10 Scalp Conditions You Definitely Don’t Want to Ignore

Battling bouts of flaky dandruff or, worse, red, scaly irritations on your scalp? Here, we asked top skin and scalp specialists to queue us into signs that our scalp's trying to tell us something.

Previous
1/10 View as List
Next

If you're breaking out...

ScalpTatiana Ayazo /RD.com
Thankfully, it's hard to see the blemishes that appear on your scalp, but that doesn't mean they're not there—or pesky and painful. "The main causes of scalp acne is the buildup of product, dead skin cells and oil that clogs hair follicles," explains Dendy Engelman, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City. "Bacterial growth can lead to breakouts if the scalp and hair are not being properly cleansed." Here are some other sneaky reasons you're having acne breakouts. She suggests using a clarifying shampoo, such as REDKEN Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo, at least once a week to regulate bacteria levels. Another solution is scalp-botox, which extends your blowout and can also help reduce oil production and possibly acne around your hairline.

Your scalp is flaky, inflamed, and irritated…

ScalpTatiana Ayazo /RD.com
If you're experiencing white flakes on the scalp, you are likely suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, commonly known as dandruff. "Yeast lives on everyone's skin, but, in some people, it may promote inflammation," explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "This clinically looks like white flakes at the base of the hair around your scalp." You could try some natural treatments for dandruff, though Dr. Zeichner suggests using medicated shampoos, such as Head and Shoulders, which contain an ingredient that helps lower yeast levels on the skin. By reducing the amount of yeast, you can lower inflammation and subsequently reduce the amount of flaking.

If you're experiencing itchiness…

ScalpTatiana Ayazo /RD.com
An itchy scalp can happen for a myriad of reasons, but if your itchiness is not accompanied by redness or flakiness, it's likely because you're not cleansing your scalp correctly. For this reason, Penny James, IAT trichologist and owner of Penny James Salon in New York City, says it's important to wash your hair and scalp at least four times a week. "The shampoos on the market these days are not as harsh as they were in previous decades, so look for a line of products that have active ingredients and botanical extracts and do not contain sulfates, silicones, or parabens." (Here are some other toxic ingredients found in your beauty products). For a dry scalp and hair, she suggests the all-natural and organic line, ALODIA, which works hard to nourish and hydrate the hair and scalp.

Your hair is thinning…

Signs-Your-Scalp-Is-Trying-to-Tell-You-SomethingTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

Genetics, as well as life changes, pregnancy, menopause (it sneaks up on you—here are common menopause symptoms), weight loss, contribute to the interference of hair growth. So it is not uncommon for women to experience shedding at certain stages of life. "As we age, most hair is reduced either in the form of balding, receding, or thinning," Dr. Engelman explains. "Additionally, lifestyle habits, including chemical treatments, hot tools, brushes and other styling tools, can reduce or damage the hair." She recommends oral supplements, such as protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, to support hair follicles. "If you are not getting enough nutrients from your diet, supplements can increase low levels," she says. "These nutrients help support hair structure, growth, the breakdown carbs and fats, and they moisturize the scalp and distribute oxygen to the cells." Her go-to brands to combat hair thinning: Reserveage Keratin Booster and Nutrafol.

You're seeing individual bald spots…

Signs-Your-Scalp-Is-Trying-to-Tell-You-SomethingTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

If you start noticing actual bald spots, this could be a sign that you have a condition called alopecia areata. "In this condition, your immune system is getting angry at the hair producing cells, which leads to specific bald spots," explains Dr. Zeichner. "Visit your dermatologist for a full evaluation and professional treatment." For some patients experiencing alopecia areata, their hair can be completely restored to normal. Here are some other sneaky reasons your hair is falling out.

Your part is getting wider...

Signs-Your-Scalp-Is-Trying-to-Tell-You-SomethingTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

Another common side effect of natural aging—predominantly in women—in which hair density along the frontal hairline is lost and the middle part begins widening. If you are suffering from this type of hair thinning, Dr. Zeichner suggests considering an over-the-counter product that helps promote healthy hair growth, such as évolis®. "This new hair product line decreases the activity of FGF5, a messenger involved in a hair growth cycle," Dr. Zeichner explains. "Decreasing activity of FGF5 can help promote new hair growth and strengthen hair you already have." Another option is to visit your dermatologist to discuss a treatment called platelet-rich plasma which involves drawing blood and then separating the red blood cells from the serum. "The serum contains platelets, which have high levels of growth factors that are actually injected into the scalp in areas where you have hair thinning," explains Dr. Zeichner. "This gives the hair follicles the nudge they need to behave like healthy follicle cells and rev up hair growth."

Your scalp is red, crusty, and dry…

ScalpTatiana Ayazo /RD.com
If you're noticing any areas of your scalp that are itchy and rough, you may have eczema, a common condition that can crop up on your entire body. "Eczema is caused when the skin cannot produce enough ceramides to properly lock in moisture," explains Dr. Engelman. "The result is sensitive, itchy, and flaky skin." Though eczema is a hereditary condition, there are ways to reduce the symptoms. Dr. Engelman recommends using fragrance-free shampoos and conditioners, trying not to scratch infected areas, and avoiding hot showers. Try this miracle trick to relieve eczema.

You're feeling spots of scaly plaques…

ScalpTatiana Ayazo /RD.com
This could be psoriasis: an autoimmune problem that can be triggered by trauma to the skin, stress, bacterial infections. Make sure you're not eating the seven foods that make your psoriasis worse, because—unfortunately—there's no cure for this condition. While treatment to relieve the symptoms varies from one person to another, James recommends using scalp lotions or creams that contain tar and salicylic acid, such as Neutrogena® T/Gel® Therapeutic Original Shampoo. "You can also try changing your diet, as research shows that sometimes the elimination of gluten, yeast, wheat and dairy produce is a possible contributing cause," she says. "The best advice I can give is to visit your dermatologist; there are very advanced treatments on the market that can suppress this condition."

You're experiencing clumps of scaly skin that are sticking to your hair…

Signs-Your-Scalp-Is-Trying-to-Tell-You-SomethingTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

If your scalp is becoming very swollen and red or yellow in color, you may be dealing with a condition called pityriasis amiantacea, an acute autoimmune reaction triggered by infection, stress, and trauma to the scalp. Though it's extremely unpleasant, James says that it's easy to get rid of. She suggests giving your scalp a hot almond oil treatment followed by a treatment cream that contains salicylic acid and tar. Then, use a medicated shampoo on a daily basis until the condition is under control. "In very bad cases hair will fall out, but it will regrow," she adds.

You're dealing with cystic acne on your scalp…

Signs-Your-Scalp-Is-Trying-to-Tell-You-SomethingTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

Similarly to cystic acne on your face, experiencing it on your scalp is likely triggered by an increased production of sebum, waxy secretion of the sebaceous glands that can block pores. "The rate we produce sebum is genetically determined and influenced by the sex hormones and by thyroxine—and it's not influenced by frequency of shampooing," James explains. If you're experiencing this, she suggests skipping an appointment with your dermatologist in favor of a visit to an IAT trichologist. "After a full scalp and hair analysis, a trichologist will be able to detect what is going on and determine the best treatment for your scalp," she says.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected] 

Previous
1/10 View as List
Next

Want to stay smart and healthy?

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.