What is Scalp Psoriasis?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Scalp psoriasis, like all forms of psoriasis, is an autoimmune disorder that causes the skin’s cells to reproduce quickly and build up on your scalp. While most people with scalp psoriasis also have it on other parts of the body, such as the knees, elbows hands or feet, some people have it only on the scalp. About one-half of all people with psoriasis have scalp psoriasis.

    Scalp Psoriasis vs. Seborrheic Dermatitis

    Sometimes scalp psoriasis is misdiagnosed as seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). While there are some similarities between these two, there are also major differences your doctor should look for.

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    Scalp Psoriasis shows up as silvery scales or patches on the scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis usually appears as greasy-looking white or yellowish scales. The patches from seborrheic dermatitis can be easily removed while those from scalp psoriasis are much thicker and more difficult to remove. They can bleed when rubbed off or scratched. Another difference is that scalp psoriasis can extend to the nape of the neck, the ears or the forehead and can appear on other parts of the body, whereas seborrheic dermatitis just remains on the scalp. Scalp psoriasis can also be a single patch, several patches or affect your entire scalp.

    Both scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis can cause flakes, or dandruff and can be itchy.

    As with other types of psoriasis, you might have periods of time when you don’t have any symptoms and then have flare ups. Psoriasis is a chronic, lifelong condition. You will need to learn how to be aware of a flare-up so you can treat it promptly. Doing so can help you avoid the flakes and make it easier to remove the plaques.

    Treatment for Scalp Psoriasis

    If you have scalp psoriasis, you should see a dermatologist. Treatment for scalp psoriasis usually starts similar to that of seborrheic dermatitis. Medicated shampoos, topical corticosteroids and antifungal creams can all be used to lessen symptoms. There are some topical shampoos available over-the-counter. You will need to make sure to apply these treatments directly to your scalp, and not just in your hair. If these don’t work, your doctor can prescribe stronger topical medications. 

    Removing the scales for scalp psoriasis is more difficult than removing scales from seborrheic dermatitis. Your doctor might suggest using the medicated shampoos to help soften the plaques before trying to remove them. It is important to be careful when removing them so as not to cause sores which can get infected. Your doctor might also suggest applying oils, creams or ointments on your scalp when damp to help soften the scales.

    Once the plaques have softened, you can use a comb or brush and gently go over the scales in a circular motion, being careful not to brush too hard and break the skin. After brushing the scalp, shampoo your hair to remove any flakes.

    If topical treatments don’t work, your doctor might suggest adding oral medications.

    Your doctor might recommend continuing to use these products on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to help prevent flare-ups.

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    For mild scalp psoriasis, your doctor might inject steroids directly into the affected areas.

    Photo-therapy is another option to help reduce the scales. A UV comb is used to expose your scalp to the light. If you have thin hair or a shaved scalp, spending time in the sun might help reduce the plaques. Because of concerns with skin cancer, talk to your doctor about how long you should stay in the sun.

    Hiding Your Scalp Psoriasis

    Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition. It is not contagious nor is it caused by poor hygiene. It is an autoimmune reaction. However, because scalp psoriasis can look like dandruff or extend to your forehead, nape of your neck and other areas of your body, some people find it embarrassing and are self-conscious. Wearing light color clothes, especially tops, can help hide the flakes that look like extreme dandruff. If you have longer hair, you can talk with your hairdresser about other hairstyles that might hide some of the plaques.


    “Scalp Psoriasis,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Academy of Dermatology

    “Scalp Psoriasis,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Psoriasis Foundation

    “Scalp Psoriasis,” Reviewed 2014m May 20, Gary W. Cole, M.D., F.A.A.D., Medicinenet. com

Published On: November 11, 2014