Itchy Scalp


Scratching your head as you read this?

You may be embarrassed – but you’re certainly not alone.

Thousands of Americans suffer from itchy scalp. Many find relief in over-the-counter medicated shampoos. For those who don’t, a good dermatologist can pinpoint and attack the culprit behind the itch.

Common Causes of an Itchy Scalp

Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis accounts for most cases of itchy scalp that dermatologists will see day to day. Symptoms can include greasy scales on the scalp, eyebrows, eye lids, and nose. Excessive scratching can lead to bleeding and infection. The causes of dandruff are many, from cold weather, to infrequent shampooing or using certain hair products, even stress and lack of sleep can cause dandruff.

Prescription steroid lotions, applied topically to the scalp and other affected areas can clear up the dandruff more quickly and efficiently than anything that could be purchased over-the-counter. With this, the problem often will resolve after just a few days of treatment.


Other, less common culprits behind scalp itch need more aggressive attention. Because it also causes scaling, a fungus (commonly called “ringworm”) is sometimes confused with seborrheic dermatitis, though the former can also cause patchy hair loss in the affected area. A dermatologist can confirm the diagnosis.

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair shafts. The signs and symptoms of ringworm of the scalp may vary, but it usually appears as itchy, scaly, bald patches on the head. Treatment for ringworm of the scalp includes medications taken by mouth to kill the fungi, as well as medicated shampoos that may lessen the spread of infection.

Lice Lice

And then there’s the dreaded L word: Much more prevalent in children, lice spread easily through classrooms, sometimes migrating onto adult heads. The key to banishing the bugs is getting rid of their tiny eggs, called “nits”, which remain glued to the hair until a fine-tooth comb removes them.

Many topical over-the-counter and prescription treatments kill lice, but not their eggs. When we diagnose patients with lice, we discuss several treatment options.