itchy scalp hair loss

Is Itchy Scalp An Early Sign of Hair Loss?

The simple answer to this is yes and no. Having an itchy scalp is a symptom of some conditions that cause hair loss, but it’s also a sign of less severe diseases that will leave your hair in place. For example, if you have an itchy scalp because you have head lice, your hair won’t fall out. Conditions such as psoriasis, however, may lead to hair loss.

If you have an itchy scalp and you’re worried about hair loss, it’s helpful to learn more about each condition, whether it leads to hair loss, and what you can do about it. We’ll outline the commoner ones along with their accompanying symptoms to help you determine whether you need to introduce a new hair loss regimen.

Conditions that cause an itchy scalp

We’ve already mentioned that an itchy scalp due to head lice isn’t a sign that your hair will fall out. Unfortunately, spotting head lice alone is difficult. If your itching is continuous and you’re aware that someone in your workplace or a household member’s workplace has had head lice, ask someone you know to check for eggs or lice.

Other conditions that will cause an itchy scalp but won’t lead to hair loss include:

A mild allergic reaction

Allergic reactions arise when our bodies come into contact with certain substances and decide to treat them as pathogens. The theory is, our eosinophils target them, causing sensations such as itching. Our bodies can decide they don’t like a product we use on our scalps at any stage. So, don’t assume a new product is a culprit. Signs that you’re experiencing a mild allergic reaction include itching, with no signs of crusting or a flaky scalp. Try switching to a new shampoo and conditioner. If the itching stops, it’s likely that you’re experiencing a mild allergic reaction. However, if you progress onto experiencing shortness of breath and/or a swollen face, seek medical attention.

Dandruff is yes and no situation

Mild cases of dandruff may include itching and white flakes falling from your scalp onto your shoulders. If you have long hair, you may notice it further down your locks too. In many cases, dandruff will resolve by itself. In some, it can progress to seborrheic dermatitis, which has a stronger link with hair loss. To prevent this from happening, you may need to use an anti-dandruff shampoo. However, it’s also worth noting that while dandruff is a condition, it can also act as a sign of the diseases we’ll detail below.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition which involves fungi causing harm to the sebaceous glands on your scalp. Itching is one of its Cardinal signs, alongside flakes that are large. In contrast with dandruff, the urge to itch is stronger and more continuous. Unlike dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis does have the potential to make your hair fall out. This is because the fungi present shrink the hair’s follicles, making it difficult for them to grow new strands. Also, they cause a local inflammatory reaction, which prevents nutrients from reaching the scalp. When inflammation occurs, it locks off some of the blood supply to the surrounding area. While doing this does protect the area from any bacteria in the bloodstream, it also limits oxygen and antioxidant delivery, making it harder for the follicles to thrive.


An itchy scalp is one of the earliest signs of psoriasis. Those who have the condition may notice patches of scab-like tissue forming in areas. These patches become more common during periods of stress. Naturally, the areas where patches of psoriasis develop aren’t conducive to good hair growth, which means you may also experience hair loss. However, this is a reversible condition. It’s worth understanding that psoriasis itself doesn’t lead to hair loss, but reacting to the condition by scratching and picking at scabs will.

Tinea capitis

Like psoriasis, tinea capitis will cause itching as an early symptom. Unlike psoriasis, it will leave your scalp with patches that are similar to ringworm. The fungi that cause these ringworm patches will also affect the hair’s follicles. As a result, you may encounter some hair loss.

Treating each condition so you can minimize hair loss

While diseases such as head lice and dandruff that isn’t preceding a dermatological condition may not cause hair loss, managing them for the sake of maintaining your appearance is essential. As we’ve already mentioned, dandruff can progress onto conditions that cause hair loss. As well as considering an anti-dandruff shampoo, you may also want to try a coal tar or ketoconazole based shampoo. Both have a strong record of reducing dandruff.

Treating psoriasis to reduce hair loss

While ketoconazole began life as anti-dandruff shampoos, some research demonstrates that it’s useful for treating psoriasis too. It’s able to achieve this as it causes the fungi’s cells to develop holes in their walls. Like humans, fungi depend on healthy cell walls to maintain overall health and achieve full functioning. By disrupting their cell walls, ketoconazole forces the fungi into apoptosis, which means they die.

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As a result, the fungi are no longer present to wreak havoc on your head. When your scalp’s follicles return to full health, they’re then capable of growing more hair. However, you may also want to look at other ways of encouraging healthier hair growth. Some of our suggestions include:

  • Stress reduction techniques. If you have psoriasis, you’ll already know that periods of chronic stress make it worse. When you experience chronic stress, your hair’s follicles will suffer from inflammatory processes. This is because your body is producing more cortisol and adrenaline than usual. Helpful stress reduction techniques include removing yourself from the stressful situation, deep breathing exercises, and meditation. In fact, research demonstrates that deep breathing exercises and meditation reduce stress, which then lowers your blood pressure.
  • Boost cell health with natural substances such as avocado oil. Research shows us that omega fatty acids reduce inflammation, as such, you can apply a natural material such as avocado oil to your psoriasis to tackle the body’s inflammatory processes. Theoretically, this will allow your scalp’s cells to receive more of the nutrients they need to thrive, allowing for better hair growth.

Treating tinea capitis to reduce hair loss

Like psoriasis and dandruff, tinea capitis will benefit from ketoconazole. You may also want to try:

  • Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a useful anti-fungal agent. This study focused on comparing the efficacy of apple cider vinegar in treating Candida albicans versus its standard treatment, which is a topical anti-fungal agent. While it did find that Apple cider vinegar is as effective as nystatin for four weeks, its efficacy died down after this period. However, it is an option for fungal treatments of the scalp.
  • Essential oils. There is evidence to suggest that myrrh acts as a useful anti-fungal agent in treating tinea capitis and reducing hair loss. The fungi living on your scalp rely on a delicate pH balance to survive, alongside carefully regulated communication between their calcium channels. This study reveals that Myrrh alters the pH and deranged the calcium channel communication, resulting in fungal cell death. Interestingly, it also illustrates that it’s potent enough to tackle powerful bacteria such as Pseudomonas.

As a side note, if you have a child who has tinea capitis, it’s best to seek advice from a pediatrician before treating them. Also, like ringworm, tinea capitis I spread easily. You should, therefore, take measures to ensure it doesn’t affect other household members.

Is it safe to try and treat the itchy scalp yourself?

Depending on the cause, it’s usually safe to treat an itchy scalp by yourself. This is especially the case with head lice, dandruff, and minor cases of psoriasis.

However, if your psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, or tinea capitis is new or severe, you may want to seek medical attention. This is particularly important if you have an underlying health condition, as the treatments you use may interact with medications you’re already taking.

Never use a remedy if you have a history of experiencing an allergic reaction to it or its ingredients. Similarly, seek further advice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Finally, if you do decide to use an essential oil, never apply it to an open wound and always ensure you carry out a small test patch on your arm before proceeding. You may also want to consider mixing it with a carrier oil if your skin is sensitive.

My conclusion

While having an itchy scalp isn’t always an early sign of hair loss, it may point towards conditions that cause your hair to fall out. Assessing your scalp alongside the symptoms that come with such conditions allows you to introduce treatments early, reducing the likelihood that your hair will fall out. With many of them, hair loss is temporary; this means regrowth is an option too.

Written by Robert B. Brown

Dermatologist. Researcher. Writer. There are only two things more important than my beard in life; My wife and my two kids. I'm a guy full of surprise. If you don't hear me talk about my hair or beard, it's probably because I am watching the UFC.

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