Scalp Inflammation Hair Loss: Causes & Treatments

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Updated 17/06/2022

Although most hair loss in men is caused by male pattern baldness, a variety of skin conditions may affect your scalp and cause you to lose hair.

If your scalp is itchy, inflamed or painful and you’ve noticed more hair shedding than normal, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible to work out what’s causing your scalp issues and what you can do to treat and improve your skin.

Below, we’ve explained how scalp inflammation can affect your hair, as well as several common skin conditions that can cause your scalp to become inflamed.

We’ve also explained what you can do to treat scalp inflammation, as well as your best options or treating and preventing hair loss. 

Scalp Inflammation: The Basics

  • Although there’s no medical condition called scalp inflammation, a variety of issues can cause your scalp to become inflamed, itchy and uncomfortable.

  • A common cause of scalp inflammation is seborrheic dermatitis, which can cause red, scaly patches to develop on your scalp.

  • Other conditions that can cause scalp inflammation include folliculitis, scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) and others. Read what causes folliculitis here.

  • Although not all causes of scalp inflammation cause hair loss, some may cause you to shed hair. In some cases, this hair loss may become permanent if left untreated.

  • If you have scalp inflammation and notice your hair is starting to thin, you should talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about your scalp treatment for hair loss options. 

What Is Scalp Inflammation? 

Scalp inflammation is exactly what it sounds like -- inflammation that affects the skin on the top, sides and back of your head. 

There’s no specific medical condition called scalp inflammation. However, a variety of conditions can cause your scalp to become inflamed. These include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disease that can cause a red, scale-like rash to develop on your scalp. The affected area may look swollen and greasy, with a white or yellow scale. The rash caused by seborrheic dermatitis is often itchy. When itched, dry skin can flake off from the scalp, resulting in persistent dandruff.

  • Folliculitis. Folliculitis is a type of infection that develops in your hair follicles. It causes small sores to develop on your scalp. These sores often look similar to acne lesions and may develop a crust-like texture that doesn’t heal. Although folliculitis usually isn’t painful, it may cause itching and discomfort. Although it’s common on your scalp, folliculitis can also develop in other parts of your body.

  • Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis). Scalp ringworm is a fungal infection that can develop in your scalp and hair follicles. It’s caused by the same groups of fungi that can infect your feet, torso and other parts of your body. The most common symptom of scalp ringworm is a red, itchy rash that develops across your scalp, as well as areas of hair loss. The rash caused by scalp ringworm often has a scale-like texture. Another sign is a black dot scalp symptom.

  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes inflammation and the growth of thick, scale-like plaques on your skin. It’s caused by your immune system increasing the rate at which your skin produces new cells. Psoriasis can occur anywhere on your body, including your scalp. Common symptoms include the development of a red rash, itching, silvery-white scaly skin and severely dry skin that can crack and bleed.

Scalp Inflammation and Hair Loss

Not all scalp inflammation causes hair loss. However, some medical conditions that can cause your scalp to become inflamed may also damage your hair follicles and cause hair loss. 

For example, scalp ringworm can potentially affect your hair follicles and cause patches of hair loss in certain parts of your scalp.

When the inflammation caused by scalp ringworm is severe, it can lead to permanent hair loss that may affect your scalp, eyelashes and eyebrows. We’ve provided more information about this in our detailed guide to scalp fungus. 

Other conditions that cause inflammation, particularly those that can cause itching, may cause hair loss indirectly through damage that occurs when you scratch your skin. 

For example, although psoriasis doesn’t cause hair loss directly, scratching your skin or pulling at affected areas of scaly, painful skin can damage your hair follicles and cause temporary hair loss.

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How to Treat and Prevent Hair Loss

If you have a skin condition that causes your scalp to become inflamed, the most effective way to prevent hair loss is to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you notice symptoms. 

It’s particularly important to talk to your healthcare provider if your scalp feels uncomfortable or painful, or if you already have noticeable shedding and hair loss.

Your healthcare provider will examine your scalp to determine the cause of your inflammation and/or hair loss. They may need to take a sample of skin from your scalp for testing to identify the specific condition that’s affecting your skin. 

Most conditions that cause scalp inflammation can be treated using a combination of personal care products and/or medications. You may need to use:

  • Medicated shampoos, bath solutions or other personal care products

  • Topical medications to treat inflammation, itching and other symptoms

  • Topical antibiotics or antifungal medications

  • Oral antibiotics or antifungal medications

  • Moisturizer or lotion to treat dryness

Make sure to closely follow the instructions provided by your healthcare provider and use your medication for the full treatment period, even if your symptoms appear to improve quickly. 

If you’ve shed hair because of scalp inflammation, it should begin to grow back after you treat the underlying cause of the inflammation. Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider to find out what you can do to keep your hair healthy while you recover.

If you’d like to use a medication like minoxidil to stimulate hair growth, make sure to check with your healthcare provider first to verify that it’s okay. 

Although minoxidil is safe for most people, it shouldn’t be applied if your scalp is red, inflamed, infected, irritated or painful. Using minoxidil while your scalp is inflamed or irritated may make your symptoms worse.

Your healthcare provider will let you know if and when it’s okay to use hair regrowth treatments and other hair care products. 

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In Conclusion

Several skin conditions may cause your scalp to become inflamed, itchy and painful, including seborrheic dermatitis, folliculitis, psoriasis and scalp ringworm. 

Some of these conditions may cause you to shed hair, particularly if you itch your scalp. Others, such as scalp ringworm, can damage your hair follicles and cause permanent hair loss if they’re not treated promptly. 

If you’ve noticed signs of inflammation on your scalp, talk to your healthcare provider to find out more about what’s causing the inflammation and what you can do to treat your symptoms. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.

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