What’s that Itchy, Flaky Scalp Telling You?

itchy flaky scalp
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Helping Clients Decipher an Embarrassing Problem

The stereotypical image is of clients chatting with their hairstylist and revealing details of their personal life, sharing private problems.  But the truth is that sometimes, simply seeing their hair and scalp from your vantage point reveals embarrassing and even painful problems clients are reluctant to mention.

Hair that looks fine from the front when clients glance in the mirror can look very, very different when viewed from above and behind.  And hair stylists see a lot of itchy, flaky scalps.  It is rarely a serious health threat, but it can be seriously embarrassing and bothersome for your client.  But what causes it?

The Most Common Reasons for Itchy, Flaky Scalp

  • Plain old dandruff plagues many people causing redness, irritation and flaky skin.  However, dandruff alone usually causes a flaky scalp, but not itching.
  • Sseborrheic Dermatitis involving the frontal scalp margin

    Sseborrheic Dermatitis involving the frontal scalp margin

    When itching and flaking are present, the likely culprit is Seborrheic Dermatitis. This hereditary condition is very common, effecting up to 30% of the population. It is so common that many remedies can be found in the hair care aisle of any grocery store.  Special shampoos and topical anti-inflammatory products can help to control this problem, but if not, doctors can prescribe a stronger shampoos or corticosteroid products that can be used on the scalp.

  • Eczema can strike any part of the body, including the scalp.  The itching can be severe.  While children, including babies, are most likely to have eczema on the scalp, it can strike anyone at any age.  The cause is unknown, but harsh shampoos and products as well as stress can really aggravate it.  Doctors can recommend moisturizers and prescribe steroid creams to relieve eczema on the scalp just as on other parts of the body.  Very stubborn cases can require injections of steroid medication directly into the itchy areas of the scalp.
  • psoriasis

    Psoriasis with
    silvery scales

    Psoriasis is another cause of a flaky scalp associated with the presence of thick silvery scales that pile up on each other.  One of the characteristics of psoriasis is that if an area of scaling is peeled off, pinpoint bleeding can occur.  Interestingly, as thick and scaly as the scalp gets with psoriasis most of the time there is very little if any itching.  However, psoriasis is a more serious condition that involves the immune system and causes the skin cells to grow too quickly so thick, flaky patches appear, especially around the margins of the scalp.  This is a persistent and difficult to treat condition. It can be tempting to try and scratch out the flakes that are present on a person’s scalp with psoriasis, but don’t.  It’s not a good idea because scratching the area will actually speed up the growth of new skin cells and actually aggravate the condition causing it to worsen; this process is referred to as koebnerization.

Whatever the cause, most cases of itchy, flaky scalp are made worse by stress and poor care.  Most types of hair should be washed every day or every other day with a mild shampoo.

However, if a person chemically treats their hair and gets perms, daily shampooing can damage the hair and cause breakage and thinning.  These individuals will get better results by using an anti-inflammatory product on a daily basis and shampooing once a week.

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