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October 25th, 2010
08:28 AM ET

Why is my scalp so itchy?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Monday, it's Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician.

Question asked by Cindy of St. Louis, Missouri

My scalp has been itching really bad for about two months, I don't have lice or a flaky scalp, it's not even red. Any idea what would cause this?

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. While your physician would be the best one to make a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment, I consulted with Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist in San Diego and author of The Derm Blog, for general information about itchy scalps. He shared the following:

"Itchy scalp can be a frustrating problem. There are several things which can cause it. Dandruff is the most common. Dandruff is caused by overgrowth of yeast on your scalp. The yeast triggers inflammation and itching. It usually causes flaking, but not always. When the scalp is red and flaky from dandruff we often call it seborrheic dermatitis, but the cause is the same.

Allergic contact dermatitis is also a common cause of itchy scalp. Sometimes people develop an allergy to their hair color or to their shampoo, conditioner, or hair products. This is often intensely itchy and sometimes spreads to the back of your neck or your back (depending on the length of your hair).

Inflammation of the hair follicles or bacterial infection of the scalp can also cause itching. Usually people with this problem have acne-like bumps or pustules in the affected areas.

Other causes of itchy scalp are uncommon. Inflammatory and hair loss conditions of the scalp are rare, but can also cause itching. There are many of them–discoid lupus and hot comb alopecia are two examples. They always have areas of obvious hair loss.

Systemic, or whole body, diseases can sometimes cause scalp itching. Common diseases such as psoriasis and rare conditions such as dermatomyositis can cause itchy scalp. Both also cause redness and flaking.

Sometimes, frankly, we just don't know what causes the itching. Washing your hair too infrequently is more likely a problem than washing too much, as the scalp rarely dries out. Using anti-dandruff shampoos 2-3 times a week and over-the-counter anti-itching treatments such as Scalpicin (R) usually relives the problem."


soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. nicoleandmaggie

    Try getting a filtered showerhead (amazon has them). That worked wonders for us.

    October 25, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Constantine

      Good to know - thanks for the advice

      October 25, 2010 at 22:13 | Report abuse |
  2. Val

    If your scalp is sensitive or already irritated, most shampoos can cause further irritation, and dandruff shampoos are the worst – not only a lot of irritants in them but also penetrants to help the chemicals sink into the skin. My scalp wasn't helped by anything and made much worse with anti-dandruff shampoos, but seems to be doing much better with a gluten-free diet and shampoo.

    October 25, 2010 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • elay

      hello VAL! your correct dandruff shampoos is not a bi helpp infact its making my scalp worst than before. I just confuse what doyou mean about gluten-free diet ? I wanna try this.

      November 16, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
  3. butlerbulldawg74

    I use nizoral, which is an antifungal shampoo. I used to get dry scalp in the winter time especially, and then i read that one of the most common causes was fungus. gross! so after using this shampoo for the first time 3 or 4 years ago now, I haven't had a single recurrence. I use it about once a week. btw, it's an antifungal, so you can use it in other fungal prone areas...ie i've not had any jock itch since then either. nada. nothing.

    October 25, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. andy

    Most people overlook the obvious.......Dry skin. Take a big handful of common handcream such as Vasoline intensive care or equivalent. Use your fingers to massage it into your scalp. Leave it on awhile, maybe even overnite by putting a towel on your pillow. Wash hair as normal. If this helps, do it every few weeks.....don't get into habit thinking if it works well then you better do it all the time.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. wa2go

    Two things to do to cure this: 1. Don't expose your scalp to chlorinated water. Get a good filter if you don't have one already and you don't have well water. 2. Moisturize your scalp from the inside out. Take 2 tablespoons of flax oil every day. It tastes awful straight, so add it to your breakfast cereal before pouring on the soy milk, or put it into a glass of juice. This will cure dry itchy skin all over your body, plus it will give many other health benefits as well. You will be less hungry at lunch time, and will have more energy all day. I've been doing it for 20 years – it really works!!

    October 25, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. wa2go

    Sorry – I failed to mention the obvious other thing: drink several glasses of non-chlorinated water every day. Don't gulp a glass down. Sip it evenly throughout the day. Buy a bottle like a Sigg bottle to carry the water with you wherever you go. Don't buy plastic bottles, which are crazy expensive, use oil to make, burn gas and pollute to transport, and fill up landfills when discarded or use even more oil and energy to recycle. If you don't have well water at home, then buy a filter for your kitchen faucet. A good one (it's about the shape and size of a partially used roll of paper towels), not a tiny little one, which is useless.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. zannie

    dermatomyositis scalp itch is awful, awful, awful. Enough drive you totally insane. That scalp itch is in addition to muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, and other rashes, along with digestive disorders. Truly a very painful and debilitating disease.

    October 26, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brenda Gordon

      i KNOW ALL ABOUT THE SCAP ITCH FROM DERMATOMYOSITIS. IT IS ABSOLUTLY MADNING..i JUST LEFT A WEB SITE THAT MIGHT BE OF HELP TO US. JUST NATURAL ORGANIC CARE. i,M GOINMG TO TRY THE APPLE CIDER VINIGER CLEANSER. I WISH YOU THE BEST.EVEN WHEN MY RASH ISN,T THERE MY SCAP STILL ITCHES GOOD LUCK, BRENDA

      October 23, 2011 at 19:14 | Report abuse |
  8. Maggie Lee

    De-hydration is more then likely the cause. There have been a numerous (hundreds or more) studies that prove de-hydration is the cause of many of the diseases and illnesses that plague this country. We don't drink enough alkaline water. Our bodies are too acidic. Our bodies are made up of about 70% water and our blood even more. That fluid needs to be replaced by water NOT soda, not purified bottled water or a sports drink or anything else – but by alkaline water. Kangen Water is the gold standard of alkaline water.

    October 26, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Eshopes

    http://support.asus.com/download/download.aspx?model=P5G41T-M%20LX2/GB/LPT&SLanguage=ru-ru

    May 8, 2011 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Taka

    Here's something you could try: do nothing! I have found that many times I'm washing my hair too much and the shampoo is stripping my hair of natural oils. Give your head a break and try just taking a body shower. Another good site to check out for scalp problems is: Scalp Itch.

    June 1, 2011 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mal

    Could the problem be... What we are eating? I notice if I cut down on the deep fried or oily products I have less problems with my scalp and hair. I used to eat a large pkt of potato chips every day. If I don't eat them at all I don't have any problems!

    June 8, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mal

    Go to heathhype.com

    June 8, 2011 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Elle

    I cured my horrible scalp itiching!! It was all my Temurpedic PILLOW !!! I got rid of it few days ago and the itch is GONE !!!! I hope this help someone. :)

    October 30, 2011 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Rosie

    I began having severe reactions to most other shampoos and conditioners. My dermatologist did some patch testing with Made From Earth's Tea & Protein Shampoo and my skin is so sensitive to many ingredients in just about everything. I am very sensitive to smells as well and this one was not so strong. I was hesitant because tea tree oil can be pretty pungent but it was actually quite pleasant. The Made from Earth products are fabulous. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do when I found their shampoo and conditioner.

    November 4, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Vitamin E Eczema

    Thank you a lot for sharing this with all of us you actually recognize what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also consult with my web site =). We could have a hyperlink alternate contract among us

    May 1, 2012 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. how to get rid of eczema

    Hey there, You have done an incredible job. I will certainly digg it and in my view suggest to my friends. I'm sure they'll be benefited from this website.

    June 13, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. miriam hernandez

    for about a year now my scalp has been very itchy ,also my hair stated thinning and fallaing out is there an answer for that?

    June 26, 2012 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Theresa

      I also have had scalp itch for more than a year! I've used every dandruff shampoo. The itch is worst at the back of head. It's been horribly embarrassing as well. When I first noticed hair loss I thought it was my hair dye. Which I haven't dyed my hair since that May 2011. Last week I felt even more scared than previously. I noticed a red flaky area by my temples. And I looked throughout my hair and it looked very flaky and patchy. I cried. I wish I had health insurance. I would appreciate if you or anyone can suggest what it is or caused by

      September 2, 2012 at 19:15 | Report abuse |
  18. dick sckmelz

    after an allergy and other obvious causes have been ruled out, you may be hyper sensitive to touch as I have been diagnosed. I take one or two zytech each 24 hr period and rub into my scalp sarna containing camphor and menthol. After suffering with itchy scalp for 8 months I finally got relief. The doc said there is no cure for this condition.Getting to the right doc really helped, he diagnosed my condition in about two seconds. This was at an university dermatology and skin cancer dept.

    August 24, 2012 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe Greer

      I have suffered for a year with scalp I that doesn't subside no matter what I use. Ex. Tree. Oil, different hair conditioners and shampoos . I also get skin rashes that's move around and are itchy as well. Tried many ointments and creams to no avail. .my chest is red and itchy with little pimple like bumps that are at the center of the itch. I need help, if only for my head itch. My alergist has no clues and my dermatologist has no answers. Any help would be appreciated Joe

      December 30, 2013 at 19:31 | Report abuse |
  19. jennifer

    I have had terrible itchy scalp for a long time.I can tell you that a shampoo that has Tea Tree in it is so soothing to the scalp.You can find it in any store.Hope this helps.Just make sure you do not swallow any,it is toxic if swallowed.

    September 4, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. William

    The best is ""Selsun "",,, Not "Selsun Blue" ,, but just Selsun,, stops itch right away

    January 27, 2013 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Lesley

    Has anyone considered Hypothyroidism? I've researched many posts on scalp itch and hair loss and this comes up alot.

    February 25, 2013 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. yaddi

    Its HPV/HSV-2 and yeast, docs haven't figured it out yet because it cant be proven because US does not use DNA to test skin and scalp issues. We use those stupid cotton swab looking things.Unfortunately if you are around someone that has this infection in their mouth and they're constantly talking to you or you're in direct contact with their saliva droplets you will always have an itchy scalp. No one talks about Herpres but it is actually a component of genital warts and when mixed with yeast a primary component of itchyness and hair loss. Why do you think people are starting to use Monistat cream in their hair. Doctors have become so arrogant they dont listen to their patients they just rely on textbooks.

    March 12, 2013 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Cathy

    My head has been itchy for so long. It is itchy all day and night.Some times get so itchy you feel terrible. I just want to know what you can do to prevent it. I have Parkinsons disease and waswondering if it is part of it.

    April 5, 2013 at 05:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Lael Daluz

    Dandruff is a common scalp disorder affecting almost half of the population at the post-pubertal age and of any gender and ethnicity. It often causes itching. It has been well established that keratinocytes play a key role in the expression and generation of immunological reactions during dandruff formation. The severity of dandruff may fluctuate with season as it often worsens in winter.'^

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    May 3, 2013 at 06:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ang

    this was soooo good!! it has helped my scalp which was KILLING me !! Thanks !!

    June 5, 2013 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Andrea Demske

    Skin cells that grow and die off too fast are the problem. Exactly why that happens isn't clear. A very common fungus called malassezia may contribute to dandruff. This fungus lives on the scalp of most healthy adults without causing any problems. One theory is that the immune system of people with dandruff may overreact to that fungus.*-.."

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    June 17, 2013 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Brian Rask

    Keep the skin moist (called lubricating or moisturizing the skin). Use ointments (such as petroleum jelly), creams, or lotions 2 – 3 times a day. Moisturizers should not contain alcohol, scents, dyes, or other chemicals. Using a humidifier in your home will also help. Moisturizers and emollients work best when they're applied to skin that is wet or damp. After washing or bathing, pat the skin dry and then apply the moisturizer right away.:,*,

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    June 19, 2013 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. miley

    o get an amazing technique to work properly, dry scalp sufferers have not to take any supplements, undergo special procedures or use expensive treatments that don't really work. No More Dry Scalp is based on restore the balance between the body and a healthy diet. we can also learn how to naturally achieve a beautiful hair and moreover how to significantly improve a well-being and achieve a have a healthy scalp and beautiful, shiny hair. for more information about their home remedies check it out your self at -> dryitchyscalpremedies . com/

    September 10, 2013 at 00:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 1, 2013 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. nentia

    1) Always keep your scalp moisturized. A water bottle spray with suffice + a few drops of an anti-fungal like tea-tree oil. 2) Use a dry shampoo for dry scalp, daily, like the Coilies Leave-in shampoo at http://www.ebay.com/itm/Leave-in-Shampoo-/111221810799

    March 8, 2014 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. meg

    A couple of years ago I was taking a medication that made my head itch and tingle. It was enough to drive me crazy. It was considered a rare side effect.

    April 12, 2014 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.