Itchy Scalp Hair Loss

Why It's Happening and How You Can Stop It

Itchy scalp hair loss can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and frustrating, because it's not always easy to determine the cause.

But the good news is that this type of hair loss is usually temporary - so, in general, once you've identified and treated the 'root' of the problem, your hair should begin to grow normally again.

Please note: The information given here does NOT constitute medical advice. You should always consult your doctor if you are experiencing scalp problems or hair loss issues.

Are You Tying Or Braiding Your Hair Too Tightly?

Or do you have a weave that may be tugging at the roots of your hair?

If so, then traction alopecia may be the cause of your itching AND your hair loss. The itching is the result of the irritation to the scalp from the constant pulling on the hairs. The hair loss itself can be caused by either the excessive scratching or by damage to the hairs and even the follicles from the constant tension.

If you think this problem may be affecting YOU, then please see our Traction Alopecia page for lots more information and tips for repairing your hair.


advertisement

Itchy Scalp Hair Loss Causes:
Dandruff/Seborrheic Dermatitis/Eczema

The terminology is often used interchangeably by doctors, but these conditions all tend to cause scalp irritation, often resulting in visible flakes in the hair.

Seborrheic dermatitis (generally called dandruff when it appears on the scalp) can occur on any part of the body that produces a lot of oil (sebum). The skin can get very red and appear greasy, producing scales that may be white or yellow.

Dandruff doesn't actually CAUSE hair loss, but if your dandruff is accompanied by itching and you find yourself scratching often, then the scratching could  be causing some hair to fall out.

Doctors are not 100% sure exactly what causes dandruff.

Dandruff can cause an itchy scalp, possibly resulting in hair loss

Some sources suggest that a yeast that lives on the skin - malassezia (also known as Pityrosporum) - may be connected to dandruff. Even if this yeast is not responsible for causing the problem, it can make the condition worse, because it tends to feed on the excess oils secreted by the scalp and build up where the areas are very scaly.

Dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) cannot be 'cured' as such, but it CAN be treated effectively at home and doesn't usually need a doctor's care.

What will work for you depends on exactly what's causing your dandruff issues, but the following is a list of medications and products that you may find helpful.

When using the remedies suggested - particularly the shampoos - make sure they get right to your scalp and that you leave them on for a good 5 minutes before rinsing, giving them time to (hopefully!) work their magic.

And remember - itchy scalp hair loss can usually be remedied very quickly by treating the cause of the irritation. This type of hair loss is rarely permanent!

Popular Remedies for Dandruff

Shampoos

Tips for using anti-dandruff shampoos...

1. For mild dandruff, use anti-dandruff shampoo once a week. Use regular shampoo the rest of the time.

2. For severe dandruff, completely replace your regular shampoo with an anti-dandruff shampoo.

3. Once your dandruff is gone, STOP using the anti-dandruff shampoo and return to your regular brand.

4. If your anti-dandruff shampoo stops working for you, try a different brand.

5. If your dandruff is particularly severe, try using two different anti-dandruff shampoos in combination.

Tar based shampoo - like T-Gel or DHS Tar Shampoo.

Coal tar - a by-product of the coal manufacturing process - slows down the rate at which the scalp's skin cells die and begin to flake off.

Selenium sulfide based shampoo - like Selsun Blue

Not only does this slow down the rate at which skin cells die, it also cuts back on the amount of malassezia present on the scalp (that's the scalp yeast we mentioned earlier).

Avoid selenium sulfide, though, if your hair is blonde, gray or colored, because it can cause discoloration.

Salicylic acid based shampoo - like Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo

Use with care - this is more of a 'scalp scrub', designed to remove scaling from the scalp. But it can be rather harsh and some people find it leaves the scalp feeling very dry, which - in turn - can cause more flaking.

Ketoconazole based shampoo - like Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Ketoconazole contains anti-fungal ingredients. If you've tried other shampoos and they're just not working for you, Nizoral may just do the trick.

Zinc pyrthione based shampoo - like Selsun Blue and Head & Shoulders

These shampoos attack your dandruff issues on all fronts, because they contain both anti-bacterial AND anti-fungal agents.

Creams/Lotions

Cortisone-based creams and lotions can be effective in the fight against dandruff, and you can buy them in lower concentrations over-the-counter.

Ask your pharmacist for a 0.5% or 1% scalp cortisone cream, which you should apply every day, ideally to damp hair after showering. Cortisone creams can be particularly effective if you use them in conjunction with your medicated anti-dandruff shampoo.

Also available over-the-counter are anti-fungal creams like 1% clotrimazole and 2% miconazole. Usually applied once or twice daily, these creams can help reduce the number of yeast organisms living on the scalp.

If you DO use a cream or lotion, STOP using it when the dandruff goes away and don't use it again until the dandruff returns.

Sometimes Anti-Dandruff Shampoos, Creams and Lotions Just Don't Seem to do the Trick. What Then?

Well, it's time to visit the doctor, who will probably prescribe you a much stronger shampoo or lotion.

But it's also worth looking through the rest of the remedies listed here in case there's another that may work for you!

Home Remedies for Dandruff

Try shampooing your hair a little more often...

But only if you wash your hair less than once every 4 days or so.

Skin cells and oils can build up in unwashed hair, making dandruff worse.

On the other hand, washing TOO often can cause dryness, which can also cause flaking.

You need to find what works for YOU! But if you DO wash your hair fairly infrequently, it's worth seeing if washing it more often will help.

Find your NATURAL style!

And try as much as possible to avoid products like mousses, hairspray, waxes etc. These products really do 'build up' on the hair and scalp, producing more flakes and irritation.

...And go organic!

Many women have found that switching to products that are as pure, natural and organic as possible really does seem to help improve the condition of the scalp.

And it makes sense that they should - our bodies, including our hair, are not designed to NEED artificial chemicals, so keeping things as natural as possible can really benefit the health of your hair AND scalp.

Tea tree oil can help get rid of dandruff

Tea Tree 100% Pure Essential Oil is a popular choice as a dandruff remedy.

Revered for centuries for its anti-fungal, antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties, it can work very well in restoring hair health and now appears in many shampoos. 

It's certainly worth giving a try - you can just mix a few drops into a handful of your regular shampoo. But don't overdo it at first, as it has been known to cause reactions in some individuals.

Some women also find aloe to be effective, but we recommend looking for the purest aloe products possible - so many aloe shampoos and hair treatments contain a slew of other less -than-natural ingredients.

Aubrey Organics - 100% Pure Aloe Vera is one of our favorites, containing just a few, natural ingredients.

Apple cider vinegar is getting a reputation as something of a "cure all " - but perhaps that's because it really is effective for so many issues affecting the body, both internally and externally. 

In our family we use Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, which has a cloudy appearance from the health promoting 'mother' it contains.

Look out for shampoos containing menthol - they can have a very soothing effect on the scalp! Or check out emu oil - it's a wonderful anti-inflammatory and can help maintain a healthy scalp.

Apple cider vinegar can be applied directly to the scalp and we find it works wonders on scaly areas if applied at least once a day. We also recommend making up an apple cider vinegar rinse - just mix 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar with a quart of water

Keep a supply in your shower and you can apply it to your hair AFTER shampooing/conditioning... there's no need to rinse it out.

Although it's a bit smelly when you're using it, we don't find that the smell lingers in the hair.

Listerine - a cure for dandruff and an itchy scalp

Listerine® - A Cure for Dandruff and an Itchy Scalp?


Eat your way to healthier hair

Dandruff can also be avoided by paying close attention to your diet. Make sure you eat foods containing plenty of:

  • Zinc (seafood, meats, wheat germ, spinach... even dark chocolate!)
  • B vitamins (eggs, liver, seafood, meat)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, flax seeds, sardines, walnuts, mackerel)
  • Omega 6 fatty acids (eggs, cereal, poultry, avocado, many vegetable oils)*

Source: Mayo Clinic

Dr Weil recommends a 500 mg supplement of blackcurrant oil or evening primrose oil in capsules or soft gels, taken twice a day. You can expect to see results in 6 to 8 weeks.

But please be sure to speak to your doctor before taking ANY kind of supplement!

Learn more about the best foods for a healthy scalp and hair

Time to forego that cup of joe?

Some people find that itchy scalp hair loss and dandruff is reduced when they cut back on their caffeine intake. 

Whilst we haven't found any medical research to either support or refute this claim, it's simple enough to try for yourself and see if it makes a difference for you!

If you've been diagnosed with eczema, try cutting out dairy

The medical establishment still tends to deny a link between food and the symptoms of eczema, but if YOU'RE a sufferer, then you'll probably agree that certain foods just seem to make the problem worse.

In addition to dairy, it's worth trying to cut back on soy and processed grains - both common causes of flare-ups!



Is It Really Dandruff... Or Just a Dry Scalp?

Sometimes the term 'dandruff' may be used to describe a dry scalp that's causing flakes in the hair. But the moisturization that would help in the case of a dry scalp would make the dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis/eczema even worse.

Source: Mayo Clinic

A dry scalp is often caused by rooms being overheated in the winter, or by air conditioning in warmer climates.

It's usually easy to tell 'dry skin dandruff' from dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis/eczema, because the flakes tend to be smaller and drier looking. Also, it's very likely there will be other dry areas on the body.

Maintaining a healthier room temperature and moisturizing the scalp are the best ways to deal with dryness. 

We find pure, organic coconut oil to be very effective for this purpose. Olive oil is excellent too, but - for us - its lovely smell gives coconut oil the edge!

In addition, a humidifier can work WONDERS in relieving a dry, itchy scalp, whilst simultaneously softening the hair.

Other Causes of Itchy Scalp Hair Loss

Psoriasis

Although it often gets mistaken for dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis/eczema), psoriasis is a condition that's usually found on the body but CAN occur on the scalp, causing dead skin cells to accumulate and form silvery, thick scales. In fact, the flakes caused by psoriasis tend to be a lot thicker and drier than those caused by eczema.

An itchy scalp can be caused by psoriasis

With psoriasis, loosening - then removing - the scales is a very important part of keeping the condition under control.

But some people tend to do this rather too vigorously, and it's the severe picking and pulling that tends to lead to the hair loss that psoriasis causes, rather than the condition itself.

Source: PsoriasisNet

To treat psoriasis and help prevent hair loss...

1. Remove scales ever-so-gently with a brush and comb. Don't pull on the hair.

2. Try an over-the-counter topical medication - topical means that it's applied to the skin. Make sure it reaches the scalp and doesn't just sit in the hair!

3. Try a coal tar based shampoo like Neutrogena T-Gel, which can be quite effective against psoriasis. Be sure to rub it well into the scalp.

4. Avoid using heat to dry your hair - let it dry naturally. Using a blow-dryer just dries the scalp even more.

If your psoriasis persists, visit your doctor who may prescribe stronger medications or even recommend laser therapy.



Folliculitis

Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles. It causes little red pimples that may feel irritated and itchy and which may leak blood or pus if they're scratched open.

Folliculitis only tends to cause hair loss if you scratch excessively, or if the infection has become very severe, in which case it can either scar the hair follicle, or even destroy it completely.

Folliculitis can be caused by bacteria, yeast or another kind of fungus. It can also occur when the hair follicles become blocked or irritated by sweat.

You can pick up folliculitis by using a public pool or hot tub that hasn't been properly chlorinated, or by sharing a towel or wash-cloth with someone who's infected.

It usually clears up by itself within a couple of weeks, although you can help it heal more quickly by trying our tips (below). If it just won't go away - or seems to get worse - then visit your doctor, who may feel you need an anti-fungal, antibiotic cream, or pills.

Sources:
WebMD
Mayo Clinic

To Heal Folliculitis More Quickly...

  • Don't scratch! The bacteria can get under your fingernails, meaning you'll spread the infection.

With any itchy scalp/hair loss conditions, keep your nails trimmed short! This will prevent damage to your scalp, especially if you scratch a lot in your sleep. 

  • Make yourself a warm compress with Burow's solution or white vinegar and hold it against the affected areas.

You can buy a modified form of Burow's Solution online from Amazon, where it's known as Domeboro Astringent Solution.

  • Don't put any oil in the hair and try to avoid styling products until the infection has healed.
  • Ask your pharmacist for an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itch.
  • Try using an oatmeal lotion, which some women find very soothing.
  • Try a medicated shampoo like Follicleanse Shampoo, or one containing tea tree oil.
Follicleanse Shampoo (from Amazon - US)


My experience with folliculitis...

The following are messages from a visitor to this website. Thank you, Anna, for sharing your experiences.

"I had folliculitis on and off for some time now, perhaps years.  Since my doctor refused to give me a prescription for antibiotics and instead offered a cream to relieve the itchiness, I refused and left. 

Consulting doctor Google for a natural therapy, I came upon a cure.  ORGANIC UNFILTERED APPLE CIDER VINEGAR.  With cotton wool, I dabbed some all over my head.  The itchiness stopped immediately. Next day, not one itchy pimple, no sign of infection.

Of course I took precautions so as not to re-infect and changed my pillow cases and cleaned my combs and brushes with soap and water each time I use them.

This is so effective and INSTANT.  I could not believe it.

Please pass this information on to your readers."

A tip for dealing with the smell...

"Although very effective, the smell of the vinegar was very off putting as it lingers on. So, my solution has been to use instead a squeeze of half a lemon juice at the end of my rinse. I leave this for 5 to 10 minutes, pat dry and then dry or style the hair. This is great because the lemon juice also makes the hair feel thick and full."


Contact Dermatitis

This is a sensitivity to something that causes irritation on the skin. On the scalp, this usually means that the scalp becomes red, itchy or flaky because it's sensitive to the ingredients in your hair products.

Contact dermatitis will only cause hair loss if you're scratching excessively and is easily remedied by avoiding the product you're sensitive to. You can usually identify this by simple trial and error - and, in future, you might find it better to stick to more natural, gentle products if you find you have a sensitive scalp.

Scalp Ringworm

Also known as tinea capitis, this skin condition can cause hair loss, although it's usually only temporary.

Please see our Tinea Capitis page for lots of tips for dealing with and treating this condition.

Alopecia Areata

Although it's rare, people do occasionally report an itching sensation at the onset of alopecia areata.

Alopecia areata causes circular bald spots, which can progress to all-over baldness. Although the hair grows back in most cases, just under a third of sufferers have continued problems (source: Americanhairloss.org)

If you're experiencing this type of patchy hair loss, it's important to seek a diagnosis from your doctor.

Hypothyroidism

Itchy scalp hair loss is sometimes a symptom of hypothyroidism - a condition where the thyroid gland doesn't produce as much of the thyroid hormone (thyroxine) as the body needs to function effectively.

For more details, please see our in-depth article about hypothyroidism and hair loss.

Lupus

Lupus is an inflammatory disease where the body's immune system attacks its own organs and tissues.

An itchy scalp is a common symptom of lupus, which also causes

  • joint pain
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • skin lesions
  • butterfly-shaped rash on the face

If your itchy scalp issues are accompanied by any of these other symptoms, then you should discuss your concerns with your doctor.

Learn more about lupus and how it causes hair loss


Source: Mayo Clinic

Certain Medications

Unfortunately, certain medications seem to trigger hair loss in some individuals, accompanied by itching of the scalp. Once such medication is the anti-depressant Wellbutrin, which some women seem to find causes burning/itching and general thinning of the hair.

Read more about the connection between Wellbutrin and hair loss, or learn more about other medications that may cause hair loss.


Onion juice for hair loss and scalp health

None of These Itchy Scalp Hair Loss Causes Seem to Apply to You?

Then one more thing to consider is the water with which your hair and scalp come into contact.

If you swim often, perhaps the chlorinated pool water is affecting your scalp and hair. If so, try securing your hair in a braid or bun (to reduce the surface area exposed to the water) and wear a swim cap.

Also, think about whether or not you live in a hard water area.

Hard water can leave mineral deposits on the hair and scalp, potentially causing itching and flakiness.

If you think your water's to blame, try...

  • Using a water filter that fits over your tap/faucet.*
  • Use the apple cider vinegar rinse we described here. It's good for removing unwanted deposits from the hair.
  • Wash your hair in distilled/bottled water.

*We like the Culligan Faucet Filter and the Instapure Teledyne Faucet Water Filter

We hope this page has helped you identify the cause of your itchy scalp hair loss. If you have any questions or comments - or would like to share your own home remedies for itchy scalp issues - please do contact us. We'd love to hear from you!

How to prevent hair damage from swimming

Swimming - either in a public pool or the ocean - can be a worrying proposition if you have fragile, thinning hair. 
Learn how to keep your hair in good condition whilst enjoying the sport you love!

› Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss

Comments

Please leave me a comment in the box below.

Return to Top of Page



advertisement