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An Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss: Are They Related?

Angela Sheddan

Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/21/2021

Do you have an itchy scalp? You’re not alone. Scalp itching, or scalp pruritus, is a common skin issue that affects just about everyone from time to time.

An itchy scalp can develop for a range of reasons, from washing your hair with a shampoo that’s formulated using harsh chemicals to several common skin conditions. 

The good news is that an itchy scalp isn’t likely to cause hair loss, at least not directly. However, some skin conditions that cause you to develop an itchy scalp may affect your hair follicles and contribute to hair shedding or, in some cases, permanent hair loss. 

Below, we’ve listed some of the most common causes of an itchy scalp, as well as the effects of these conditions on hair loss. We’ve also explained what you can do to treat scalp itching.

Finally, we’ve talked about why an itchy scalp generally isn’t a sign of male pattern baldness, as well as the steps that you can take if you’re starting to lose your hair

Common Causes of an Itchy Scalp

Dealing with an itchy scalp can be seriously annoying, especially when nothing you do seems to get rid of the itch. 

A variety of different skin issues may cause you to have an itchy scalp. These include diseases, temporary skin conditions and even irritation or allergic reactions caused by ingredients in skin and hair care products.

Once you identify the cause of your itchy scalp, treating the issue and getting rid of the itch can become a lot easier.

We’ve listed several of the most common causes of an itchy scalp below, as well as information on the symptoms you may experience from each issue.

Scalp Ringworm (Tinea Capitis)

Tinea capitis, also known as scalp ringworm or scalp fungus, is a common fungal infection that can affect your scalp and hair.

Like other fungal skin infections, tinea capitis spreads via exposure to infectious fungi, such as the species Microsporum and Trichophyton. 

You may come into contact with these fungi from other people or in certain environments, such as shared locker rooms or bathrooms.

Tinea capitis may cause a red, circular rash to develop on your scalp. This rash may feel itchy and develop a scale formation. 

It’s common to experience patchy hair loss with this type of infection. When tinea capitis is very severe, it can cause inflammation and permanent hair loss.

If you have tinea capitis, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. This type of infection can be treated using oral antifungal medication. 

Your healthcare provider may also suggest a shampoo or topical medication to control fungal growth and relieve itching.

Our guide to scalp fungus provides more information about tinea capitis, its causes, symptoms, treatment options and more.

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a skin condition in which your hair follicles become infected and inflamed, causing small bumps or pimple-like lesions to develop on your scalp. 

A variety of different things can cause folliculitis. You might develop this type of infection if you shave your head, wear tight clothing that rubs against your hair follicles, touch your scalp often or spend time in a hot tub or whirlpool.

Folliculitis usually tends to clear up on their own if your immune system is healthy and you stop doing what caused it in the first place.

That said, if you’re looking for quicker relief, you can always apply a warm compress to the affected area. 

And, of course, make sure you’re not shaving, waxing or plucking hairs in the affected area — give it time to heal.

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Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory disorder that can affect your scalp and other areas of skin with large numbers of sebaceous (oil-producing) glands.

This type of skin issue is common in infants and adults aged 30 and 60 and can cause itching, red skin, swelling and greasy scaling. Many people with seborrheic dermatitis get dandruff.

While there’s no direct link between seborrheic dermatitis and hair loss, scratching your scalp often or overly aggressively may damage your hair follicles and cause you to shed hair. 

Seborrheic dermatitis is treatable. Your healthcare provider may recommend using a shampoo that contains active ingredients such as ketoconazole, pyrithione zinc, chloroxine, coal tar and selenium sulfide to control itching and relieve your symptoms.

Overly Harsh Shampoo

Some shampoos contain harsh ingredients that can irritate your scalp and cause you to develop an itch.

One common shampoo ingredient that’s often linked to itching is propylene glycol, a solvent that can cause eczematous dermatitis.

Some fragrances used to give certain shampoos a distinctive scent can also cause itching or irritation, so make sure you’re paying attention to what you’re seeing on the label..

If you often get an itchy scalp after washing your hair, you may benefit from switching to a milder shampoo that doesn’t contain irritating ingredients. 

These shampoos are often labeled as “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin” and can usually be found in your local supermarket or drugstore.

Dirt, Dust or Pollutants

Dirt, dust and other irritants found in the environment can become stuck in your hair and cause your scalp to become irritated, itchy and uncomfortable.

If your scalp is dirty, you may find that it starts to itch. Make sure to wash your hair frequently to remove dirt, dust and other pollutants that can become trapped against your skin, as well as the natural oils that can build up on your scalp over time.

Skin Diseases

Certain skin diseases, such as psoriasis, can cause you to develop a rash that affects your skin and causes itching.

Psoriasis is a type of autoimmune disease in which your skin produces new cells at a faster rate than normal. 

It can cause thick, red patches of skin with flaky scales to develop on your body. In some cases, psoriasis may also affect your scalp.

Although psoriasis doesn’t cause hair loss, scratching your head often or pulling at areas of skin that are affected may cause hair shedding. 

If you have psoriasis, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. They may suggest using a medicated shampoo, topical treatment or a systemic medication to treat your symptoms and make your psoriasis more manageable.

Dandruff

A variety of different skin conditions can cause dandruff -- small flakes of skin that can break off from your scalp and land on your shoulders and clothing.

Although dandruff doesn’t cause itching directly, it’s a common symptom of skin conditions that cause dryness, irritation and itchiness. 

Most of the time, dandruff can be treated using an anti-dandruff shampoo. Our guide to getting rid of dandruff provides several techniques that you can use to wash away dandruff and stop it from making a return.

Allergic Reactions

As well as shampoos, some chemicals inside other skin and hair care products may cause you to develop an allergic reaction that produces irritation and itching.

One chemical that’s often linked to allergic reactions is para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which is commonly used in black hair dyes. 

Other products, such as conditioner and certani skin care treatments, may also contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.

Skin Cancer

Finally, some types of skin cancer may make your scalp itchy, causing you to scratch at certain areas.

Skin cancer often develops on your scalp, as this part of your body is frequently exposed to the sun. Research shows that as much as 13 percent of malignant skin cancers affect the scalp.

While skin cancer won’t affect your hair, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any flash-colored, red or brown spots or bumps on your scalp, especially if they don’t go away over time.

Male Pattern Baldness and Scalp Itching

Although a variety of things can cause you to lose hair, the most common cause of hair loss in men is male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia. 

Unlike psoriasis, fungal infections and other scalp conditions, male pattern baldness generally doesn’t cause your scalp to itch or feel uncomfortable.

Instead, it causes slow, gradual hair loss that takes place over the course of years or decades, usually without any other symptoms. 

Male pattern baldness isn’t caused by irritation, scratching or rash. Instead, it develops due to a combination of genetic factors and the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, on your hair follicles.

We’ve discussed the relationship between hormones and hair loss in more detail in our guide to DHT and male pattern baldness

Put simply, you generally won’t feel much in the way of itching if you’re losing your hair due to male pattern baldness, nor is itching a good signal that you’re starting to go bald.

If you’re concerned about male pattern baldness, it’s best to look for real signs of balding, such as a change in your hairline, noticeable thinning or excessive hair shedding.

Our guide to the early signs of hair loss goes into more detail about these symptoms, as well as the key things that you should look for if you think you might be losing your hair.

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Final Words on Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss

An itchy scalp can indicate many things, from oily, dirty hair that needs to be washed thoroughly to skin irritation that may need to be treated using a topical medication.

However, an itchy scalp isn’t a reliable sign that you’re beginning to lose hair from male pattern baldness. 

If you’re worried about hair loss, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible to prevent it from getting worse.

This is because the earlier you act, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to prevent further hair loss and, in some cases, regrow hair in areas of your scalp with noticeable hair thinning.

Currently, the two most effective options for treating male pattern baldness are the medications minoxidil and finasteride.

Minoxidil, which is a topical medication that’s applied directly to your scalp, works by stimulating the growth of your hair and increasing blood flow to your scalp.

Finasteride, on the other hand, works by preventing your body from creating DHT, the hormone that causes male pattern baldness.

We offer both finasteride and minoxidil online, as well as a range of hair loss treatments that you can use to take action and protect your hair against male pattern baldness.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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