Having an itchy scalp can be infuriating. The constant urge to scratch could last all day, getting worse as more and more oils accumulate at the base of your hair. Giving in and giving your hair a good scratch with your fingernails, a brush or a comb might have you sighing in relief, but not for long.
Unfortunately, routinely scratching that itch can have some disastrous consequences for the health of your scalp. Scratching too often can actually make the scalp feel itchier, creating a vicious cycle of scratching and irritation.
For optimal scalp and hair health, avoid scratching your head as much as possible. Once in a while is perfectly okay, but if you’re experiencing long-term itchiness, it’s much better to figure out the source of the irritation and fix it than to keep on scratching.
What can scratching too often do to your scalp?
You may not think that scratching your head could have harmful effects on your scalp, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The skin on your scalp and your hair is delicate and easily damaged, so constant grating with your fingernails or a harsh comb can really make a mess of the situation.
Scratching too often will usually cause flaking, where dead skin cells will fall off your scalp and get into your hair and clothes. Flaky skin can be embarrassing to deal with, but can also cause additional irritation on the scalp, leading to even more scratching.
Additionally, itching your scalp with your fingertips or anything remotely sharp can cause tiny cuts and scrapes in your skin. Not only will these scrapes hurt, they can be even more painful when water or shampoo from the shower or hair styling products enter the wound.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single untrimmed fingernail to rip the skin open and cause a full-on bleeding cut. Bleeding from your head is never a good sign, but it’s especially bad when it dries within your hair. Bleeding cuts will eventually form scabs. These can be difficult to avoid on the head while styling or scratching and can get even more irritated when touched. They also usually feel tight, which might tempt you to—you guessed it—scratch more.
Finally, whenever you scrape your scalp, you open the skin up to allow bacteria to get in, particularly from under your fingernails. This can cause a nasty infection on your scalp that will hurt and itch even more than before, and you might need to visit the doctor to get antibiotics to get it to go away.
All of these problems with incessant scratching lead us to one of the worst side effects: hair loss. While hair loss from scratching may not necessarily be permanent, nobody wants to deal with thinning sections or bald spots.
Every time you itch, you pull and put stress on your hairs. A lot of this pulling can cause hair loss, called traction alopecia. Additionally, excessive scabbing on your scalp due to bleeding scrapes can lead to scarring, which can sometimes result in permanent hair loss in places.
Causes of your itchy scalp and how to remedy them
The best way to stop scratching your head so much is to find the underlying cause of your itchiness and address it. Most often, itchy scalps are a result of a chemical sensitivity or oily skin. Finding the right products and balance for your scalp and hair will be key to making your scalp itch-free.
- Dehydration: If you aren’t drinking enough water, your whole body suffers, including your scalp. Your scalp and hair need a lot of water to stay moisturized and healthy, so drink more water and add a moisturizing product to your haircare routine to prevent a dry, flaky scalp.
- Scalp sensitivity: Your scalp may be sensitive to chemicals in some of your hair styling products. Opt for sensitive skin products or natural shampoos without the chemicals and see if that helps cut back on the inflammation and itchiness.
- Excess sweat and oil: Too much sweat and oil building up on your scalp can wreak havoc on your skin, causing it to itch and flake off. Make sure to wash your hair regularly to avoid a greasy scalp and the scratching desires it fuels.
- Skin conditions: Some skin conditions like psoriasis can cause red, inflamed and itchy skin on the scalp. You may need to visit a dermatologist to get a topical cream that can reduce your symptoms.
- Sunburn: If you stay out in the sun too long, your scalp can get sunburned. Be sure to wear a hat or scarf to protect your head from the sun. You can even put a little sunblock along your part to prevent it from getting fried.
When you figure out what it is that’s been causing all the itchiness, your urge to scratch should cease and your scalp will be able to heal. Just remember, no matter how much you might want to scratch, it will only make matters worse. Instead, focus on treating the problem and nourishing your scalp for healthy skin and hair.