Maybe your hairdresser has commented that your scalp seems oily. Or maybe you have noticed that your scalp feels itchy. You see flakes on your dark clothes. Or in extreme cases you may develop red scaly patches which can become inflamed and irritated. So what is going on? Although there may be many possibilities reasons for such symptoms, there are three skin conditions likely to be the underlying cause. These include dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis of the scalp.
Dandruff is a common skin condition which affects the scalp and causes flaking skin. Dandruff is caused by a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. This fungus can irritate the skin and cause the overgrowth of skin cells which flake as they are shed from the scalp. These white flakes can be quite noticeable when they fall onto dark clothing. The scalp may feel itchy. There are some estimates that 50% of people in Western Europe and North America suffer from dandruff. Dandruff affects more men than women and can be more of a problem for people who have oily hair. In addition to the itching and possible skin irritation, dandruff can also cause the sufferer to feel embarrassed about unsightly flakes.
The usual remedy for dandruff is to use a dandruff shampoo such as Selsun Blue or Head and Shoulders which can be purchased over the counter. If the dandruff is severe then a prescription dandruff medication may be used. Ketoconazole shampoo (Nizoral A-D) is now available both by prescription and over-the-counter. If you find that you are unresponsive to the over the counter dandruff shampoos it may be advisable to seek the guidance of a dermatologist. You may need a prescription medication or it may be the case that you have something more severe than dandruff.
Here is more information about dandruff and dandruff treatments:
Dandruff which is severe is sometimes called seborrheic dermatitis or scalp eczema. The symptoms of Seborrheic dermatitis may include the presence of large greasy flakes, inflammation, and tight, tingly, itchy skin on the scalp. Scales can form on the reddened skin. Seborrheic dermatitis can affect other body parts such as the eyebrows, the corners of the eyelids, sides of the nose, chest, or even the groin area. It is most likely to occur in areas of the skin that are oily. As with dandruff, some triggers which seem to make this skin condition worse include emotional stress, infrequent shampooing, or even medical illnesses such as stroke, AIDS, or Parkinson's Disease.
Treatment may include over the counter remedies as are used for dandruff such as Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue shampoos. If the condition is more severe, then a prescription shampoo may be necessary such as prescription strength Nizoral. Prescription steroid scalp medication may also be used to soothe the skin and stop the itching. Ingredients in shampoos and creams which may be effective for treating scalp eczema may include tar and sulfur.
If your scalp is red, inflamed, and irritated it is wise to seek help from your doctor or dermatologist to prescribe a treatment best for you. Also try to prevent yourself from scratching your scalp as this can tear the skin and lead to a possible infection.
Here are some articles and further information about seborrheic dermatitis:
- Seborrheic Dermatitis (Medline Plus)
- Images of seborrheic dermatitis (New Zealand Dermatological Society)
One of the main things to know about scalp psoriasis is how it differs from dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. Scalp psoriasis has a powdery texture with a silvery sheen while seborrheic dermatitis may present as pink colored patches with yellowish scale. Psoriasis plaques may be a more deep red color and will bleed easily if the skin area is scraped or scratched. Psoriasis can also be a more severe and chronic condition than seborrheic dermatitis.
According to The National Psoriasis Foundation at least half of the people who have psoriasis will also have it on their scalp. Scalp psoriasis can range from mild to severe and can be very frustrating for the sufferer as it is a persistent skin condition. Treatments vary depending on the severity of one's condition. Some control the itch by using tar based shampoos. Topical steroid creams can also help reduce itching. Topical medications can also be used such as Taclonex or Tazorac cream.
It is best to consult with a dermatologist about which treatment will be most effective for your scalp psoriasis. Here is more information about psoriasis and scalp psoriasis:
- Treating Scalp Psoriasis (The National Psoriasis Foundation)
- Scalp psoriasis images (New Zealand Dermatological Society)