What's Causing Your Itchy Scalp?

May 7th 2016

A variety of factors can contribute to an itchy scalp, including sensitivity to sunlight, allergic reactions and common skin conditions. People experiencing discomfort, pain or cosmetic concerns should consult with a dermatologist or medical professional to determine the best course of treatment.


Dandruff is one of the most common causes of an itchy scalp. The condition causes flakes to form on the scalp and dryness that causes itching. Dandruff typically develops as an inflammatory response to an overgrowth of yeast in the body. When too much yeast is present, flakes form on hairy areas of the body, especially the scalp. Mild cases of dandruff can be treated with specialized shampoos designed to control yeast growth. Some patients may require an antifungal shampoo, medicated creams or ointments to treat dandruff.

Head Lice

Head lice can cause extreme itching when nits or adult lice have infected areas of the head and scalp. When tiny lice eggs attach to individual hair strands or the scalp, the white nits have a similar appearance to dandruff flakes. Unlike dandruff, head lice glues to the hair shaft, especially on individuals with clean hair. People with head lice can remove the nits with shampoos that contain permethrin or insecticides pyrethrin.


Individuals with itchy, raised, reddish and scaly patches on the scalp may be suffering from psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease. Psoriasis typically is inherited and can also produce flaking in addition to chronic itching on the scalp. Medicated shampoos with salicylic acid or coal tar often help treat scalp psoriasis. Extreme cases of psoriasis that cause painful itching may require a consultation with a medical professional or dermatologist.


An itchy scalp may be the result of a fungal infection known as ringworm. This condition produces a raised rash that has a stubbly appearance. The infection often travels deep into hair follicles and causes patches of hair loss for some individuals. Ringworm is typically treated with oral antifungal medications instead of medicated shampoo because the infection exists too deep in the hair follicle for exterior applications.

Allergic Reactions

An allergic reaction to a hair styling product, medication or hair dyes can cause the scalp to itch. Typically allergic reactions subside once the product or medication is no longer used, but in extreme cases, allergy medication may need to be administered under the supervision of a medical professional. Individuals with allergic reactions may need to undergo tests to determine the exact component causing the allergic reaction.


An itchy scalp can cause embarrassing flakes or discomfort on the head. While many mild, treatable conditions result in an itchy scalp, the head irritation can also serve as an indication that a serious infection or skin condition exists and may require professional medical care.

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