11 Common Causes of Itchy Scalp and Their Treatment

As you read this article, absentmindedly scratching your head, consider whether you’re scratching because you’re deep in thought or because your skin is bothering you. If it’s the latter, you may suffer from an itchy scalp.


Itchy scalps are very common—sometimes, they’re caused by a skin condition, while other times, they’re just in your head.

Understanding Itchy Scalp

Itchy scalp, scientifically known as scalp pruritus, is a common problem worldwide. It mostly appears as a symptom accompanied by other symptoms, such as dry and irritated skin.

An itchy scalp can occur for various reasons, the most prominent ones being seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. According to the National Eczema Association, 3 to 10 people out of 100 are likely to experience these scalp conditions once in their lifetime. 

A red, itchy scalp can occur anytime but rarely for no reason. The cause is usually benign, but it can indicate something more severe. It’s usually worth trying to treat the condition at home. 

However, if the itch is intense, painful, lasts for more than a few days, and is accompanied by sores or hair loss, you should see your doctor.

Symptoms of Dry Itchy Scalp

Symptoms of Dry Itchy Scalp

The symptoms may vary in severity and appearance from person to person. But here is a list of symptoms that mostly appear with the itching on the scalp.

The symptoms may appear a little differently depending on the root cause, such as thick, greasy scales if itching is associated with seborrheic dermatitis and silver-white scales with dryness if you have psoriasis.

Why is My Scalp So Itchy?

Why is My Scalp So Itchy?

Unfortunately, there is no one answer to the question of why is my scalp itchy. Because there are various factors and skin issues that might be causing the itch. We have listed down some of the most common culprits so that you can stop scratching your head and figure out what is causing it.

1. Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff

Seborrheic dermatitis results when naturally occurring Malassezia yeast eats what is made in the oil-producing glands in your skin. The glands are called the sebaceous glands, and they make sebum. The byproduct of this oily buffet is an irritating molecule that causes the skin to become irritated, causing a dry, itchy scalp. 

When this condition appears in children and babies, it is known as cradle cap. Dandruff is a less severe form of seborrheic dermatitis. In SD, you may experience thick yellow colored flakes, scales, and skin redness. While in dandruff, you may experience small white skin flakes that flutter down from your scalp like freshly fallen snow on a cold winter’s day. 


Dandruff is easy to treat. An over-the-counter medicated dandruff shampoo should clear up the condition–one that contains pyrithione zinc, a doctor-recommended ingredient to fight flaking and itching associated with dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and cradle cap. 

However, if your condition is not getting better with the use of a zinc pyrithione shampoo, then consult a doctor. They may suggest a different OTC shampoo with other active ingredients, like Salicylic acid, Ketoconazole, or Selenium sulfide. They may also prescribe topical medication along with the anti-dandruff shampoo.

2. Infrequent Hair Washing

If you don’t wash your scalp often, sebum and dirt can accumulate around your hair roots and cause itching. The debris on the scalp can also lead to other scalp issues, such as dandruff. 


The best way to avoid this is by keeping your scalp clean. Wash and clean your scalp with a gentle, fragrance-free shampoo at least two or three times a week. If you have an oily scalp or use other hair products like hair sprays every day, you may need to shampoo your scalp daily. 

Then, use a gentle daily shampoo free from harsh chemicals so that using it every day won’t irritate your skin.

3. Reaction to Hair Products

If you have a mild rash, redness, and itching on the scalp instead of flakes, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to your shampoo, hair dye, or some other hair care product. The harsh chemicals in hair products, such as fragrances, sulfates, and parabens, are most likely to irritate the scalp.

This condition is often also classified as contact dermatitis. Anyone can get it, but people with a weak immune system or an autoimmune disorder may be more predisposed to developing it.  


Try eliminating all of your products one by one until you find the culprit causing the issue. Then, take the offending item and bury it deep in the woods, where it can never cause trouble again. Also consider reaching out to your local dermatologist sooner than later, as they can help localize what ingredient is causing the problem. 

If an allergic reaction to the shampoo you use causes your dry, itchy scalp, you should consider switching to a hypoallergenic, itchy scalp Shampoo and Body Wash. One that is free of the harsh, synthetic chemicals commonly found in personal hygiene products.

4. Head Lice

Head lice and lice eggs or nits are the second most common cause of that irritating itch on your scalp. People who have sensitive skin may also develop rashes and redness. The nits are usually attached to the hair strands and may be hard to remove while the adult lice move around on the scalp and feed on your blood.

Lice are more common in children and people living in hot, damp areas. 


To get rid of head lice, you need to do a few things. First, you should comb all of your hair once daily with a special head lice comb with close metal bristles. Simultaneously, use an over-the-counter head lice shampoo that contains permethrin. 

Use these shampoos only as directed or mentioned on the bottle. If the condition is still not getting better, then consult your pediatrician or family physician.

5. Scabies

Scabies is caused by tiny bugs and mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. It burrows into the skin and can cause itching and irritation. The itching caused by scabies can be very severe and mostly worsens at night, keeping you awake. 

It is a contagious and harmful condition that usually affects the armpits, palms, soles, wrists, and waistband area, but it can also affect the scalp, as it is part of the skin.


Scabies are a dangerous condition that can cause other complications, so it is best to consult a physician for its treatment and follow everything they tell you to do.

6. Ringworm

Ringworm, also called tinea capitis, is a skin condition caused by a fungus. Most people think it is caused by a worm due to its name, but that is not the case. It is a fungal infection that can cause itchy, red, rashes on skin that are in round shape.

When this condition appears on the scalp, it is known as scalp ringworm. It can lead to scaly bald patches on the head. This condition is contagious and should be treated as fast as possible. Children and toddlers are more prone to developing it. 


If you are experiencing this condition, consult your pediatrician, family practice doctor, or dermatologist to get the right treatment. They will likely prescribe the use of an OTC shampoo that contains ketoconazole along with oral medications. 

If you or anyone in your house is experiencing this condition, avoid using or sharing towels, pillows, and combs, as it can spread from one person to another.

7. Scalp Psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is more common in people who are already experiencing plaque psoriasis. It can cause red rashes, silvery-white scales and flakes, and dryness on the scalp. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease usually caused by genetics. 

It may also extend beyond the scalp towards the neck and can cause intense itching and skin scaling. 


Doctors will first advise keeping your scalp clean with a medicated shampoo containing coal tar or salicylic acid. If that does not work well, the dermatologist may prescribe topical, oral, or injectable medications.

8. Folliculitis

It is a condition when one or more of your hair follicles become infected. It can appear anywhere you have hair follicles: the scalp, face, arms, and legs. It often causes small acne-like bumps to appear on the skin. 

The bump appears as a result of inflammation caused by bacteria that have infected the follicle. Itching is a very common symptom of this condition. 


Mild cases of folliculitis can be treated at home by keeping your scalp and skin clean with an anti-bacterial cleanser. While for severe cases, you may need to consult a physician who may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics, or in a severe case may even need to drain the infection–folliculitis that has progressed to become an abscess.

9. Nerve Problems

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an itchy scalp without any visible symptoms of flaking, redness, or rash can be caused due to nerve problems. The medical term used for this situation is known as neuropathy.

This happens when the scalp’s nerves are damaged for any reason, such as scarring, shingles, or diabetes. The abnormality in your nerves can lead to a tingling sensation or intense itching on the scalp.


If you suspect that a nerve problem is causing your itching, consult a dermatologist or a health care provider. They can help you manage the itch.

10. Stress and Anxiety

We know this is a weird connection, but it does happen. Many people start experiencing itching on the scalp and other body parts when they are under stress. This itching can be either occasional or consistent. 

This happens because the parts of our brain responsible for managing our emotions are constantly in contact with the nerve cells in the skin. When we are stressed, the brain sometimes sends signals to those nerve cells, which leads to itching and burning sensations.


The best way to prevent an itchy scalp from stress is by managing the stress itself. You can do this by engaging in activities that help you relax or try doing exercise, yoga, and meditation. You can also try deep breathing techniques to calm down your nerves.

11. Dry Skin

Dry skin, or dry scalp, appears when there is a lack of moisture on the scalp. This can happen for many reasons, such as eczema, extreme weather conditions, using hard water, harsh chemicals in skin care products, or just having a dry skin type. 

The dryness on the skin can lead to itching, irritation, and red rashes. So, if you experience an itchy scalp only during winter, it is probably due to dryness.


For dry scalps, prevention is more important than treatment. Avoid using hot water to wash your hair; instead, use lukewarm or cool water. Limit your bath time to 5 to 10 minutes only. 

Don’t use shampoo containing harsh chemicals, as it will make your scalp even drier. Especially if you have eczema, try an eczema shampoo that cleanses your scalp and helps soothe the symptoms.

Can Hair Growth Cause Itchy Scalp?

As we have discussed thus far, itching on the scalp can be attributed to many causes, but could new hair coming in be the cause?  Does an itchy scalp mean hair growth? There is not much research to back the fact that itching can be caused by hair growth.

However, people have reported that they experience itch when new hair is growing. The itch is usually a result of top pointy ends that start appearing from the hair follicles on the scalp. 

It can cause a tingling sensation that usually disappears once the hair has grown to a certain length. So don’t get worried if your scalp is a little itchy because of new hair; instead, be happy.

Learn more about Itchy Scalp from Dr. Eddie Valenzuela

  • links coming soon…

Does White Hair Make Your Scalp Itchy?

White Hair Vs Itchy Scalp

The appearance of white hair on the scalp is something most people don’t like because it makes them look older. While others confidently embrace and own it. But is it true that white hair causes itch on your scalp? 

The answer is no. No connection is found between white hair and itchy scalp. If you are experiencing itch, then it may be caused by any other factor or skin condition mentioned earlier. 

Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss

Both conditions are different and can happen for different reasons. However, they often accompany each other, especially if you have been scratching your head wildly.

Intense scratching can damage the hair follicles and scalp tissues leading to hair thinning and temporary hair loss. The best way to preserve your hair if you have an itchy scalp is by not scratching it. 

How about alopecia, does alopecia cause an itchy scalp? Itchy scalp and alopecia often go hand in hand. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system starts attacking the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss in the form of patches. There can be an itching or burning sensation before new areas of hair loss develop.  

Itchy Scalp Treatment

Itchy Scalp Treatment

We have covered in this article most of the common causes of itchy scalp and how to treat each one of them. However, if you are just experiencing an itchy scalp and there is no other serious root cause behind it, then it can be easily managed by keeping it clean.

  • Wash your scalp on alternative days with a medicated shampoo for itchy scalp. 
  • Massage your hair roots a little while shampooing to remove excess oil and dirt.
  • Rinse thoroughly and leave no residue behind.
  • Pat dry your hair instead of rubbing it.

If your itching is getting severe or not getting better, then consult a dermatologist.

Home Remedies

When you search on the internet for how to soothe an itchy scalp, you will find various websites proving that home remedies like apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, tea tree oil, and essential oils are all that you need.

Many physicians, including myself, a pediatrician, feel differently. These remedies may help moisturize your scalp, but they are not the ultimate solution to getting rid of itching. The thing about these remedies is that they can work wonders for one person and may not work or be downright dangerous for others. What if that acidic apple cider vinegar dripped from your scalp into your eye? Not good.

So, before using or applying any home remedy to your scalp, it is best to consult a doctor. You never know what might cause a reaction on your skin. 

Medication for Itchy Scalp

In severe cases of itchy scalp, the doctor may prescribe medications to soothe the itch and irritation. Especially if the itch is giving you the urge to scratch your head vigorously. Some common medications prescribed by doctors are

  • Topical steroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Oral medications
  • OTC shampoo and ointments.

Use the medications according to the OTC Drug Fact labels and as advised by your doctor. Using medications for a longer period than prescribed can lead to adverse effects on your skin and body. 

How to Avoid Itchy Scalp?

You can reduce the risk of developing an itchy scalp in the first place just by making a few lifestyle changes and paying attention to your scalp needs. Do the following if you don’t want itching.

  • Don’t use hot water to wash your scalp. Instead, go for lukewarm or cool water.
  • Use hair products that are free from harsh, skin-irritating chemicals like fragrance, alcohol, and artificial dyes.
  • If you or anyone else in your house has head lice, avoid sharing combs, brushes, towels, and pillows.
  • Make sure that you shampoo at least twice weekly or whenever you feel like your scalp is dirty.
  • Wash thoroughly while shampooing so that no residue is left behind. 
  • Try reducing stress by walking, exercising, yoga, and meditation. Stress can trigger itching on the skin and scalp.
  • Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water daily; dehydration is also the cause of itchy skin.
  • Protect your scalp from the sun with the help of an umbrella or a hat while going out.
  • Eat healthy to have a healthy scalp. Avoid eating too much oily and sugary food.

Shampoo for Kids with Itchy Scalp

shampoo for dry itchy scalp

Anyone can experience an itchy scalp, even babies and toddlers. Children often experience it due to cradle cap, eczema, head lice, and a reaction to shampoo. 

If your baby is experiencing itching associated with cradle cap, that annoying skin condition that causes thick, greasy scales on the baby’s head and forehead and redness behind the ears, the best way to get rid of it is to use a medicated cradle cap shampoo

Dr. Eddie has formulated a cradle cap shampoo suitable for a baby’s delicate and sensitive skin. It is infused with pyrithione zinc that helps reduce Malassezia yeast on the scalp and soothe cradle cap symptoms.

However, if your little one is experiencing itchiness on the scalp due to eczema, head lice, or contact dermatitis, then switch to a gentle daily baby shampoo. A shampoo that will cleanse their scalp without irritating it.

A baby shampoo that contains natural ingredients and is fragrance-free, sulfate-free, and paraben-free is best to be used for your baby’s daily baths.


Scalp pruritus is a common skin issue caused by various reasons, such as seborrheic dermatitis, dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, head lice, and contact dermatitis. The treatment of itchy scalp depends on what is causing it.

However, you can use a gentle daily shampoo to keep your scalp clean and prevent the condition from getting worse. If you are experiencing itching for more than a week or if it’s severe, then consult your physician to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment plan.


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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How do I stop my scalp from itching?

Washing your hair regularly with a fragrance-free medicated shampoo can help remove the excess dirt, oil, and sebum on the scalp, which aids in itching. Shampoo your hair with it at least twice or thrice a week.

Why is my scalp itchy even when I don’t have dandruff or lice?

There are other skin conditions and medical conditions that can lead to itching on the scalp. Some of the most common ones are :
Hair loss
Scalp psoriasis
Contact dermatitis

How long does an itchy scalp last?

It all depends on what is causing the itch, how severe your condition is, and whether you are taking the right treatment or not. To get fast relief from the itching, consult your dermatologist. They will provide you with an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment.

Can an itchy scalp cause hair loss?

An itchy scalp can not directly cause hair loss. However, scratching your scalp can damage the skin and hair follicles, which makes it hard for the follicles to hold on to the hair. This scenario then results in temporary hair loss.

Does drinking water help an itchy scalp?

Drinking plenty of water every day, around eight glasses, helps keep your body hydrated. Which can help prevent skin issues caused by dry skin and scalp.

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