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Thinning hair and patches of hair loss can often be accompanied by an itchy scalp. There are a number of conditions linking the two, and some are easier to treat than others.
Common causes include dandruff and allergic reactions, while disorders such as psoriasis, folliculitis, and scalp ringworm can bring excessive (hair follicle-damaging) scratching.
Specialist shampoos, considered hair care routines, and a healthy, balanced diet can help combat scalp itching and improve hair and scalp health.
Is an Itchy Scalp Linked to Hair Loss?
It’s not uncommon to experience an itchy scalp and hair loss together. Scalp itching, otherwise known as scalp pruritus, has a number of causes and can also be a hard-to-ignore symptom of certain underlying health conditions.
The bad news is that some of these conditions can weaken the follicles, leading to hair loss. Meanwhile, frantic and aggressive scratching can leave you counting the strands as you seek relief.
But there’s good news, too. By identifying and treating the underlying cause, you can stop the itchiness in its tracks — and this usually means hair will regrow over time.
In this post, we dig into the common reasons behind an itchy scalp and hair loss, before sharing some effective treatment options for you to try.
7 Common Causes of an Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss
It’s perfectly normal to experience some hair loss every day. In fact, on average, around 50 to 100 hairs will fall from your head on a daily basis. But if your hair loss is excessive or accompanied by extreme scalp itchiness, scabbing or crusty areas on your scalp, or skin irritation, it could be time to explore further.
And when you do, you might find that one of these conditions is the culprit:
Let’s start with one of the most common causes of scalp itchiness: Dandruff.
The scourge of the teenage years — thanks to a tidal wave of hormones putting your scalp’s oil glands into overdrive — these small white flakes can be itchy and embarrassing whatever your age.
Dandruff at its mildest is usually easy to treat with over-the-counter shampoos. However, if left untreated, it can build up and lead to severe inflammation of the scalp, which can result in temporary hair loss.
2. Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions to hair care products can cause irritation, inflammation, and itchiness — and in some cases, hair loss, too.
The simple solution to such a reaction is to take stock of your hair care routine. Examine each of the products (dyes, gels, sprays, shampoos, and conditioners) and look out for allergens such as fragrances, antibacterials, or preservatives.
Hair dye, in particular, is a common cause of allergic reactions. This is because they contain paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical that helps the hair maintain the colour even when shampooed. PPD is a common contact allergen that presents as a dry itchy rash in mild cases and can result in red, angry blistering in more severe cases.
3. Alopecia Areata
An autoimmune disorder, alopecia areata happens when the body’s cells attack its own hair follicles, resulting in hair loss, scalp itchiness, and visible patches on the scalp. The exact cause of the condition is still unknown, although genetics may play a part. Around 40% of people younger than 30 with alopecia areata have at least one family member diagnosed with the same condition.
Another autoimmune disorder, scalp psoriasis causes raised, red sores and silvery, scaly patches on the scalp. It can occur as a single patch or several, and the itching it causes can result in hair loss and skin infections.
5. Scalp Ringworm
Although most common in toddlers and school-age children, scalp ringworm can affect anyone — especially those with a weakened immune system.
Despite the name, ringworm isn’t actually caused by a worm. Rather, it’s the result of several varieties of fungus (called “dermatophytes”) attacking the outer layer of skin on the scalp and the hair shaft. It gets its name due to the ring-like appearance of the infection.
Scalp ringworm weakens the hair follicles and leaves the scalp extremely itchy and prone to hair loss.
A common skin disorder, folliculitis affects a wide range of areas of the body and impacts people of all ages. It’s typically caused by a bacterial infection (usually “Staphylococcus aureus”), but viruses, fungal infections, and physical trauma to the hair follicle can also result in folliculitis.
Symptoms include small red bumps, white-headed pimples, red and inflamed skin, itching, and tenderness. If left untreated, it could result in scarring, recurrent infections, or permanent hair loss due to damage to the hair follicles.
7. Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) is a chronic skin condition that can flare up anywhere on the body — including the scalp and hairline. It presents as dry, itchy skin with sore, red patches.
Although it doesn’t directly cause hair to fall out, the severity of the itching and excessive scratching can result in temporary hair loss.
How to Prevent an Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss
If you’re experiencing an itchy scalp with hair loss, it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely need medical treatment. In many cases, there are things you can try yourself to keep the itchiness at bay and encourage healthy hair, skin, and scalp.
1. Use Specialist Shampoos
If you’re dealing with dandruff, try a targeted shampoo to wash those flakes away. A specialist anti-dandruff shampoo can protect your scalp from irritants, reduces sebum, and restores balance.
Just be sure to check the ingredients carefully. Some specialist shampoos use harsh chemicals to get the job done, which could result in a dry scalp or prompt an allergic reaction.
2. Use Essential Oils
Some studies suggest that essential oils such as peppermint oil and rosemary oil can slow hair loss and encourage hair growth — but these were animal studies and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nevertheless, these oils can soothe and moisturise your scalp, which can go some way towards promoting a healthy head of hair.
If you’d like to try this approach, make sure you dilute the oil with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) before applying it to your scalp.
3. Eat a Balanced Diet
It’s not just what you put on your hair and scalp that matters. The stuff you put in your body is equally as important. Nutrients like zinc, iron, selenium, biotin, protein, amino acids, and vitamins A, D, and E are crucial to hair, skin, and scalp health.
That’s why a healthy, balanced diet is vital. You’ll get all of these nutrients and more by adding oily fish, leafy greens, fruit, and vegetables to the menu — but don’t be tempted to turn to supplements unless you’re diagnosed as deficient.
Over-supplementation can, in fact, lead to hair loss.
4. Be Gentle with Your Hair
Although it’s easier said than done, avoiding the temptation to excessively scratch the itch will help you evade any hair loss until you’ve dealt with the underlying cause.
To make sure you’re treating your hair gently, you should also steer clear of:
- Wearing your hair in a tight ponytail or top knot;
- Wearing tight-fitting hats;
- Exposing your hair and scalp to high heat (hairdryers and straighteners);
- And excessive amounts of gels or styling products.
Instead, simply wash your hair with a gentle shampoo before air drying. And if you’re still looking for relief from a dry, flaky scalp, try apple cider vinegar. It has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce itching. Dilute it in warm water and rinse your hair after shampooing.
Treating an Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss Medically
Depending on the underlying cause of your itchy scalp with hair loss, your doctor or dermatologist might decide to prescribe antifungals to deal with yeast infections, steroids to reduce inflammation, or immunotherapy medication if you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.
Meanwhile, common hair loss treatments for men include Minoxidil and Finasteride.
In Summary: Is an Itchy Scalp a Symptom of Male Pattern Baldness?
Finally, as we’ve outlined above, some of these skin disorders which cause scalp itching can, in turn, result in hair loss. But this doesn’t mean that an itchy scalp is a surefire sign of permanent hair loss in the form of male pattern baldness (MPB).
Instead, MPB happens gradually over time, with no noticeable itchiness or discomfort. Read about the seven stages of male pattern baldness for a full overview.
And if you’re worried about your itchy scalp and hair loss, simply follow the advice in this article and seek medical advice if the symptoms persist.