Experts Explain Why Your Scalp Is Itchy
Your scalp is clearly trying to tell you something.
Similar to a bad breakout, an itchy scalp causes discomfort, embarrassment, and makes you feel like you're the only one suffering from this somewhat taboo ailment. The good news is that itchy scalps are actually far more common than you'd think—you're definitely not alone!—and can be fixed with the right routine. We talked to leading experts to figure out the most common causes of an itchy scalp and what you can do to remedy the problem.
Just like the skin on the rest of your body, your scalp becomes dry for a myriad of reasons, including "cold weather exposure, dry air, and a lack of natural sebaceous oil being secreted, which helps maintain moisture balance," explains Michelle Blaisure, a trichologist at Bosley Professional Strength. Another way to tell if your scalp is dry? If hair dyes and relaxers cause an irritation-type reaction, like stinging and tingling, shares Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
However, if you're experiencing itchiness year round, it's typically a sign that you suffer from dandruff, which has all the symptoms of a dry scalp plus flaking—"that's the dead skin cells shedding," shares Dr. Iris Rubin, a dermatologist and founder of SEEN Hair Care, or it can be linked to "your personal routine and environment," says Nick Stenson, the Matrix artistic director.
But when the scalp "is oily or looks inflamed, this may be a sign of a more severe scalp condition, like psoriasis," says Blaisure. This occurs when the skin's barrier is compromised, and "the scalp is producing too much yeast—then the immune system overreacts to the yeast, leading to flaking, itching, and red areas with thick, white scales," notes Dr. Zeichner.
If the above situations don't seem to fit the condition of your scalp, but your head is still itchy and irritated, you could be dealing with product buildup. This occurs when you skip washes and rely too heavily on dry shampoo—or when your shampoo isn't removing sebum, dead skin cells, and other deposits, such as residue from hair care products and pollutants from the scalp, shares Dr. Antonella Tosti, M.D., a professor of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami.
"If you are experiencing a dry, flaky scalp, it's important to incorporate gentle scalp exfoliation into your haircare routine about once a week. After you exfoliate, follow with a hair mask or oil treatment to infuse moisture into the strands and to your scalp, which leaves the scalp clean and healthy," advises Andrew Fitzsimons, a celebrity hairstylist. And be sure to look for ingredients such as camphor or aloe vera extract, which are soothing to itchy scalps. "Use salicylic acid for deep exfoliating, and piroctone olamine, which is an antimicrobial that targets the yeast responsible for dandruff," adds Anabel Kingsley, the brand president at Philip Kingsley.