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Common scalp conditions: Causes and treatments

Have you experienced itchy scalp or hair loss? Ever wondered what the cause may be? Scalp diseases are becoming a common health problem these days and effects people of all ages and genders.

The scalp is quite different from other parts of our skin.  It features a large number of receptors and secretes more sebum in comparison to other parts of the body.  The hairy scalp is quite a warm environment – an ideal place for the development of fungi and micro-organisms. If you add de-hydration caused by frequent use of highly cleansing and drying shampoos, as well as the lack of proper nutrition and allergies, it turns out that the scalp is a part of our skin that is the most susceptible to various diseases.   

Here are some of the most common scalp conditions, its causes and treatments:

Scalp mycosis

Excessive hair loss, as well as flaking, itching, and burning, are the first symptoms of this fungal infection. Thus fungus especially attacks people with reduced immunity. Importantly, fungal changes affect not just the skin but also the hair itself. In the case of this condition, it is very important to react immediately after discovering the first symptoms, because this way, the treatment of mycosis will be easier.

The mycosis of the scalp has several varieties:

  • Trichophytosis – is manifested by dark spots and partial hair loss, which results in the appearance of bald, itchy patches on the head;
  • Microsporosis – shows spots on the skin similar to the above-mentioned, but it spreads much faster than other types of this disease;
  • Favus – is manifested by the loss of most hair and yellow exfoliation on the skin, which is not only itchy but also has a very unpleasant odour.

Accurate diagnosis is the first step to introducing proper care and treatment. It is necessary to use preparations with fungicidal components (usually oral), sanitizing ointments, as well as shampoo with ketoconazole. Frequent hair trimming and replacement of all existing hair accessories such as brushes, combs, etc. are also necessary.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This is a scalp disease often mentioned as a type of dandruff, because one of the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis is strong skin exfoliation. The biggest problem resulting from this disease is chronic inflammation with a tendency to recur, as well as erythema and crusts forming on the surface of the skin. Interestingly, seborrheic dermatitis is seasonal – it’s more likely to appear in autumn and winter. What’s more, there is no single cause – the disease is the result of many changes including hormonal, immunological as well as external (fungi, diet, and hygiene).

Scalp psoriasis

One of the most serious scalp diseases is psoriasis. This is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system attacks other cells in the body. Scalp psoriasis is manifested by disturbed processes of renewal and exfoliation of the epidermis. The skin cells multiply too quickly, the epidermis grows, and then it strips and forms large scales. The symptoms of psoriasis cannot be mistaken for any other. Unfortunately, the treatment of this condition is very difficult – you cannot use any oily and thick preparations on your hair, only drugs prescribed by a dermatologist and special shampoos.

Dandruff

When discussing scalp diseases, it is impossible not to mention dandruff. It is an uncomfortable condition that, unfortunately, affects more and more people. Sometimes it is a once-off problem, but it can be recurring. The causes of dandruff are also different: from genetic conditions, stress and hormonal disorders, to mistakes in daily care and … fungi!

There are several types of dandruff:

  • Dry Skin-related Dandruff – the most common variety, without inflammation, manifested by small, white patches of dry skin that peels off and falls off;
  • Oily Scalp-related Dandruff – it often develops from dry dandruff, is accompanied by inflammation and pruritus, is manifested by yellow scales on the skin and greasy hair;
  • Tinea versicolor – is a fungal infection of the skin, which is manifested by dark or yellowish discolorations on the skin (not necessarily only on the head) and pruritus;
  • Pityriasis rosea – often affects children and adolescents, it is manifested by tiny red spots on various parts of the body, which disappear spontaneously after about a month;
  • Seborrheic dandruff – a variation of oil-related dandruff treated as an allergy, which is also accompanied by seborrhoea, without yellow flakes of the skin, but with white and dry flakes.

The easiest way to get rid of dandruff is to use anti-dandruff shampoos, but it is worth remembering that these can be addictive.  My word of advice: it’s best to go to the doctor.

Tinea capitis

Ringworm of the scalp is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair shafts. The signs and symptoms of ringworm of the scalp may vary, but it usually appears as itchy, scaly, bald patches on the head. Ringworm of the scalp, a highly contagious infection, is most common in toddlers and school-age children.

Choice of treatment for tinea capitis is determined by the species of fungus concerned and the degree of inflammation.  Topical treatment alone usually is ineffective and is not recommended for the management of tinea capitis. In these cases, please consult with a doctor.

Pediculosis

Schools are the easiest place to get infected with lice, a disease for which human louse is responsible.  This is a small insect that feeds on blood from the scalp. The first step in the treatment of head lice is, unfortunately … hair cutting. Subsequently, pharmacotherapy should be used, e.g. in the form of permethrin shampoos. One of the effective gadgets that help you get rid of lice is an electronic comb. However, of course, you can also reach for homemade ways to get rid of lice (e.g. essential oils, vinegar, rosemary rinses) and ensure proper hygiene.

Alopecia

Alopecia is another serious scalp disease. Of course, this is mainly about hair loss in far too large and uncontrolled quantities. The most common causes of baldness include stress, iron, and folic acid deficiency, pregnancy, chronic illness, taking medicines, and hormonal disorders, e.g. hypothyroidism.

Alopecia may have several forms:

  • Androgenic alopecia – Pattern hair loss, can be male- and female- (MPHL or FPHL).  This is definitely the most common cause of hair loss and effects up to 70% of men and 40% of women).  This results from changes in the dihydrotestosterone level;
  • Alopecia areata – an autoimmune disease of the scalp, in which the hair falls out in whole parts, leaving hairless areas;
  • Telogen effluvium – it is most often caused by the disappearance of hair follicles as a result of hormonal disorders, poisoning, infection or the use of certain drugs;
  • Cicatricle Alopecia – alopecia caused by chronic inflammation, congenital defects, cancer or mechanical injuries, the effect of which is irreversible.

Antibiotic therapy is the most common treatment for alopecia. You can also use hair ampules, herbal scalp lotions, face masks and natural oils that, when massaged into the scalp, restore the natural activity of hair follicles and stimulate the work of hair bulbs.

Treating of scalp conditions depend on the disease. Some products will help overcome dandruff, while others will serve to get rid of lice. Each case is worth consulting with a trichologist or dermatologist to choose the right methods of treatment.

However, you can follow a number of rules that are worth incorporating in the daily care in all of the cases. Diseases of the scalp significantly weaken and irritate it, which is why a good solution is to alleviate these irritations and provide the skin with everything that is needed – vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, humectants.

  • Make sure to provide an optimal hydration of the scalp, it cannot be too dry.
  • Use only gentle shampoos for hair and scalp washing.
  • Avoid things that can irritate, for instance, cosmetics with alcohol, styling cosmetics.
  • Reduce blow-drying, straightening, and hot styling.