Why Is My Scalp So Itchy? 8 Possible Explanations


Medically reviewed by: Ted Schiff, MD

The scalp is one of those parts of the body that you don’t usually think about unless it’s constantly itchy. If this is the case, then you know the particular agony that itching can cause. With so many potential causes of an itchy scalp, you may need the help of a dermatologist to solve the “why is my scalp itchy?” mystery. Also, treating an itchy scalp may include medications that are only available by prescription.

Below are eight conditions that might make you scratch your head.


1. Dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis

The most common reason for an itchy scalp is shed, which causes annoying flakes of skin to fall off the scalp. Dandruff only affects the scalp, and the flakes are usually small and white or yellowish-white.

A more severe form of dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, can affect other parts of the body besides the scalp, such as B. the face and upper chest. Unlike dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis also causes scaling and inflammation, and the flakes are greasy and typically yellow rather than white.


Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis can be caused by oily and irritated skin, dry skin, or a type of fungus called Malasezzia.

What to do: In most cases, you can treat dandruff with a dandruff shampoo. See your dermatologist if it doesn’t help or if you have symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis.

2. Head lice

head lice are parasites that live on the scalp and sometimes on the eyebrows and eyelashes. Children are usually the ones who get head lice, but the animals can spread to people of all ages. In addition to the itching, you may experience a tickling sensation caused by the lice crawling. Scratching can cause head injuries.


What to do: You may be able to get rid of lice at home with an over-the-counter permethrin lotion (Nix), but it’s wise to confirm the diagnosis with a dermatologist first. If symptoms persist, the dermatologist may recommend prescription treatment.

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3. Scabies

scabies occurs when the top layer of skin is infested with mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) that lay their eggs there. The itching can be intense, especially at night, and you will see a pimple-like rash. Scabies can affect the scalp, but in adults it usually affects other areas instead. Scabies in babies and very young children can affect much of the body, including the scalp.

Anyone can get scabies, but it’s more common in places like nursing homes and child care facilities, where people share tight spaces and tend to have physical and skin contact.


What to do: Consult a doctor or dermatologist. Scabies can only be treated with prescription drugs called scabicides.

4. Psoriasis

This autoimmune disease causes the body to produce skin cells too quickly. The cells accumulate and form patches or patches. The most common type of psoriasisPlaque psoriasis, causes itching, flaking, and patches of thick, red skin (plaques), often on the skin elbows, knees and lower back.

Scalp psoriasis can cause a dry, itchy, flaky scalp, silvery-white scales, and red, bumpy patches. Symptoms can extend to the forehead, neck, and behind the ears. Unlike seborrheic dermatitis, which can affect the entire scalp, scalp psoriasis usually has a very clear beginning and end.


What to do: See a dermatologist. If the doctor suspects psoriasis, they may refer you to a rheumatologist for treatment.

5. Ringworm (Tinea capitis)

When ringworm affects the scalp, it is called tinea capitis. Despite its name, tinea is caused by a fungal infection, no worms. The rash appears as ring-shaped patches that can be pink or red in people with fair skin and brown or gray in people with dark skin. The patches are flat with a raised, scaly border and can be extremely itchy.

Ringworm is more common in children, but adults can also get it, particularly postmenopausal women and people with compromised immune systems.

What to do: Visit your dermatologist. Using an antifungal shampoo can help treat ringworm, but you’ll also need to take prescription antifungal medication to get rid of it.

6. Contact dermatitis or atopic dermatitis (eczema)

An itchy rash on the scalp can be a sign contact dermatitis, which is caused by contact with something that irritates your skin or that you are allergic to. An ingredient in your shampoo, conditioner, hair dye (especially black hair dye), or any other product that touches your scalp is usually the culprit. In addition to being itchy, contact dermatitis can cause redness, inflammation, and sores.

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Another form of dermatitis, Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, can affect the scalp and cause itching. It usually develops in people with a personal or family history of asthma or hay fever. Other symptoms you may notice include dry, cracked, and discolored skin. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that comes and goes throughout your life.

What to do: For contact dermatitis, avoid the products that are causing your symptoms. If you have trouble identifying them, consult your dermatologist. If you suspect you have atopic dermatitis, see a dermatologist who will develop a customized treatment plan for you.

7. Scarring Alopecia

Some cases of cicatricial alopecia, also called cicatricial alopecia, the scalp can be itchy. In this condition, the inflammation damages the hair follicles, causing scars and spots hair loss. The cause of the inflammation is often not clear, although in some people a severe infection or trauma, such as a burn, may be responsible.

What to do: See a dermatologist as soon as possible. While hair loss is permanent, early treatment can prevent further hair loss and scarring.

8. Skin Cancer

Itching on the scalp that coincides with a new growth or other lesion on the scalp can be a sign of this skin cancer. basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma can all appear on the scalp.

What to do: If you notice a skin change on your scalp, such as B. A flesh-colored, waxy bump, a firm red bump, a flat lesion, a scaly patch, a large brown patch, a recurring sore, or a subsequent birthmark ABCDE rulesget it checked by your dermatologist right away.

Written by: Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Nanuet, New York. She has written for Prevention Magazine,,, and many other media outlets.


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