Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/27/2021
Hair loss can have numerous causes, from male pattern baldness to stress, use of certain types of medication and even nutritional deficiencies.
One cause of hair loss that’s often misunderstood is psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that can affect your skin, causing inflammation and the development of thick, crust-like plaques on top of your skin’s surface.
When psoriasis affects your scalp, it may cause you to temporarily shed hair in certain areas of your scalp.
Below, we’ve explained what psoriasis is, as well as the factors that may cause you to develop psoriasis symptoms if you’re prone to this disease.
We’ve also explained what you can do to treat and prevent the hair loss that often accompanies scalp psoriasis flare-ups.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes your skin cells to grow at a faster pace than normal.
If you have psoriasis, you may notice itchy, sore patches of thick, red skin that grow in certain parts of your body. These patches of thickened skin may feel dry and have a silver, scale-like appearance.
Psoriasis can develop anywhere on your body, but it usually affects the elbows, knees, parlms, feet, back, face and scalp.
The thickened, scale-like skin that’s a common symptom of psoriasis is caused by a change in the way your body produces new skin cells. Instead of producing cells at a normal speed, your immune system signals to your skin to create new cells too quickly.
Normally, your skin repairs and rejuvenates itself through a process called cellular turnover. As part of this process, new skin cells created in the lower layers of your skin travel upwards to the outermost layer, known as the epidermis.
These cells replace the old, dead skin cells that can build up on the outermost layer of your skin over time.
For most people, the cellular turnover process takes around one month. If you have psoriasis, this process occurs at a much faster pace, with your skin completing its turnover cycle in just a few days.
This rapid growth of new skin cells causes the formation of thick, scale-like skin in certain areas of your body. Unlike normal skin cells, your body doesn’t shed these cells. Instead, they build up and contribute to psoriasis flare-ups.
Psoriasis is a relatively common disease. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, eight million Americans and 125 million people worldwide are affected by psoriasis.
Scalp psoriasis is a common form of psoriasis that affects the scalp. According to a 2016 study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, between 45 percent and 56 percent of people with psoriasis also have scalp psoriasis.
Common symptoms of scalp psoriasis include flaky, scaly skin that looks similar to dandruff, as well as thick, crusted plaques that can develop on parts of or your entire scalp. If you’re prone to this form of psoriasis, you may experience:
Red, inflamed skin on your scalp. Your skin may become uncomfortable and inflamed, particularly in certain areas.
Flaking. The thick, scale-like skin that develops on your scalp may break off into flakes that can look like dandruff.
Itching. Your scalp may feel itchy, especially in areas with redness and plaques. Some people with scalp psoriasis only experience mild itching, while others develop a severe, persistent itching sensation.
Soreness and burning. Your scalp may feel sore or uncomfortable. You may notice a burning sensation in affected areas of your scalp.
Bleeding. Although scalp psoriasis usually doesn’t directly cause bleeding, scratching your skin can cause cuts to form that bleed onto your face and neck. Scratching your scalp may also cause plaques and other psoriasis symptoms to worsen.
Although it generally affects your scalp, scalp psoriasis can also extend onto your forehead and the back of your neck.
Scalp psoriasis usually occurs in flare-ups, which can vary in length and severity. If you have psoriasis that affects your scalp, you may notice that your symptoms come and go when you’re exposed to certain triggers.
Although scalp psoriasis doesn’t cause hair loss directly, scratching your scalp or pulling at the affected areas of skin (for example, to remove scaly skin) can cause temporary hair loss.
Unlike hair loss caused by male pattern baldness, the hair loss that can occur during a flare-up of psoriasis is usually temporary.
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There are two separate aspects to treating hair loss from scalp psoriasis. The first is treating the psoriasis itself, usually with medication.
The second is preventing hair loss from occurring when you experience a psoriasis flare-up by practicing the right care habits.
If you’re worried that you may have scalp psoriasis, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
Your dermatologist will check your scalp for signs of psoriasis. In some cases, they may remove a small amount of your skin for testing to check whether your symptoms are caused by psoriasis or a different skin condition with similar symptoms.
Although there’s no cure for scalp psoriasis, several treatments can make dealing with flare-ups easier. Your dermatologist may prescribe:
Medicated shampoos, bath solutions or other personal care products
Topical medications, such as topical steroids or retinoids
Systemic medications, such as oral medications or biologic drugs
Your healthcare provider may also recommend applying an over-the-counter moisturizer to your skin to help control redness and itching.
While these medications and products won’t cure psoriasis, they can make your symptoms less severe and help you to make it through flare-ups without itching your scalp and causing damage to your hair.
Make sure to closely follow the treatment plan provided by your healthcare provider and use all of your medications as prescribed.
In addition to treating your psoriasis with medication, practicing good habits can help to limit the damage caused by psoriasis and reduce your risk of experiencing hair loss. Try to:
Identify your psoriasis triggers. Things like stress, weather, illness and injuries that affect your skin can all trigger psoriasis flare-ups. Some medications may also cause your psoriasis flare-ups to become worse. If you’re prone to psoriasis, identifying your triggers can help you respond to flare-ups faster. Try keeping a record of your flare-ups and possible triggers so that you’re ready to treat any symptoms as quickly as possible.
Avoid scratching your scalp. Scratching your scalp during a psoriasis flare-up can damage your skin and worsen hair loss. Try to resist the temptation to scratch or pick your scalp during a flare-up. Some topical treatments may make this easier.
If you scratch, try cutting your fingernails. Cutting your nails short can reduce the effectiveness of scratching, helping you to resist temptation. For best results, file your nails so that they’re smooth and less likely to damage your skin.
Avoid blow drying your hair. Blow drying your hair can make your scalp overly dry, worsening your psoriasis symptoms. Try to let your hair dry naturally after you finish showering.
Remove dead skin carefully. Carefully remove dead skin from your hair using a comb or brush. Make sure not to brush aggressively, as this may irritate your skin and worsen any psoriasis-related hair loss.
Use your medication regularly. If you’re prescribed medication to treat psoriasis, make sure not to skip any doses. Using your medication consistently will make your symptoms easier to deal with and may prevent you from losing hair.
Keep in touch with your dermatologist. If your treatment isn’t working, make sure to let your dermatologist know. They may prescribe a different type of medication or make changes to your treatment plan to improve your results.
Psoriasis can develop on many parts of your skin, including your scalp, forehead and the back of your neck.
Although scalp psoriasis doesn’t cause hair loss directly, itching your scalp and pulling on your skin may cause you to shed hair.
If you have psoriasis, it’s important to talk to a dermatologist. They can examine your skin and prescribe medications and other products to control your psoriasis symptoms and prevent hair loss.