Don’t let common scalp conditions like dandruff and hair loss plague the way you look and feel. This guide will help you take control, connecting you with basic information and treatment tips for restoring the health of your scalp.
Whether you suffer from seasonal dandruff or chronic scalp psoriasis, scalp conditions are often accompanied by side effects that are uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thankfully, most scalp conditions can be successfully managed with a combination of smart cleansing habits and the right products. In addition to basic information about common scalp conditions, this guide connects you with the resources you need to restore and maintain a healthy scalp.
Common scalp conditions: The basics
- The basics: Dry flaky skin that falls off the scalp – known as dandruff – is one of the most common and visible scalp conditions. With many possible causes, including dry skin, overactive oil glands, hormones and bacteria, cases of dandruff can be complicated and difficult to treat. Although certain types of dandruff have no cure, most cases can be controlled and minimized with the right shampoo and a few simple lifestyle changes.
- Treatment tips: Unfortunately, there’s no cure-all for dandruff, but it’s usually possible to keep symptoms under control. Regardless of what’s causing your dandruff, you should switch to a specially formulated dandruff shampoo that contains the right ingredients for reducing bacteria, balancing oil production and maintaining healthy moisture. If dry skin is to blame for your dandruff, running a humidifier in your house can restore hydration and reduce flaking.
2. Sebborheic dermatitis
- The basics: One specific type of dandruff, known as sebborheic dermatitis, is a skin condition that’s characterized by yellow, crusty patches that develop both on the scalp and elsewhere on the body, including the eyebrows, arm pits and behind the ears. Sebborheic dermatitis may also cause skin to become red, scaly, itchy or oily. Known as “cradle cap” when it affects babies, sebborheic dermatitis is common among infants and toddlers under the age of three.
- Causes: What’s to blame for sebborheic dermatitis? The causes can be complicated, but usually include a combination of factors such as overactive oil glands, yeast, hormones and heredity.
- Treatment tips: When it affects infants, sebborheic dermatitis often clears up within a few months without special treatment. In the meantime, you can minimize the appearance of plaques by gently brushing the affected area with a soft-bristled brush and rinsing it with a mild baby shampoo. Allowing a drop or two of olive oil to soak into the skin can help alleviate more severe patches. Treatment of sebborheic dermatitis in adults may require a special medicated shampoo. Look for an over-the-counter formula that contains salicylic acid, tar, selenium sulfide, ciclopirox, ketoconazole or pyrithione zinc. As always, if the condition is especially severe or doesn’t improve on its own, contact your doctor.
3. Scalp folliculitis
- The basics: When blemish-like bumps develop on the forehead or along your hairline, it may be a case of scalp folliculitis. This contagious condition develops within hair follicles and can even spread to the face and legs. Mild cases of scalp folliculitis cause tiny, sometimes itchy, white heads to develop along the hairline or behind the ears and usually respond to treatment. More severe cases are characterized by hard, red bumps that are painful or sore, and usually require professional treatment.
- Causes: What causes scalp folliculitis? This condition is triggered when bacteria or fungi invade a damaged hair follicle. To avoid scalp folliculitis, it’s critical to take care of your skin and avoid damaging your hair follicles in the first place. Common causes of follicle damage include tight clothing and hats, exposure to harsh chemicals, heavy sweating and extremely hot temperatures.
- Treatment tips: Even though scalp folliculitis and acne are two different conditions, similar treatments can work on both. To successfully eliminate scalp folliculitis, it’s necessary to kill the microbes within the hair follicles using a cleanser (if it’s on the skin) or a shampoo (if it’s along the hairline or on the scalp). Salicylic acid and benzoyle peroxide are go-to acne ingredients that can also treat scalp folliculitis. However, since benzoyl peroxide can cause unwanted bleaching, avoid using this ingredient near the hairline or on the scalp.
4. Scalp psoriasis
- The basics: Scalp psoriasis is a stubborn, chronic scalp condition that’s often mistaken for severe dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. Unlike these other conditions, scalp psoriasis is caused by the overproduction of cells, which build up on the surface of skin where they produce flakey white scales along the scalp and red patches elsewhere on the body. In addition, these plaques may be itchy and, in some cases, can trigger mental or emotional anguish or embarrassment. Scientists aren’t sure what directly causes scalp psoriasis, but believe that it’s brought on by a combination of genetics, environmental triggers and existing health conditions.
- Treatment tips: An accurate diagnosis of scalp psoriasis requires a skin biopsy. Although there are no cures for scalp psoriasis, the symptoms can be managed and minimized with treatments and lifestyle changes. Mild cases can be treated with topical over the counter medications. More severe cases may require prescription treatments and phototherapy.
5. Hair loss
- The basics: Although hair loss most often affects men, over one-third of women are likely to experience hair loss or thinning within their lifetime. Unlike men, however, hair loss in women is rarely genetic. Usually, environmental factors such as stress, hormonal imbalances or chemical damage is to blame. Medications and medical conditions can also trigger female hair loss.
- Causes: In men, loss of hair typically starts gradually during early adulthood. By the age of 50, nearly half of men have experienced some degree of hair loss. What’s to blame? According to experts, hormones and genetics are the two main factors that influence hair loss in men.
- Treatment tips: When trauma is the culprit of female hair loss, normal hair growth usually resumes once the damage is removed. Patience, however is necessary as hair on the scalp may take up to four years to complete a single growth cycle. Therefore, it can take several years before hair thickness is restored. In the meantime, oral or topical treatments can encourage healthy hair growth, along with maintaining a healthy scalp. To help men slow the loss of hair and encourage hair regrowth, topical treatments and oral medications can yield promising results. For extreme cases, some men may consider transplantation surgery that grafts healthy hair and follicles onto problem areas.
Soothing solutions for a healthy scalp
Even though some scalp conditions are influenced by factors beyond your control – like genetics – maintaining a smart skin and hair care regimen is essential for the overall health and appearance of your scalp.
- Nurture your scalp: Each day, your scalp and hair are exposed to a variety of products and treatments. Nurture your head with nourishing formulas and gentle treatments, and minimize harsh chemical procedures – including color treatments and thermal styling. Maintaining smart hair and skincare regimens will support a healthy scalp while reducing the likelihood of developing conditions such as dandruff and scalp folliculitis. To learn more about soothing your scalp, read Soothe an Irritated Scalp: 5 Ways to Treat Acne and Other Scalp Conditions.
- Beat the cold: When it comes to the health of your skin and hair, winter weather can take a toll, causing problems including dryness, itching and dandruff. But with a few cold weather habits – like running a dehumidifier and using hydrating shampoos – you can maintain a healthy scalp all winter long. To learn more, read Easy Solutions for 5 Common Winter Hair Woes.
- Pick the right products: Building a daily regimen that nourishes, conditions and protects your scalp from common scalp conditions is an important step toward healthy skin and hair. Not sure where to start? Whether your suffer from scalp psoriasis, hair loss or a stubborn case of dandruff, the right combination of products and treatments can help you regain a healthy scalp. But before you start shopping, take some time to learn about the best product picks. To learn more, read Scalp Health: Top 10 Products to Nurture and Protect.
Common scalp conditions are often accompanied by physical discomfort and emotional anguish. Thankfully, most symptoms improve with the right combination of treatment and prevention. With this guide, you can learn how to overcome common scalp conditions for skin and hair that looks and feels as healthy as ever.
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