April 9, 2015 Emmy Graber Spotlight

Why Does My Scalp Itch? (And How Do I Fix It?)

Here at MDC, we would love to think that we have all the answers for you. However, there are certain issues that require the insight of a pro. Today we asked Boston-based dermatologist Emmy Graber to help us get to the bottom of a problem many of us deal with, but don’t love to discuss: itchy scalp. Check out the common causes to this issue, straight from the doctor’s mouth!

There are some aspects of beauty that aren’t always so pretty. Today, I am addressing one of these aspects: itchy scalp. A less-than-attractive issue, this condition can be very uncomfortable and take a toll on your self-esteem. To help you address the itchy scalp, I’ve compiled a list of causes for this condition, as well as solutions.

itchy scalp                                              

Dry Skin

Dry skin on the scalp is very common, especially during the winter. Dry skin can sometimes lead to flaky scalp, also known as dandruff. Some scalp oils can be used at home to combat this problem or you can visit your local salon and ask for a professional scalp oil treatment (L'Oréal Professionnel Mythic Oil Scalp Clarifying Concentrate). 

Seborrheic Dermatitis

When scalp skin is dry and flaky and there is an overgrowth of yeast, it is because of a condition called seborrheic dermatitis. This issue causes thin, white flakes to come off the scalp and it can be slightly itchy.  Using a relieving shampoo with selenium or zinc pyrithione can be helpful (try Redken Dandruff Control Scalp Relief Shampoo).  For more severe cases, a doctor can prescribe a stronger medicated shampoo or prescription cream.


Psoriasis is a rash that causes pink patches on the scalp and excessive flaking (much more than seborrheic dermatitis).  When on the scalp, it is most often present on the back of the head, although psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body. Using a shampoo containing salicylic acid can help treat the flaking and itching, but you should consult with a doctor who can prescribe you products to better soothe your scalp.

Head Lice

Head lice is a highly contagious disease that causes itching when an insect called a louse gets on the scalp.  It is very, very itchy.  Some patients with lice will also get dry skin behind their ears and on the back of the neck.  Look for a shampoo containing permethrin or get a prescription shampoo from your doctor.  Treat this as soon as possible so that you don’t spread lice to another person. Insects can crawl from one person to another!

Fungal Infection

Fungal infections, medically called tinea capitis, are more common in children than adults and can be very itchy.  When severe, fungal infections can cause patches of hair loss.  You should see a doctor as soon as possible but in the meantime, try a shampoo at the drug store containing ketoconazole.

Allergic Reaction

Even if you haven’t used a shampoo or a hair dye for years, you can still develop an allergic reaction to it and end up with an itchy scalp.  These types of allergic reactions could also cause puffy eyelids.  A dermatologist can do a special test called patch testing to determine what ingredient in these products you are allergic to.

Do you have itchy scalp issues? Tell us your solutions in the comments below!

Photo: iStock



    About the Author: Dr. Graber is a Boston-based dermatologist specializing in acne, acne scars and cosmetic dermatology.