Seborrheic dermatitis, is a very common skin condition that causes redness, scaly patches, and dandruff. It most often affects the scalp, but it can also develop in oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest, and back. When infants develop this condition, it’s known as cradle cap. It typically develops within the first few weeks of life and gradually disappears over several weeks or months.
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis isn’t known. However, doctors believe there are two main factors that can contribute to the development of the condition. The first factor is an overproduction of oil. An excess amount of oil in the skin might act as an irritant, causing the skin to become red and greasy. The second contributing factor is Malassezia, which is a type of fungus that’s naturally found in the skin’s oils. It can sometimes grow abnormally, causing the skin to secrete more oil than usual. The increased production of oil can lead to seborrheic dermatitis.
The condition might also develop in infants due to hormonal changes that occur in the mother during pregnancy. The fluctuating hormone levels are believed to stimulate the infant’s oil glands, leading to an overproduction of oil that may irritate the skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a long-term skin condition that requires ongoing treatment. However, developing a good skin care routine and learning to recognize and eliminate triggers can help you manage the condition effectively.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to something you’ve touched.
An allergic reaction can be caused by jewelry or health and beauty products, such as shampoo and hair dye.
Certain materials, such as latex, can also lead to a reaction. So can outdoor foliage, like poison ivy or poison oak. You may have a bad reaction if toxic substances, such as battery acid or bleach, touch your scalp.
An allergic reaction can cause your scalp to develop dry patches that itch or burn. If you scratch, bleeding and scabbing can occur.
How to treat
Your scalp should clear up on its own, but see your doctor if the area:
- appears infected
- is getting more painful
- is spreading
Be very careful to avoid coming into contact with the irritant again. Allergic reactions can grow stronger with multiple exposures.
Psoriasis is a noncontagious skin condition that can affect various parts of your body. It can cause thick, silver-gray scabs all over the scalp.
Around 50 percent of people with psoriasis have scalp psoriasis, estimates the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance.
How to treat
Mild cases often benefit from medicated shampoo designed to treat the scalp and ease itching. Ingredients to look for in OTC medicated shampoos include salicylic acid and tar.
If that doesn’t help, or your condition worsens, see your doctor. Severe cases may need topical or injectable steroids.
With seborrheic eczema, your scalp becomes irritated, red, and scaly. Thick scabs can become itchy and very uncomfortable.
The inflammation of seborrheic eczema can cause it to spread to your face, neck, and behind the ears. In severe cases, it can also spread to the rest of your body.
The condition isn’t contagious, and the cause isn’t known.
How to treat
Medicated shampoos can help loosen the scales in eczema. Ingredients to look out for in OTC medicated shampoos are:
- pyrithione zinc
- salicylic acid
- selenium sulfide
Prescription-strength topical ointment may also be helpful.
Nobody likes the idea of head lice. As unnerving as they are, the good news is that they don’t carry disease or cause any major health concerns.
If you have head lice, you’ll probably feel something moving on your scalp, as well as itching. If you scratch too much, you’ll end up with scabs on your scalp. This can lead to infection.
Head lice can be very contagious. If someone in your household has head lice, everyone who’s been in close physical contact with them should be checked.
Head lice can be treated with OTC medications specifically designed for this purpose.
Another bit of good news is that head lice don’t live long once they fall off or are removed. They generally survive less than two days when they can’t feed.
How to treat
Make sure to wash any bedding, clothing, and furniture that the person with lice used during the two days before treatment.
Use hot water for laundry and dry in high heat. Other items can be dry-cleaned.
For items you can’t wash, closing them up in a plastic bag for two weeks will take care of adult lice and their offspring.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source suggest soaking hairbrushes and combs in 130°F (54.4°C) water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Lichen planus (lichen planopilaris)
Lichen planus causes red or purple bumps on the skin. It isn’t contagious. When it affects the scalp, it’s called lichen planopilaris.
It can lead to hair loss, also known as alopecia, or permanent scarring. The hair loss caused by lichen planopilaris is typically permanent.
Anyone can get lichen planus, but it’s more likely to strike in middle age. Your doctor might be able to diagnose it by its appearance. A skin biopsy will confirm the diagnosis. Most of the time, there’s no known cause.
How to treat
Lichen planopilaris sometimes clears up on its own, but it can persist for years.
Treatment usually involves topical corticosteroid creams or oral steroids. In some cases, injectable steroids may be more helpful. Antihistamines can help with the itching.
Shingles is a noncontagious condition caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body. If activated, you get shingles.
Shingles mainly affects the skin of the body, but scabs can form on the scalp as well.
The shingles rash looks like small blisters that turn yellow and form a crust lasting up to two weeks. A shingles rash can be quite painful. It may also cause headache or facial weakness.
Symptoms can continue for months.
How to treat
Treatment may involve:
- antiviral medication
- pain medication
- topical ointments
Lupus lesions on the scalp
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which your body creates antibodies that attack healthy tissue. In addition to attacking healthy parts of your body, these antibodies can cause pain and inflammation. Lupus is chronic and noncontagious.
About two-thirds of people with lupus will also notice that the disease has an effect on their skin, notes the Lupus Foundation of America.
Lesions or rashes may appear in areas that are commonly exposed to the sun, such as your head, face, and neck. If the lesions occur on the scalp, hair loss and scarring can occur.
How to treat
Treatment of lupus-related skin conditions can include corticosteroid creams or calcineurin inhibitors. Medications such as dapsone may be used for more moderate cases.
The term alopecia refers to hair loss. Traction alopecia is hair loss that’s caused by repeatedly pulling on your hair. You can develop this condition if you often wear your hair in a tight ponytail, bun, or braids, especially if you use chemicals or heat on your hair.
Traction alopecia can be reversed if you stop pulling your hair back. But if you don’t intervene soon enough, the hair loss may be permanent.
Doctors in Greenland first identified the condition in the early 1900s. They discovered that women who wore tight ponytails had lost hair along their hairline.
Early on, traction alopecia might show up as little bumps on your scalp that look like pimples. As the condition progresses, the main symptom is missing and broken hairs. The hairs along the front and sides of your scalp are most often affected. However, you may also notice hair loss on other areas of your scalp, depending on your hairstyle.
In addition to hair loss, traction alopecia can cause these symptoms:
- redness of the scalp
- soreness or stinging of your scalp
- folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles)
- pus-filled blisters on your scalp
Eventually, the hair follicles can become so damaged and scarred that they can’t produce new hair.
The symptoms of traction alopecia are different from those of other forms of alopecia. In other types, the hair loss occurs in patches all over the scalp. In traction alopecia, usually just the hair that’s been pulled is affected.
You develop traction alopecia from wearing your hair pulled too tight. Pulling on the hair repeatedly loosens the hair shaft in its follicle.
For example, you might lose hair if you often:
- pull your hair back into a tight ponytail or bun
- wear tight braids, cornrows, or dreadlocks
- use hair extensions or weaves
- put your hair up in rollers overnight
People with very long hair can also get traction alopecia due to the weight of the hair pulling on the scalp. Men can also have it in their beard if they twist it too tightly.
This condition is common in African-American women, although it can affect people of any ethnicity. It occurs more frequently among people in professions that tend to put their hair up in a tight bun, such as ballerinas and gymnasts.
Although the condition can affect people of any age, it’s more likely to happen as you get older because your hair becomes more damaged the longer you pull on it.