews, this may also be often. Head to head contact is how head lice spread.
If you have an itchy but not dry scalp with no flaking or dandruff like skin clumps, you may have head lice. These insects are extremely good at camouflage. An adult head louse is tiny at just 2 to 3mm long, the eggs nits laid by the female head louse are also coloured to blend into your hair.
Head lice like any other living creature need to eat. They get their nutrients by sipping your blood; they bite your scalp, drink your blood and inject their saliva. Itching scalps caused by a head lice infestation are actually itchy because your scalp is reacting to the saliva of a head louse.
5) Product build-up
Hair styling products are a key cause of product build-up, especially those containing silicones. In the beginning they make your hair smooth and shiny. With time, if not washed out, they make your hair dull, limp and lifeless.
Product build-up can make your scalp dry, itchy, red and irritated for many reasons.
Firstly, product build-up can trap and lock in allergens, irritants and sensitisers close to your scalp. Remember how we said lots of shampoos, conditioners and styling products contain allergens, irritants and sensitisers? The longer they are in contact with your scalp, the more likely it is they will be the cause of your itching.
Secondly, product build-up can interrupt your scalps natural shedding rate. You lose skin cells every day from your face, your arms and your scalp. If you have a layer of silicones sat on top of your scalp this natural shedding cycle is interrupted. You might have a flaky or dry scalp (hairsprays can be drying), and you might have a red itchy scalp.
If you regularly use styling products, especially styling products with silicones, your itching scalp is likely to be caused by product build-up.
6) Dry scalp
Dry skin is itchy regardless of where you have it. Dry skin on your arm is itchy, dry skin on your face is itchy and dry skin on your scalp is itchy. When your skin is hydrated, it is soothed and conditioned. It’s also able to keep irritants, allergens and sensitisers out. When your skin is dry, it is itchy and inflamed. It is also less able to defend against invading irritants, allergens and sensitisers.
A dry scalp left untreated can easily and quickly become very dry, very flaky and very red, itchy and irritated.
If you naturally have a dry skin type, it is likely a dry scalp is the cause of your itching.
Video: Treatment For An Itchy Scalp
Treatments for an itchy scalp (with tea tree oil)
Tea tree oil is a natural and effective treatment for itchy scalps. Made by Mother Nature it is a blend of active ingredients. The ingredient most effective in remedying itchy scalp is called terpinen-4-ol. Which is why, in the treatment of your itchy scalp, you’ll want to find a terpinen-4-ol high tea tree oil.
If your itchy scalp is caused by dandruff, tea tree oil will help control your scalp’s Malassezia yeast populations. Tea Tree oil can also help eradicate head lice if this is the cause of your itching. If your itchy scalp is caused by product build-up or dry scalp, tea tree oil can help soothe away your irritation.
Read More About: 5 Benefits of Tea Tree Oil for Skin
So, how do you treat your itchy scalp with tea tree oil? There are several ways;
1) Make a tea tree oil spray
Grab an empty spray bottle, fill it with 95 ml of water and add in 5 ml of 100% tea tree oil. Shake vigorously. If you want to test out the treatment to see how you get on, you can half these quantities.
If you have a sensitive, dry scalp, you may want to start off with a lower dose of tea tree oil, perhaps 98 ml of water with 2 ml of tea tree oil. Be sure to patch test your spray before using it on all areas of your scalp.
2) Blend tea tree oil with coconut oil
Coconut oil is also a natural anti-bacterial. Coconut oil and tea tree oil blend together extremely easily. Fractionated coconut oil, which is liquid, will not have the full potency of raw, un-fractionated coconut oil. To blend with tea tree oil, gently melt 45 grams in a saucepan and add in 1 to 2 mls of tea tree oil. As coconut oil melts quickly be careful not to over heat.
3) Add a small drop of tea tree oil to a scalp care product
Do you have a conditioning treatment you already use to treat your itchy scalp? If so, the simplest and quickest way to benefit from tea tree oil, is to take a portion and add in a drop of tea tree oil.
Note: Do not apply tea tree oil to your scalp without diluting it. Tea tree oil is very active in quantities below 5% and applying it at 100% concentration may cause your scalp to react, causing further problems.
Got dandruff? Our Shampoo with Australian Tea Tree Oil is the solution you need to reduce dandruff and effectively clean your hair and scalp. Refreshing and fortifying, this shampoo will help you achieve fuller, softer hair whilst keeping your scalp in good condition
Read More About: Benefits Of Using Tea Tree Oil For Your Hair
Video: Use Scalp cure from Australian Bodycare with Tea Tree Oil to treat itchy scalp
FAQ – Frequently asked questions
How to treat an itchy scalp?
In the treatment of your itchy scalp it’s very important to identify the cause. Dandruff, allergic reaction or dry scalp. For most itchy scalp causes, tea tree oil is a natural and gentle remedy because of its anti-bacterial, anti-septic activity.
What is the cause of dry scalp?
In the treatment of your itchy scalp it is very important to identify the cause. Often dry scalp is mistaken for dandruff; however dry scalp has a very different with dandruff normally affecting oily scalp types. Dry scalp is often caused by irritants, allergens and sensitisers in shampoos and can be caused by hairstyling product build up.
Can dandruff cause itchy scalp?
Dandruff is a common cause of itchy scalp. Dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast causing your scalp to become inflamed, this causes irritation and therefore itchy skin. It is best to avoid itching an irritated scalp as the itch-scratch cycle is self-propagating.
Can itchy scalp cause hair loss?
Some forms of itchy scalp can cause hair loss. Itchy scalps caused by ringworm infections are very likely to cause hair loss as the fungus which causes ringworm lives deep inside hair follicles. Other causes of itchy scalp which provoke excessive itching may also damage hair shafts and hair follicles leading to hair thinning and potential hair loss.