Scalp Eczema Signs, Triggers and Remedy


There are so many things that can cause your scalp to itch. But if you’re constantly scratching (and it’s really starting to interfere with your life), you might want to consider scalp eczema as the culprit. Eczema is an extremely common skin condition, affecting approximately 30 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). In addition to your scalp, it can typically affect your hands, neck, insides of your elbows, and the delicate area around your eyes.1.

In addition to supreme itchiness, eczema can cause very dry, inflamed, and scaly skin (which can appear brown, purple, or gray, depending on your skin tone). This, of course, can go unnoticed on the top of your head, especially under your hairline if you have any. Also, if you only have dandruff and itching on your head, you can simply attribute it to dandruff or a dry scalp. But it’s possible to just have scalp eczema, and in that case, using over-the-counter dandruff shampoos won’t be enough.

Ahead, dermatologists explain how to tell if scalp eczema may be fueling your skin symptoms, and how to finally get sweet relief for your head.

What causes scalp eczema?

Eczema (also called dermatitis) is a term used to describe several different skin conditions that cause inflammation of the skin, depending on the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM). All forms of eczema are caused by a disruption in the skin barrier, which typically keeps irritants out and moisture out, according to the Association of the American Academy of Dermatology (ADA). If this barrier isn’t working properly, your skin can become dry, irritated, sensitive to allergens, or prone to infection.2.

There are many types of eczema, but the two that most commonly affect the scalp are atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema that causes itching, according to the AAD. So, in the case of scalp eczema, you may have dry, itchy patches on your scalp that may bleed, ooze clear fluids, and develop a scab afterwards. People typically develop atopic dermatitis during childhood, but can also be diagnosed with the disease in adulthood. For about 60% of children with atopic dermatitis, the disease goes away on its own by the age of 12.3. But other people can have atopic dermatitis all their life. Estimates show that approximately 11% of children and 7% of adults in the United States suffer from this form of eczema.4.

Although the condition is quite common, the causes of atopic dermatitis are complex. Experts suspect that atopic dermatitis is partly caused by your immune system overreacting to irritants or allergens, leading to chronic inflammation. Cleveland Clinic. In addition to age, the AAD indicates that people with a family history of atopic dermatitis, allergies, and any form of asthma have a higher risk of developing this type of eczema. And people who have at least one of these risk factors and who live in a cold climate can have their weather-triggered atopic dermatitis, both for the first time and for subsequent eczema flare-ups.

Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, refers to irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. “Irritant contact dermatitis is when the skin is literally irritated by what it comes in contact with, such as harsh or abrasive soaps that can damage the skin barrier,” Mary L. Stevenson, MDdermatologist surgeon at NYU Langone in New York, says SELF. This is different from allergic contact dermatitis, in which the skin has an allergic reaction. It boils down to an overreaction of the immune system to a particular substance like poison ivy or a fragrance in a shampoo or soap, says Dr. Stevenson. With contact dermatitis on the scalp, people usually get a rash on their head about 24 to 48 hours after the skin on their scalp comes into direct contact with an irritant or allergen. Generally, you can manage the symptoms of contact dermatitis by avoiding your particular irritants or allergens.

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