Having an itchy scalp isn’t uncommon, but it can be quite bothersome. You can feel self-conscious after spending the entire day thinking about your itchy scalp, especially if it is also dry or flaky. But what can you do about it?
There are many different factors that could play a role in having an itchy scalp. Our scalp and hair are exposed to many substances throughout the day, such as irritant chemicals in your shampoo, sweat after a workout, and pollution and contaminants from the environment.
One of the most important things you need to do in order to relieve an itchy scalp is to determine the source of the problem. What are you doing that is irritating the sensitive skin on your scalp? Once you figure out what is causing your symptoms, it will be much easier to fix the issue.
Depending on the root of your scalp problems (pun intended!), there are many different home remedies that could help you. These home remedies are evidence-based, effective, safe, and affordable. After all, going natural is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy scalp!
Before we start talking about what can cause an itchy scalp and which home remedies can help you, let’s talk a little bit about what makes the skin on your scalp different from the skin on other parts of your body. Understanding this difference is essential to figure out what is causing your itchy scalp and why certain home remedies work better than others.
Is the skin on your scalp different from the skin on other parts of your body?
Your skin has different layers, regardless of the body part that we are talking about. But the skin on your scalp actually has five distinct layers, which makes it much thicker than the skin on other areas of your body.
The five layers in your scalp contain skin itself, connective tissue, fatty tissue, blood vessels, nerves, cranial muscles, and the layer that lines your skull bones. There are many different blood vessels running through your scalp skin, which is why any head wound will bleed profusely, even if it is small and superficial.
Your scalp skin also contains an important amount of sebaceous glands. These glands are responsible for producing sebum, which is an oily substance that keeps your skin and hair hydrated and protected.
The problem with sebum is that its production needs to be just right. If your scalp produces too much sebum, your hair could become oily and dirty quickly. Excessive sebum production can also clog your hair follicles, causing swelling, itching, and even dandruff. But if your scalp doesn’t produce enough sebum, you could end up with a dry and flaky scalp.
The skin in your scalp regenerates quickly, and any additional inflammation can cause flakes of dead skin to become entangled in your hair. You also need to keep in mind that since your scalp is usually covered in hair, it can be difficult to notice skin conditions or lesions that affect it. Therefore, it is very important to pay attention to any new symptoms that affect the skin on your scalp.
What are the most common causes for an itchy scalp?
There are many conditions that can cause itchiness on your scalp. These conditions can range from very simple hygiene habits, to allergies, and even illnesses. Additionally, your scalp has bacteria and other microorganisms that are harmless under normal conditions. But if your scalp becomes inflamed or develops lesions, you could get an infection.
These are some of the most common reasons why your scalp can feel itchy:
Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis: up to 40% of people suffer from dandruff at some point in their lives, so this is a very common cause of itchiness. Seborrheic dermatitis is actually a severe form of dandruff, and both conditions are caused by a yeast overgrowth. Factors such as stress, hormonal changes, and diet can increase your risk of developing dandruff; this condition causes itchiness and dry flakes.
Psoriasis: this autoimmune condition affects the skin in your entire body, including your scalp. It can cause symptoms such as itching, inflammation, redness, and flaking. It can also cause dandruff.
Eczema: also known as dermatitis, this is an inflammatory condition that is characterized by redness, itching, rashes, thickened skin, and even blisters. Stress is a big risk factor for eczema, but anyone can get it.
Tinea capitis: this fungal infection is also known as ringworm. It is more common in children, but it can affect people of all ages. It causes a red, scaly, itchy rash and it can lead to temporary hair loss.
Head lice: although most people associate head lice with poor personal hygiene, lice actually prefer clean hair. Anyone can get lice, but they are very common in schoolchildren. Once a member of the family gets infected, they can quickly affect the entire family. You might be able to see adult lice moving around the scalp and eggs or nits adhered to the base of the hair.
Allergies: you can be allergic to many hair products. Allergies can be different for everyone, producing different symptoms and ranging in severity.
Other reasons for an itchy scalp include:
- Dry skin
- Dirty scalp
- Alopecia aerata
- Lichen planopilaris
- Skin cancer
These are the 10 best-proven home remedies for an itchy scalp
Fortunately, there are many home remedies that you can use to relieve an itchy scalp. These remedies are completely natural and tend to be far more affordable than other options. You probably even own some of these products already!
Warm olive oil
Olive oil is incredibly rich and moisturizing. Massaging warm olive oil into your scalp can help dry flakes come off your skin and it penetrates deeply into each layer, hydrating and moisturizing your scalp.
You can apply olive oil to your scalp and leave it on for several hours before washing it off. Choose extra-virgin olive oil to avoid any additives that could potentially irritate your scalp even more. If you are afraid of staining your pillow, couch, or sheets, simply put on a shower cap while the olive oil is doing its job.
Colloidal oatmeal is very finely ground oatmeal which is suspended in water. This is a very popular ingredient in many shampoos and lotions, but you can actually make your own colloidal oatmeal at home.
To make your own colloidal oatmeal, you need to find unflavored rolled oats. Make sure you don’t get instant oatmeal! Then, simply grind the oats using a blender, food processor, mill, or coffee grinder. You can keep the colloidal oatmeal in a sealed glass container; as long as it is dry, it will last a long time.
You can make your own colloidal oatmeal hair masks, adding ingredients like milk, honey, and almond oil. Another alternative involves simply rinsing your hair with a mixture of colloidal oatmeal and water.
Colloidal oatmeal has been shown to be a very effective treatment for mild to moderate eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Peppermint oil contains a compound called menthol, which has a cooling and calming effect on your skin. However, essential oils are very concentrated and could irritate your skin if applied undiluted.
Instead, add a few drops of peppermint oil to your usual shampoo or to a homemade hair mask. Make sure that you rinse your hair thoroughly to avoid leaving any remnants of the oil or other hair products on your scalp. Studies have shown that peppermint oil can reduce itchiness after a couple of weeks of regular use.
Tea tree oil
The antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties of tea tree oil have been widely recorded. Many scientific studies have shown that it is effective against many skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis, acne, and head lice. It can also speed up healing, and it even has anticarcinogenic properties!
Just like with peppermint oil, try adding some tea tree oil to your shampoo or mixing it with other ingredients to create your own hair mask. Tea tree oil can irritate your skin and eyes, so you need to make sure to rinse it off thoroughly after using it.
Many people use baking soda to clean different parts of their home, but did you know it can also help relieve an itchy scalp? Baking soda promotes a healthy pH balance and can exfoliate the dead skin cells on your scalp. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Simply mix in some baking soda with water to create a paste and use it as a mask on your scalp. You can also mix it with olive oil or your favorite colloidal oatmeal hair mask.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which has antiseptic and antifungal properties. This product is particularly effective to relieve the symptoms of psoriasis and dry skin. However, you shouldn’t apply pure apple cider vinegar to your skin, since it can cause chemical burns.
Dilute 1 part apple cider vinegar and 1 part water, and use this mixture to rinse your hair. Vinegar can cause a burning sensation, and you should avoid it if you have any open lesions or wounds on your scalp. Don’t leave the vinegar on any part of your body for too long, and make sure to wash it off afterward.
Is there anything aloe vera can’t do? In addition to being deeply hydrating and moisturizing, it also has antifungal properties that can combat the yeast that causes dandruff. Aloe vera also contains pectin, which can strengthen the cells that make up the skin on your scalp.
It also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can relieve itching very quickly. You can mix aloe vera or aloe vera gel with other ingredients, such as olive oil or colloidal oatmeal, to create a nourishing hair mask. You can also add aloe vera to your diet or simply mix in some aloe vera gel with your usual shampoo.
Clean all your brushes
If your itchy scalp is caused by a contagious condition – such as a fungal infection or head lice -, your brush could spread and perpetuate this condition. It is also important for every member of the household to have their own brush. If your symptoms are the result of an allergic reaction, a dirty hairbrush could contain residue of the products that are causing the allergy.
You might think that this is a strange remedy, but patients who suffer from psoriasis can benefit from activities such as yoga and tai chi. Yoga is particularly effective because it can improve blood flow to the areas of your body that are affected by psoriasis.
Both yoga and tai chi can also help reduce stress, which can aggravate many of the conditions that lead to an itchy scalp.
Anyone can be allergic to any substance. Allergies are more common in people who use products loaded with chemicals and additives, but you can also be allergic to a natural ingredient such as tea tree or lavender oils.
If you recently started to use a new hair product, stop using it immediately if you develop any symptoms, including an itchy scalp. Allergies can also be caused by other products, such as the soap that you use to wash your bedding or pillows.
If you are unsure about which product is causing your allergies, try removing or changing one product at a time. For example, switch out your shampoo for a few days and see if you experience less itching. If your symptoms remain unchanged, change your conditioner next. Continue until you realize which of your regular products was causing the allergic reaction.
Final thoughts on How to Treat an Itchy Scalp
There is a wide array of conditions that can cause an itchy scalp. It is very important to identify the cause of your symptoms. Most causes are relatively mild and can be solved easily; however, you shouldn’t delay seeking medical attention if your symptoms get progressively worse or don’t respond to home treatments.
Fortunately, you can use simple home remedies to relieve many of the conditions that lead to an itchy scalp. Keep in mind that we all react differently to each product, so finding the remedy that works best for you could require some trial and error.
Andrea, M.D is from Valencia, Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual health and education, and public health and global health. Additionally, she enjoys researching and learning about beauty, skincare, and cosmetic innovations. She has also volunteered in several NGOs in Venezuela. In her free time, Andrea enjoys reading, drinking copious amounts of coffee, making desserts for her family, going to the beach, and spending time with her dog, Dorito.