What is scalp problems?

Scalp Problems
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Scalp problems: Overview

Many people have hair or scalp problems. Hair may thin or fall out, break off, or grow slowly. People can have dandruff or an itchy scalp. Hair and scalp problems can cause discomfort.

Hair loss

Hair loss, including thinning and breaking, is a common scalp problem. Most people lose from 50 to 100 hairs a day.

Hair gradually thins as people age. But not all people are affected to the same degree. There are many conditions that cause thinning hair or loss of hair. Depending on the cause, hair loss can be in one area on the scalp or in several places all over the head. The cause of hair loss will also determine the treatment.

Babies often lose their fine baby hair, which is then replaced by mature hair. Because of changes in hormones, people often lose hair for 1 to 6 months after childbirth or after they stop breastfeeding.

Other possible causes for excessive hair loss, thinning, or breakage include:

  • Damage to the hair from hair care products. These products include dyes, permanents, chemical relaxers, hot rollers, hot combs, flat irons, curling irons, and hair dryers.
  • Damage to the hair from hairstyles that pull on the hair. Examples include tight ponytails, braids, and weaves.
  • Hair-pulling or hair-twisting habits. Trichotillomania is a mental health problem in which a person pulls out their own hair, usually from the head, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
  • Side effects of medicines or medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Recent surgery, high fever, rapid weight loss, or emotional stress. You may have a lot of hair loss a few months after severe physical or emotional stress. This type of hair loss usually stops within 6 to 12 months.
  • Diseases, such as lupus and hyperthyroidism.
  • Heavy metal poisoning, such as thallium or arsenic poisoning.
  • A big change in what you eat. You may not be getting enough nutrients from the foods you eat. This includes not getting enough calories, protein, and other nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
  • Damage to the hair shafts from burns or other injuries.

Itching, flaking, or crusting of the scalp

Itching, flaking, or crusting of the scalp may be caused by:

  • Damage to the hair from infections.
  • Cradle cap, an oily, yellow crusting on a baby's scalp. It's common in babies. It's not caused by an illness. And it doesn't mean that a baby isn't being well cared for.
  • Dandruff. This is a shedding of the skin on the scalp that leaves white flakes on the head, neck, and shoulders. It may be a form of a skin condition called eczema. Dandruff can also be caused by a fungal infection. Seasonal changes can make dandruff worse.
  • Head lice. These are tiny wingless insects that cause itching and raw patches on the scalp. Head lice are most common in school-age children.
  • Ringworm. This is a fungal infection of the outer layer of the scalp and in the hair. It usually causes a rash made up of round, scaly patches. The rash spreads from these edges, often leaving the center clear, so the rash has a ring shape.
  • Ongoing (chronic) skin conditions, such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.

Sores, blisters, or bumps on the scalp

Painful sores, blisters, or bumps that form on the scalp may be caused by:

  • Infection of the hair shafts (folliculitis) or the skin (such as impetigo).
  • An allergic skin reaction (contact dermatitis).
  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox and shingles.
  • A skin condition, such as acne.
  • A cyst, such as a skin cyst.

Skin cancer can occur on the scalp, most often in areas not well-covered by hair. It can destroy skin cells and tissues and, in some cases, spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Skin cancer may appear as a growth or mole, a change in a growth or mole, a sore that doesn't heal, or irritation of the skin. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma.


The treatment for scalp problems depends on what is causing the problem.

How can you care for minor scalp problems?

Here are some things you can do at home to care for some minor scalp problems.

  • Try home treatment for dandruff. For example, use an anti-dandruff shampoo if dandruff causes white flakes on your head.
  • Perform a skin self-exam to help identify suspicious scalp growths. Part your hair to look at your scalp. If you have trouble seeing your scalp, ask a friend or family member to check the spot for you.
  • If your baby has yellow crusting on his or her scalp, try home treatment for cradle cap.
    • An hour before shampooing, rub your baby's scalp with baby oil, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly to help lift the crusts and loosen scales.
    • When you're ready to shampoo, first get the scalp wet. Then gently scrub the scalp with a soft-bristle brush (a soft toothbrush works well) for a few minutes to remove the scales. You can also try to gently remove the scales with a fine-tooth comb.
    • Then wash the scalp with baby shampoo, rinse well, and gently towel dry.
  • If your baby has a bald spot at the back or side of the scalp, change your baby's position often. Lying in one position may be causing the bald spot.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.