An itchy scalp is annoying. Your head might be itchy for many reasons. Knowing why your scalp is itchy can help you get the right treatment.
What is itchy scalp?
An itch is an irritation of your skin that makes you want to scratch. You can develop itchy skin anywhere on your body, including your scalp. The medical term for itchiness is pruritis.
What causes itchy scalp?
There are many possible causes of an itchy scalp. Common conditions include:
- Dandruff – white, dry flakes of dead skin on your scalp and hair from excessive skin production. Usually there’s no obvious cause, but sometimes it’s caused by seborrhoeic dermatitis.
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis – inflammation of the scalp that causes itch and skin flaking. It can lead to cradle cap in babies.
- Psoriasis – a chronic skin condition that causes raised red scaly areas of skin (also called plaques).
- Tinea – a fungal infection of the skin causing red, flaky patches and itching. Tinea on the scalp is called tinea capitis.
- Head lice – contagious small insects that live in your hair and cause itching.
How is itchy scalp treated?
The treatment for itchy scalp depends on what is causing the problem.
- moisturising creams and ointments
- special shampoos, such as anti-dandruff shampoos
- specific treatments, such as:
- head lice treatment (wet combing with conditioner or chemical treatments)
- antifungal medicine for tinea capitis
- corticosteroid creams for seborrhoeic dermatitis
- psoriasis medication
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best treatment for you.
How can itchy scalp be prevented?
If you have chronic conditions such as dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis or psoriasis, you might need regular treatment to prevent the condition from coming back. Some shampoos can help – talk to your pharmacist.
For tinea, good personal hygiene, careful drying after washing and choice of the right clothing and footwear can help prevent a tinea infection.
Head lice are more difficult to prevent, especially in primary school children. One way to minimise the spread of head lice is to avoid sharing brushes and combs.
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Last reviewed: March 2020