Here’s a headscratcher for you – what’s behind that itchy scalp of yours? For most of us, our scalps get buried under a head of hair and forgotten…..that is, until you start experiencing flaking, itching, redness, skin rashes, or all of the above. Keep reading for an overview of the most common head and scalp conditions:
- Contact Dermatitis: Contact dermatitis typically presents as an allergic reaction to products or environmental factors. It is a red, itchy, scaly rash that develops when the skin comes into contact with an irritating substance. In some cases, blisters, sores, or hives may develop. Common irritants include ingredients in soaps and shampoos, chemicals in hair styling products, and poison oak or poison ivy.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis: This form of dermatitis (also called seborrheic eczema) affects oily areas of the body; it is named in reference to the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin. An overproduction of oil causes scaly patches of skin to develop on the scalp. These skin patches may look or feel greasy and they will typically flake off the head, especially if you scratch them. More severe cases can cause reddening of the scalp.
- Dandruff: This is the mildest and most common form of seborrheic dermatitis, and it is easily recognizable by the distinctive dusting of white flakes seen on t-shirt shoulders. Dandruff can also be a reaction to soap, shampoo, or fungus.
- Cradle Cap: This is a common form of seborrheic dermatitis found in infants. It presents as yellow, greasy, scaly skin on the head and forehead of infants anywhere from newborn to one year old. While the sight of it may frighten new parents, cradle cap is painless, non-itchy, and will flake off on its own within a few months.
- Psoriasis: Psoriasis is caused by a build-up of new skin cells, and like seborrheic dermatitis, it is characterized by scaly patches of skin located on the scalp. However, psoriasis patches will be thicker and more silver in color. And unlike seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis is not limited to the scalp – if you have the condition, thick, scaly skin patches will likely also appear on areas like the knees and/or elbows.
- Folliculitis: Folliculitis is an infection that develops when hair follicles become irritated and inflamed. Red and white-headed pimple-like bumps will appear around the affected follicles. Folliculitis is typically caused by a nearby viral or bacterial infection. Other causes of inflammation can include certain hair products and shampoos, shaving over follicles, or makeup that encounters follicles.
- Ringworm: The name ringworm describes the appearance of this condition, not the causative factor. Ringworm is caused by a fungus that presents as red, round scaly rashes on the scalp. Typically, patches of hair loss surround the rash. Ringworm is most common amongst toddlers and young children, and it is easily spread by sharing personal items. You may be more familiar with ringworm by one of its other names: jock itch and athlete’s foot are the same condition, found on different areas of the body.
- Lice: Lice are tiny insects that live within hair follicles and feed off blood from the scalp. Lice are itchy, highly contagious, and difficult to get rid of due to lice laying new eggs in the hair. Like ringworm, lice is spread through sharing personal items like combs and towels.
- Dry Scalp: Like dandruff, a dry scalp can also be itchy and flaky. But unlike dandruff, the small white flakes from a dry scalp are caused by a lack of moisture, as opposed to an excess of oil. You are more prone to dry scalp during the winter – dry air, low humidity, and use of indoor heating systems all leach water out of the body, leaving you with a scratchy, irritated scalp.
- Hair Loss: Hair loss is a normal head and scalp issue for both men and women, and it can stem from multiple causes. Hereditary thinning or shedding is called male or female pattern baldness, and it is the most common type of hair loss. Telogen effluvium (TE)is a condition characterized by sudden, excessive shedding triggered by stress, trauma, weight loss, or hormonal imbalances. It is usually temporary and self-reversible once the causative factor is determined. Hair loss is often the first sign of a nutritional deficiency; the body does not consider hair follicles to be vital organs, and in the setting of a protein or calorie deficiency nutrients will be diverted to more essential functions and hair will begin falling out. Other causes of hair loss can include overuse of products, over-styling, brushing too vigorously, or pulling hair back in tight hairstyles, like ponytails.
- Sunburn: It is a myth that hair will protect your head from getting burned. A sunburn on the scalp will be red, painful, and itchy. As the burn heals, skin may peel and begin flaking off. Sunburn on the scalp is easily preventable by wearing a protective hat or scarf to cover your head in direct sunlight. Use spray-on sunscreen – this form is easier to apply to the head than a lotion.
- Skin Cancer: Skin cancer can develop on any part of the body, including the scalp. Be proactive about checking yourself – and because skin cancer on the scalp may be difficult to see, have a spouse or close friend perform an examination of your head and under your hair regularly. Monitor any sore or mole that does not heal, irritates the scalp, and/or changes size, shape, and color. If you have concerns about skin cancer, contact Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centersas soon as possible to schedule a skin cancer screening.
If you are suffering from a head or scalp condition that is affecting your daily life, don’t wait any longer to start treatment. At Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers, our team of licensed professionals are experts in the field of skin, hair, and nail conditions. We can help you find an accurate diagnosis for your head and scalp issue and discuss the best treatment options for your condition. Contact one of our ten convenient locations today to schedule an appointment.