Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Itchy Scalp - Some Easy Remedies

Itchy (and dry) scalp is often accompanied
by flaking skin
Also see this newer post for some new ideas! Itchy Scalp can have lots of causes. "Dandruff" refers only to the flakes, not the cause of the flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as Seborrheic eczema is eczema, or a recurring inflammation (causing itching, rashes, scaling or "flaking") of the skin on oilier parts of the skin such as your scalp, eyebrows, face, chest. Most often associated with allergies, you can develop Seborrheic dermatitis as a result of contact with chemicals or friction on the skin. Once your skin has become inflamed and irritated, it's "waterproof" barrier has broken down - tiny cracks open up and allow chemicals through where they can cause further irritation. Elsewhere on your body, eczema usually looks like dry, red, flaky patches that don't become smooth or soft no matter how much skin lotion you apply. They may crack and bleed or get "weepy" and blister. On your scalp, your skin tries to make up for this loss of integrity by producing more oily sebum in a desperate attempt to avoid dehydration. The combination of sebum and available nutrients through access to deeper layers of your skin encourages overgrowth of bacteria and fungi which would normally live on your scalp in smaller numbers. The top layers of your skin and the sebum on top of your skin work to control infections, so when inflammation weakens the system, infections are likely to occur. The activities of these bacteria and fungi produce irritating chemicals as well. Your skin speeds up it's repair cycle, so there are more dead skin cells to slough off, and they tend to stick together under these conditions, causing flakes.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Red patches occurring on the
scalp with Seborrheic dermatitis
You might respond by scratching (don't do it!), by washing your hair or skin more often to remove the oils and flakes, and using dandruff shampoos. Shampooing with oil-stripping shampoos and dandruff shampoos can be counterproductive for an irritated scalp. I have yet to find a dandruff shampoo not loaded with coloring, fragrances (two big offenders in skin irritation) and other potentially irritating ingredients and I am amazed they do not cause scalp misery for more people.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
I'm going to suggest some ways to control itchy scalp and Seborrheic dermatitis which are mild to the skin and hair. You're always walking a tightrope between too much washing, which leaves your scalp dried out and irritated and not washing enough, which leaves dead skin and sebum and other things bacteria and fungi like to grow in, on your poor scalp.
The ideal maintenance (un-medicated) shampoo for itchy, flaky scalps has no fragrance, no colors, no formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Phenoxyethanol is a newer preservative that also has a fairly high rate of irritancy. Mild detergents such as Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, Decyl polyglucoside, Lauryl glucoside are good to look for. Cocamidopropyl betaine can cause eyelid dermatitis, so be careful with that one. Alkyl sulfonates are good for removing excess oils (C14-18 olefin sulfonate, for example) as long as the shampoo is not highly concentrated. Diluting shampoos is a good idea to prevent over-cleaning. Steer clear of herbal extracts. Such a shampoo should be gentle on skin and hair, but still clean well enough to avoid overgrowth of organisms. Avoid heavily fragranced and colorful conditioners and styling products also, at least when your skin is acting up.

Powdery vs. greasy flakes: You might notice dry, powdery white flakes or greasy, yellowish flakes with or without an itchy scalp. These are usually both signs of skin irritation and breakdown of the skin's barrier function. The treatment is basically the same - but if you have dry, powdery flakes you need to be extra careful not to dry out the skin with hot water and too much detergent and keep your head protected from dry, cold or hot wind.

Sore or itchy bumps: Small cysts, or bumps on the scalp or around the hairline are also symptoms of dermatitis and tend to respond to the same treatments. Do not rub, scratch, or try to "pop" these bumps.

Before going further: Do not apply oil to your scalp and leave it on indefinitely! No matter how much sense this seems to make and no matter how good it might feel right now, any extra oil or scalp grease you apply is food for oil-loving fungi on your scalp. When they get a lot of food, they start eating and growing and reproducing and this is all very irritating to your skin. Oils you apply to the scalp need to be washed off after a limited amount of time or they work against you.

To deal with dry hair and medicated or frequent shampooing: Some people shampoo every day and this can help control flakes. If you need to do this, but it makes your hair feel dry, try applying some coconut oil, olive oil (other oils will work well too) to your dry hair just before shampooing. This will buffer the stripping effects of the shampoo on the natural oils on your hair. Or condition your hair before and after washing.

Sugar scrub: mix equal parts olive oil and sugar - it should be on the oily side, massage into dry scalp and leave on for at least 10 minutes, then shampoo out. 
Chemical exfoliants like Salicylic acid are commonly included in dandruff shampoos. Salicylic acid can be just awful for your hair! An alternative is to use a product made for skin (in the U.S., Scalpicin regular strength contains Salicylic acid) and apply it only to the scalp. Some acne medications have Salicylic acid as the active ingredient and could be applied with a cotton ball to affected areas of the scalp to control flakes without drying the hair excessively. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. It breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells to help them slough off and is not repelled by oils, so it can get down through the sebum to help free up scaling skin so that it will not provide a good home for bacteria and fungi.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Control Itch: Topical hydrocortisone creams (1%) or solutions are commonly used for skin inflammation (allergic rashes, bee and wasp stings, hives) and can be helpful for itchy scalps. Scalpicin Maximum Strength contains hydrocortisone and is easy to apply as a liquid. Creams are more tricky to apply, but also help moisturize. Look for a cream with as few ingredients as possible. Hydrocortisone decreases the skin's inflammatory response to help reduce your symptoms and relieve itching. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Control Bacteria and Fungi: Tea Tree oil has mild anti-fungal and general anti-microbial properties. If you use a sugar scrub, you can add 10-15 drops tea tree oil to the scrub, or to your shampoo or conditioner. But be careful, it is possible to be allergic to tea tree oil! Test a little of your diluted tea tree oil solution behind your ear, in the crook of your elbow or wrist 48 hours before using - if there is any itching, bumps or a rash appear, do not use it on your scalp.  Here is a quick read about tea tree oil. They suggest that 10% tea tree oil solution controlled the symptoms of athlete's foot fungus (a different fungus than the one that tends to be a problem on your scalp). 

  • So if one tablespoon of olive oil weighs 14 grams, then you need 1.4 grams of tea tree oil per tablespoon oil, or just about 1/4 teaspoon tea tree oil per tablespoon of olive oil for a 10% solution. Or 1/8 teaspoon tea tree oil per tablespoon oil (14g) for a 5% solution.
  • Another study of Seborrheic dermatitis used 5% tea tree oil in shampoo for 4 weeks with improvements in itchiness and greasiness, and some improvement in flaking. You can read the abstract here. 5% tea tree oil in a teaspoon of shampoo is a little more tricky because not all shampoos and conditioners are the same weight. If we guess that a tablespoon of your shampoo or conditioner weighs approximately 15g (the weight of a tablespoon of water), then you would also use about 1/8 teaspoon tea tree oil per tablespoon of shampoo or conditioner to have a 5% solution. In this case, 5% of 15 g (15 ml) is 0.75g (roughly 0.75 ml) of tea tree oil.
  • The absolute best thing you can do is weigh this out if the measurements seem unclear. The math is really simple. If you're making up a tablespoon of tea tree oil mixture - that's about 15 grams (15 ml). So you start by adding 0.75 g tea tree oil, then add enough oil or shampoo or conditioner to total 15 g. 
    • Of if you were making 100g, you would use 5g tea tree oil, then add whatever else you are using until the total weight is 100g.

Commercial antifungal shampoos (Nizoral with the antifungal Ketoconazole is an example) address the fungi directly whereas zinc and selenium shampoos may alter the sebum in a way that is unfriendly to fungi. Coal tar shampoos are effective for some people, and work by softening scales and slowing bacterial growth. Coal tar can make skin especially sensitive to sunlight - an important thing to know if you choose such a shampoo. While these shampoos can help control the secondary fungal overgrowth and reduce itching and flaking, they do not change the fact that Seborrheic dermatitis can flare up again. Many of them are full of potentially irritating chemicals, so if your scalp is red and irritated, be extremely wary. Never dilute a medicated shampoo! You'll dilute the medicine.

Control friction irritants: Use a satin pillowcase - or a silk one. Some people can be allergic to the protein on the outer part of the silk fibers. In fact, medical-grade silk (used for stitching wounds) has this protein removed to avoid reactions, so be wary. Satin is made from either polyester or acetate and in very dry air, this can cause static which is mostly just annoying. Using a humidifier helps with this. A slippery pillowcase will let your hair slide around as you move rather than tugging at your scalp or "scouring" your scalp when your hair sticks to the pillow but your scalp moves (like every time you breathe). Line winter hats with slippery fabric, put satin ribbon on the hat band of summer hats. Avoid hairstyles which pull on your hair and scalp - only loose and low ponytails. Every tug of hair in irritated skin makes it more irritated!©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Chemical irritant avoidance: Avoid fragrances, artificial colorings, scented/colored laundry detergent, fabric softener in your laundry (think towels and pillowcases which touch your head). Try to avoid sleeping with hair products in your hair (gels, mousse, leave-in conditioners, hairspray) when you are having a flare-up of scalp itch because this increases your exposure to potentially irritating ingredients. While you put them on your hair, inevitably they contact your scalp, neck and ears. If a certain product irritates your skin, see if you can isolate which one it is and then check your other products (the ones that do not irritate your scalp). When you find ingredients in the itchy products which are NOT in the non-itchy products, consider those as potential irritants and try to avoid them.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Soothe dry scalp: Wear hats in cold, windy weather. Use the oil-sugar scrub described above to exfoliate flaky, dry surface skin and soften the scalp. You can also apply an oil like olive oil, apricot kernel oil, or coconut oil to your scalp (before showering). Warm it slightly first and leave it on for 30 minutes before washing your scalp and hair. Pierce a (liquid) vitamin E capsule and add it to the warmed oil for extra scalp benefits. If you have a single itchy, dry patch you can apply a little skin lotion or hydrocortisone cream if it is itchy. Some people can cleanse their scalp with conditioner. Often this is detrimental to irritated skin because of irritants in the conditioner, or because the conditioner itself aggravates the skin. Do not wash your hair daily if you have dry scalp. If you like to rinse out styling products like I do, rinse your hair and then keep it out of the shower spray - keeping an irritated scalp under warm water for too long tends to make it itchy and dehydrated. Avoid using shampoos which strip oils - this means look for a mild shampoo (one that also doesn't dry out your hands and face if you wash them with it) or dilute your shampoo with a generous portion of water just before using. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Housekeeping: Wash your pillowcase weekly. If you have dust mite allergies or pet allergies or outdoor allergies and you keep your windows open, wash your sheets weekly and consider investing in an allergen-proof pillowcase (they have zippers), and possibly an allergen-proof mattress and box spring cover. When you wash your sheets and pillowcases, there are 2 ways to kill dust mites (otherwise you'll just have clean, live dust mites). You can wash the sheets in hot water - which may or may not be economical and be sure you read fabric care labels! Or you can add 35-40 drops of tea tree oil to the wash water. A dust-mite controlling laundry additive sold in the U.S. as De Mite uses tea tree oil and oil of wintergreen as active ingredients. Drying sheets in bright sunlight can also kill dust mites, but if you have outdoor allergies/hay fever, you will be very uncomfortable if you dry your sheets outdoors during allergy season. All this work pays off because it reduces your exposure to allergens and irritants. Even without hot water or tea tree oil, washing your sheets, pillowcases and blankets removes the dust mite allergens and the dead skin cells (yours) which are their food.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Some brands which offer fragrance-free shampoos and conditioners (I would dilute nearly ALL of these shampoos). Some will leave you with a squeaky-clean, tangly feeling. If well-diluted, that's just the effect of the shampoo, not necessarily hair damage. Some of the "mild" detergents are just weird like that. Using conditioner will restore your hair's nice feeling and detangle. I've linked to the shampoos, you can look around the websites for information about conditioners.

Earth Science
Jason Natural
Stonybrook Botanicals
Rainbow Research
California Baby
Cliniderm (Canadians, the gentle cleanser might be a fantastic shampoo)
Magick Botanicals (Oil free shampoo and conditioner)
Avalon Organics (Olive and Grapeseed)
Desert Essence
Logona Free (ingredients can be found here)
Paula's Choice
Cure Care (conditioner only)
Unicure (shampoo and conditioner links at the bottom of the page)

Unscented bases: Another idea is to look for unscented shampoo (and conditioner) bases. You'll usually find these online. They are sold for the purpose of adding fragrances, colorings, and active ingredients - but you can buy them and use them as they come, or dilute them (I say that a lot, but it really works) either when you use them, or in a clean bottle with boiled and cooled, distilled water.
Disclaimer: None of this information is intended to cure skin disease. In fact, that's pretty hard to do, these remedies can treat the symptoms for healthy adults. If your scalp itch is so bad it distracts you from your activities, keeps you awake at night; if you have large areas covered with red patches, blisters or oozing places on your scalp, please see a doctor. Untreated, these lesions can become infected, hair loss can occur.


  1. My crown is sensitive,red and itchy . It had stop since I was doing water only method and wash hair with tea but I oile my scalp then it started again. I can't stop wetting hair daily again because I got cold easily since doing that and it is cold here in Quebec. What should I do?

    1. It sounds like your scalp reacted with sensitivity to the oiling. Some scalps don't like plant oils and will become red and itchy if you use them. If you want to use oil on your hair, it might be better to keep it off your scalp and leave the oil on no longer than a few hours so it doesn't cause irritation. Sometimes you can mix oil with conditioner and the skin tolerates that better.
      If you have eczema, rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis (all can cause skin to be quite sensitive), there can sometimes be an overgrowth of normal fungi that live on the scalp when you add oils. They "eat" oils - so when you put oil on the scalp, they reproduce quickly. These fungi produce irritating by-products as they break down oils. If that is happening - then all the more reason to be very careful using oils on your scalp.
      You might consider trying one of the products here (several are available in Canada). http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2015/03/medicated-shampoos-and-conditioners-for.html They aren't all compatible with "water-only" hair care but there are some sprays and conditioners and topical treatments that are neither shampoo nor conditioners. Something there might help get you past this difficult spot. Keep your scalp covered with a hat or hood or scarf when you're out in the cold, dry air - that can worsen scalp problems! I hope this helps.

  2. What if water is irritating ur scalp or skin? U just apply water without any shampoo n after 5 mins of applying water, ur scalp produces so much oil. This is happening with me :( plz help

    1. When you wet your skin and then it dries again, you will lose water from your skin overall - that's called "trans-epidermal water loss." Some of the oil barrier is disturbed when you wet your skin. If that is what is happening, then your scalp might react by producing extra oil to replace the disturbed oil and try to protect your skin. Warm water can make it worse because it can disrupt the oils more and because it can increase blood flow in the scalp - which sometimes causes irritation.
      For people who have seborrheic dermatitis, this can be a bigger reaction because their skin is already irritated. For irritated scalps, having a wet scalp can trigger irritation (and itching for some people).
      If that were my scalp, I would suspect that something else in my environment is a problem. It might be a product I had used previously, it might be an allergy, it might be a skin disease like seborrheic dermatitis. If this is a recent problem, and you have changed products recently - your scalp may be reacting to the new product. If your water has changed (you moved or it smells more like chlorine than usual), that may cause a problem. If the weather recently changed, the change in weather may trigger a scalp problem. Managing this might mean switching hair products, using a shower filter (or using distilled water for your final rinse), or perhaps using a medicated product (see the page/tab above "Products for Itchy/Flaky Scalps" for ideas) - sometimes a product like that can be used occasionally to keep scalps healthy. Get your scalp dry as soon as possible after you shower. Use your fingers to shake the roots of your hair standing up, leaning to the side, leaning forward - shake the hair away from your scalp so the air can get to your scalp.
      A friend of mine uses a very gentle, non-medicated, fragrance-free shampoo, but washes twice to remove excess oil which provides "food" for the fungi that live on the scalp normally so they don't take over and cause itching. Mild products are best. Some people use herbal hair washes (Ayurvedic herbal rinses) who do not like to use commercial shampoos with good results.

    2. It started suddenly in 2013. One day I went to a water park n took long showers under d chlorinated water. After 5-6 days, my scalp started to produce so much oil only after washing. I don't know wheather it happened coz of chlorinated water or not. The condition of my hair is so poor right now that I don't even go out. I feel like killing myself. Whenever I wash even only with water my scalp becomes super oily n sticky after 5 mins. My hair gets tangled n sticky and oilyness irritates my scalp and hair starts falling out.
      If it's seborrheic dermatitis then what's the cause of seb dermatitis. I never had any problem. It started suddenly and is still there. I really like this post of yours. I keep on reading it again n again.
      Today I used a tea tree shampoo with apple cider vinegar.. My hair became a lil soft but oil started coming again.
      Plz help if u can. God will bless u :((

    3. Oh dear, I have had a similar experience with a public pool. My scalp had been going just fine, and then I want to a public pool during a very dry, hot spell. All the dry heat and all the extra people in the pool must have been overwhelming the pool's disinfectant, because after that both I and the person who went swimming with me had itchy, bumpy, oily, strange-smelling, irritated scalps for months. In fact, that was at least 3 years ago and my scalp has never been the same! I suspect we picked up an infection, though I don't know whether it was fungal or bacterial (or both), I suspect it was a fungal infection. And it does respond to anti-fungal medication like ketoconazole or pyrithione zinc as well as anti-inflammatories like topical hydrocortisone.

      If you can see a doctor for this, it might be helpful. A dermatologist might be better. I'm not qualified or licensed to figure out over a blog comment exactly what is going on!
      >>If you want my educated guess - a good place to start might be to get some Nizoral shampoo at the drugstore or grocery store. Use it as the label says - but be sure the lather stays on for a few minutes before rinsing. I'm not sure the label says to do that.
      If Nizoral does not work, or if your scalp doesn't get along with that product, you might try one of the pyrithione zinc shampoos (there is a long list in the tab on this blog about products for itchy scalps).

      For managing the oily hair only (this will not cure a skin infection), you can mix up a rinse with thyme and sage. Use about 2 teaspoons of dried (leaf) sage and thyme. You can use powdered herbs too, but use 1 teaspoon instead of 2 and be prepared for extra rinsing. Pour nearly-boiling water over the herbs and let them steep for 15 minutes. Strain out the herbs and use the cooled "tea" as a final rinse - leaving it in your hair for a few minutes (you can rinse with water after). That can help a lot with the oiliness in hair.

      Seborrheic dermatitis is probably starts with "something that irritates your scalp" - like exposure to irritating water, an allergy, a tight hat. Once scalps get irritated, they are more sensitive to everything, like when you have a cut that stings when you get it wet. On an irritated scalp, the protective top layers of skin start to break down. The skin often cranks out extra oil to try to make up for losing it's protection. For some people, the fungi that normally live on your scalp will start to grow more than usual because on irritated scalps, as the skin's protective layers start to break down, and if it makes extra oil, fungi and bacteria have access to more "food" like oils and proteins. Too many fungi create irritating by-products that can cause your scalp to become more irritated. And the oil on your scalp is food for fungi. An irritated scalp can't keep out chemicals - like chlorine, nor can it balance itself out after exposure to those things.
      So maybe your scalp was "on the edge" but keeping things together until you went to the water park. That experience pushed it over the edge. Using an anti-fungal shampoo might help get the fungi under control so your scalp can heal.
      Zinc shampoos help get fungi under control also and that helps the scalp begin to heal itself.

      Once this starts, you often have to keep treating it on and off - but right now you need to treat it regularly. If fungi are a problem, managing them with Nizoral or a zinc shampoo might give your scalp the assistance it needs.

      If your scalp situation changes - if you see red rings or have pain or itching or sores, that needs to be checked by a doctor for bacterial infection.
      Do take care and have hope - this is not uncommon at all! Best wishes. WS

    4. See, seborrheic dermatitis occurs only when there is an overgrowth of yeast right? And yeast overgrows in heat, humidity, oil and where there is a lot of moisture? Right?
      Seb derm starts at those place where there is a lot of oil. Does this make sense?
      In my case, water triggers oil.
      Yeast/fungus grows only after the coming of oil. Right?
      I have read somewhere that when something irritates your skin, cells send signals to brain and it targets the oil glands so that oil can go and save the skin from irritation. That's why there is an overproduction of oil when something irritates your skin.
      Okay now why water is irritating my skin? This is the main question
      Maybe coz there's no moisture to save the skin.
      And why is there no moisture? Coz the barrier has broken down. Why is the barrier not working properly. This is the main problem.
      I think this is only happening with me coz I haven't seen anyone who's suffering from such a stupid disease.
      I wanna tell you that I have tried washing with anti fungal shampoos but then also the reaction was same. Oil started coming out after washing.
      And started irritating my scalp n hair started falling out.
      If oil won't come then there would be no problem.
      I have been to many dermatoloists n no one could help. I think you are only person who can help me with this coz you have so much knowledge about it n you are deeply into all these things.
      I really appreciate your long replys. Thanks again.

    5. The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still under debate. Fungi plays a role - but it's uncertain whether fungi is a cause of skin irritation and break-down or a consequence of that. When the skin is damaged or irritated, there is more food for fungi, so they grow more than usual. That fungal growth can be irritating.
      When the skin barrier is damaged, the skin often produces more oil to try to provide extra protection. That is especially true on parts of the body that tend to be oilier.

      ***When you have seborrheic dermatitis, it often gets a lot more itchy when you get your scalp wet. This is common too. Maybe it's the fact that normally your skin is a mostly waterproof barrier, but when it's damaged, it cannot keep the water out and that water is therefore causing irritation and trying to protect itself from the water.

      If you have not tried topical steroid medications (hydrocortisone or prescription steroid lotions or sprays or creams), this might be the time for those to get the inflammation under control.

      But here's something to think about - contact dermatitis and water. Have you tried washing your scalp with distilled water? It may be called deionized water. If you are having a problem with your water source causing irritation, a few washes with distilled water might help. You mentioned having hard water. Sometimes hard water also has a high pH or is alkaline (slightly different than high pH - alkaline water usually feels slippery).

      You might be having a reaction to something IN your water. It might be the disinfectant, it might be a contaminant. If you have metal pipes or metal fixtures (shower head), you may have an allergy to the metal. That is a bit of a stretch, but who knows? It is possible to have some mold (fungi) growing around the plumbing and in the shower which could cause an allergic reaction also. Doing an entire wash with distilled water should tell you a lot. If you wash with distilled water and your scalp does not respond the same way as it has been, then there is something in the water (or the shower) that is irritating your skin. It doesn't matter if you have been using the same water for years with no problem - if something changed in your skin, it will react differently now.

      My hair is not very thick and I can wash and rinse it in about 1/2 gallon (about 2 liters) of distilled water. If you have very long or very thick hair, you'll need more. I hope that helps.

    6. When u had gone to the pool then after coming back from there ur scalp started to react? Even after applying water ? Or it was jus a fungal infection?

    7. It began to feel tight and hot and itchy right away (the pool chemicals for disinfecting probably were out of their correct chemistry due to high heat and evaporation and so many people in the pool) - think of it like a chemical burn. Maybe people who didn't have sensitive skin were not bothered by the water. Getting the scalp wet increased itching. There were 2 of us, one had oilier hair, both had painful, red bumps (cysts) and red patches of skin. It took many months of trying first antiseptic shampoos for the bacterial infection and antifungal shampoos and scalp-soothing rinses to get it under control. Now I have to make a very mild, unscented shampoo to use and I put a water softener and a filter on the shower, which helps a little.
      My water has a high pH which tends to irritate my skin. I love a distilled water final rinse, it feels very soothing.
      Pools use some of the same disinfectants that water treatment plants use, which it one reason to suspect the disinfectant in the shower water is causing irritation in your skin.
      If you constantly irritate the skin, it will produce more oil to try to protect itself. That's the best that I can offer at this point. Something in your water or something in your environment is irritating your skin so that it cannot heal.
      There may be a fungal overgrowth involved. If that's the case, an anti-fungal treatment that doesn't also irritate your scalp should help a little. Your water may be an irritant. If that's the case, then washing with distilled water should give you a little relief. You may have developed a sensitivity to something in the water or something in your environment. Even food allergies or food intolerances can cause scalp problems.
      But it is not surprising that getting your scalp wet causes a reaction. If the skin is already damaged by irritation, even water irritates it. Just like when you get a paper cut or a blister under the water - ouch!
      When skin is severely damaged - burns that blister - saline water is used because the skin will heal more quickly and the saline is less painful. That's 2 tablespoons of salt per liter (4 cups) of water (30 ml salt per liter). That would make your hair feel like you'd been in the ocean - but if it helped your scalp, that would be great.

  3. Hi There! I've noticed whenever my hair is parted for long periods of time whether its a couple days for a middle part or weeks, for protective styles like braids or cornrows; My scalp will develop thick crusty like patches of dandruff on the exposed areas. The hair that isn't exposed is relatively ok. I suffered from dandruff as child, but once I went natural, it went away. Not sure what is going on but its winter now and I want to do braided protective style but afraid how my scalp will react.

    1. Hello Onida,
      So the scalp that is protected by hair is okay, but the exposed scalp is reacting? It sounds like that skin does not like to be exposed and the hair might be protecting your scalp where the braids are over the skin. A lot of things come to mind. >If you're washing your hair less often with braids than without, you may need to wash with everything diluted - this is a helpful video explaining how to do that: (copy and paste, the link isn't active) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5mVFFbDPYo. -Before washing, it's helpful to put a little oil (olive, coconut...) on scaling skin to soften the skin, especially if it's not itchy or red otherwise. Itchy skin often doesn't like being oiled.
      >Wearing a silky scarf or sleep cap at night will keep the skin better hydrated - it creates a humid little micro-climate around your hair. >You might need to apply something to the skin between the braids to keep it hydrated, just like you put lotion on your face and neck to keep that skin supple and hydrated. That might be a diluted (with water) skin lotion, or a hydrating toner on a cotton ball (or a spray bottle) like you'd use for your face. Something with ingredients like glycerin, panthenol, or allantoin are good for keeping skin hydrated so it doesn't want to form scales. Conditioner is not meant to be left on the skin for a long time, it's better to use products that are meant to be left on.
      >If those things are not working, you might need to switch to a medicated treatment, like a salicylic acid toner for that skin, or a shampoo or conditioner or cream with pyrithione zinc. I hope that helps!

  4. One more thing,
    Thank you. You are helping a lot people through your blog. How come u have so much knowledge? Even dermatologists these days don't tell such things in detail.
    This is one of the most informative blog I have ever read :)

    1. That's very kind, thank you. It's fun to apply science to everyday life. My primary training is in ecology - we look at how one part of a system changes other parts chemically and biologically - so I'm in familiar territory. But there's nothing like having a really annoying scalp problem that won't budge to teach a person a whole lot. Not just me - my husband and my dog also have challenging skin problems.

  5. Thanks dear :) one last question please.. (Hope m not bothering u)
    If someone has mild scalp psoriasis then also wet scalp can irritate the scalp skin??
    Psoriasis on body is dry and scaly but on scalp, does scalp overproduce oil to avoid dehydration?

    1. Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease and should be dealt with by a physician in case there is arthritis with it or any other systemic effects that the rash might suggest could occur. In psoriasis, there is over-production of skin cells, scaling and inflammation. The skin is almost always red with psoriasis. It's not the same as seborrheic dermatitis. Some of the treatments are the same (tar, salicylic acid).

  6. Hello,
    I wanna ask one more thing.
    U said in the above comment that 'fungi release irritating by products' right?
    Dont u think this may be the cause of seb dermatitis?
    Some fungal infection occured on ur scalp n irritated ur scalp by releasing irritating by products and this broke down the water barrier of scalp which started to cause further irritation?

    But how can it occur on the whole scalp? There must be some problem with my body thats why it occured on the whole scalp.

    1. That may be a cause of seborrheic dermatitis for some people - the oleic acid and ecosystem modification by fungi. Some people will develop an allergy to the fungi themselves which causes irritation and inflammation of the skin. Some people have another skin disease or irritation that predisposes them to fungal overgrowth. This is a very complex problem, not a simple one with a single cause.

      Everybody has fungi living on their scalp. But they usually do not cause a problem until the skin is damaged or irritated.

      Seb. dermatitis can occur not only on the whole scalp, but on the face, back and chest also.

      Some people have skin disease because they are eating foods that irritate their stomach and intestines and will have improvement when they stop eating those foods (such as wheat, cow's milk, soy, lots of sugar or too much starch).

      Sometimes people have low levels of Vitamin D in their blood which leaves skin vulnerable.

      If you can take antihistamines (pills or liquids) you might try that (according to the label instructions) to see if it helps.

      I believe you mentioned you had a scalp biopsy. If that doctor did not help you create a treatment plan, they did not do their job completely and you would need to return to see that person and work with them to create a treatment plan. If you tried what they suggested and it did not work, then they need to know that so they can help you to find something that does work.

  7. Yes I had a scalp biopsy and it said 'mild inflammation' and there are numerous sebaceous Glands so it may be seborreic dermatitis.
    Just because there are many sebaceous glands they concluded that its seborrheic dermatitis.
    My dermatoloist is so bad. She didn't even explain me about seb dermatitis and she asked me to take 'isoteroin' which is really bad for seb dermatitis.
    But u really helped me thank you so much! I really appreciate ur long replies :)

  8. Hi, and I do appreciate your information so very much. I have been experiencing some very odd symptoms with my scalp. I was blaming it on splenda, alone, but it could be other things too. I have never had anything like any of the things that have gone on in the last three or four months. I had a hair color, that I used head and shoulders, which I never, only then used to get the color off my scalp. It seemed to take longer, as it went into a sort of a chemical cloud, and this substance sort of blew up in the cloud off my scalp. It was hard to rinse, it seemed to be warm on the scalp, and it turned sort of yellowish, and was like a wet plaster, gritty feel. then the ph of my hair was dry, and very fine, and i started to get pimples, and bumps, some if scratched, would have a flow of a dry power, or dandruff flakes, some still do. I lost or it broke off, probably a third of my hair. I have been so behind in shopping, fixing meals, eating, or laundry or chores. It is depressing. Now, my scalp still itches, there are some bumps, and still some of those open areas right under the skin, that the poweder , which i dont know what it is, comes out , seems like a teaspoon, maybe not that much. any help , will be so appreciated. Is it ph, hair products, splenda? I have been so occupied looking up things, and so behind. i really havent had house problems like this for ever. thank you, mary

    1. Did you put the Splenda in the hair color? Before anybody thinks, "Is she crazy?" I have heard of using artificial sweetener in hair dye to minimize skin reactions - maybe to enhance color too. I think it is "Sweet N Low" which is a completely different sweetener than Splenda. Sweet N Low probably does not work either, from what I've read.
      I assume you rinsed the hair dye out before applying shampoo - but some dyes take forever and a day to rinse out, so the Head and Shoulders might have had a reaction with the dye also.
      It sounds to be as though there was some sort of unexpected chemical reaction between dye and Splenda, or dye and Head & Shoulders. We really shouldn't add anything to hair color except things that are safe to add to hair color - and say so on th ebottle. And even then, it's unpredictable. If you and I were working in a laboratory with these chemicals, we would have to wear safety glasses and have carefully designed ventilation.
      I can't even begin to guess what reacted with what because I don't know which haircolor you used. But your scalp has experienced irritation beyond what it can recover from normally. Think of it as a chemical burn on your scalp.

      If it is possible, it would be best if you could see a doctor or dermatologist to make sure there is no bacterial infection, or that this exposure did not trigger an underlying skin disease that needs treatment.
      When you have no open sores, it's usually okay to use 1% hydrocortisone cream (over the counter) for the itching and inflammation. And that can help with the flaking somewhat also.

      The safest way to color is to use the products provided with the color (conditioners etc.) and don't shampoo unless the instructions recommend it.

      The Splenda might have altered the pH - or there may have been some other chemical reaction. I just can't tell without seeing the ingredients - and even then probably would exceed my ability to predict what reaction took place.
      If you're having trouble with your skin reacting to hair dye, a good approach is to always patch-test dye on your skin (behind your ear) before using it. Most hair color instructions should tell you how to do this. Do it every time. Do it until you find a brand that does not irritate your skin.

      But don't add anything. It's not easy to predict what chemical reactions will occur. Don't attempt to color your hair until your scalp is completely better - and then give it a few weeks to make sure it is healed. If you see a doctor and require topical medication or medicated shampoo - follow the instructions and follow up with the doctor before coloring your hair.

      In no way do I want to make anybody feel belittled for adding stuff to hair dye - it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially if other people do it. But unless we really understand the chemistry of the products we're using, we're putting the health of our skin, eyes, nose, and lungs at risk when mixing unknown chemicals together.

      I hope your skin heals soon and all will be well.

  9. I just read one article about neurogenic inflammation. Seb derm can occur due to neurogenic inflammation also? When skin comes in contact with chemical irritants, brain activates neuropeptides and increases inflammation. This can be one of the causes? Right?

    1. That is something that occurs in diseases like migraine attacks, asthma attacks, inflammatory bowel disease - a sensory stimulus with an inflammatory response. Heat can trigger it along with other irritants (here is one good resource, scientific article: http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/302/3/839.long)

      Let me throw this out there too, because it is essentially the same idea: Look into "Mast Cell Activation Syndrome." It's the unregulated response of mast cells anywhere in the body to stimuli that aren't provocative to a healthy person. In the skin - that could be a response to getting wet. Mast cells are in our skin, nose, mouth, eyes, lungs, digestive systems etc. and are part of the immune system. They release their contents of inflammatory compounds usually when they "meet" with an allergen to which you are sensitive. But when a person has Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, mast cells will release their contents on exposure to heat, sunlight, water, friction (scratching), vibration, irritants - lots of things that don't normally bother us.
      Read up on that a bit. See what you think. If it fits, let me know (leave a comment) and I'll link you to some resources for how to manage that. It is manageable.

  10. Hi there! I've been experiencing scalp problems for more than a year now, basically I have an acute alopecia areata at the lower back of my head and some flakes or dandruff. Do you have any remedies for these as well? I preferred a cheaper price too.

    1. Hello Tracy,
      In the "recipe" in the post for diluting tea tree oil in a carrier oil - 1 drop per teaspoon oil - you've got a template. There is a study in which essential oils of lavender, rosemary, cedar, and thyme were used at about that rate in a blend of jojoba and grapeseed oil for alopecia areata. This has a strong enough scent to drive me out of the room! The individual oils have anti-inflammatory effects, I like Cedarwood oil (Juniperus atlantica or virginiana) alone (in a carrier oil). You could choose 1 or 2 of those oils. For the study mentioned, they were applied to the scalp at night and wrapped with a towel and left on. Over half the test subjects experienced good recovery of hair. In animal studies of single essential oils, they tend to perform very well, but are applied 2 times per day in those cases. Here is a link: http://archderm.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=189618
      For non-oily, less aromatic, anti-inflammatory scalp active ingredients, niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, chamomile is as well. If you go to this page on this blog, you'll find a lot of treatments for flakes and dandruff, most are shampoos, but there are some creams and gels: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/p/products-for-itchy-scalp.html
      Flakes and dandruff and hair loss in patches can also be a reaction to irritating ingredients, so be careful that you're not aggravating a sensitivity reaction. Best wishes - W

  11. Hello! Ive had what I would call a breakout of itchy scalp for the first time. Seemed to coincide with a purchase of a new product that I discontinued right away. But its still itchy about a month later. Theres some tiny tiny tiny white specks that show up on 2nd day hair and the itchiness seems to get worse the farther I get from a wash day. Ive never had any sensitivities or allergic reactions, so it really isnt like me to have a reaction to a product, but I dont know what else it could be unless Im not getting my scalp clean with cowashing and sulfate free shampoos. I do tend to not scrub too hard because I lose so much hair in the shower and throughout the day that I dont want to also rip it out with hard massaging in the shower. But anyways, I cant tell if its product flaking(never really noticed it before), product buildup, scalp/skin/oil buildup, or dry scalp. Its not an excessive itch, just a tickling type itch throughout the day. Today I tried an acv rinse today (1/4 cup to 3/4 cup water). Was that too strong of a mixture? Will it take several applications of acv to cure an itchy scalp? Any info that might help? Thanks!

    1. Hello McStacy,
      If the hair loss is recent too, then welcome to the world of having a pretty intense response to a new product. Your vinegar rinse was a rather low pH for both skin and hair. And that's the idea behind vinegar - when you rinse that over your skin, it takes many hours for your skin to return to its normal pH. The low pH induced by the vinegar discourages some yeasts and bacteria. For mild situations, that may be enough to help your immune system and your skin to return to normal.
      For a sensitized scalp, vinegar may help - or it may harm. It's difficult to guess and a safe approach would be to patch-test your way through a few vinegar treatments before committing your whole head to it.
      You might also try an anti-inflammatory like Scalpicin Maz (with hydrocortisone), an anti-yeast shampoo like Nizoral, an anti-flaking shampoo like Neutrogena T-Sal (click the tab on the top of the page for "Products for Itchy, Flaky or Bumpy Scalps" - you'll find lots of options.
      Once your scalp is sensitized, it may take a while of treating it for your skin to recover. If vinegar treatments don't help, you may need to try a different sort of medicine.
      If over-the-counter treatments don't solve the problem, you may need to see a doctor or dermatologist. Good luck!

    2. Thanks for the insight and the product suggestions. Honestly, I didnt know which one to start with since I cant really pin down the cause of the itching but the anti inflammatory may be a good start. So it sounds like here is a hope for getting back to normal eventually? I was assuming if I stumbled on the right treatment, it might reset my scalp back to normal quite quickly, so that might be the wrong assumption. What would a negative reaction to the vinegar be? What would it indicate if several acv applications do not really do anything, and if tea tree oil doesnt really do anything- this situation seems to be itching only (no obvious flaking, no scaling, patchess, redness etc).

    3. I'm sorry this is so delayed a response. A bad reaction to vinegar might be a tight-feeling scalp, itching, dryness, redness. When something works - your skin should feel better. At least for a while. It's really hard to sort out itchy skin, and it often takes a while for itchiness to subside. My go-to for itching is topical hydrocortisone. And you can get steroids (which hydrocortisone is) that are stronger from a doctor. They're meant to be used for short-term treatment of itch and inflammation.

  12. I've had severe Eczema for 35+ years on my scalp and ears. I've tried every salve, cream, soak and shampoo. Foderma serum is very calming. It's not a quick fix. It's a serious, healing serum. It's not heavy and gloopy either. Very light and soaks in quickly. I'm on my second bottle.

  13. Hi, any thoughts on the effectiveness of this product, given the ingredients listed on its website? Thanks!

    1. That could work, provided your scalp is fine with all the other ingredients.

  14. I'm seeing a lot of tea tree shampoos on iHerb, and I will investigate those. Anything in particular I should look for, ingredients-wise, besides sulfate-free? I wash every 3 to 4 days, 4 if I can last that long due to oiliness & itching... and I alternate medicated Selsun Blue with a "regular shampoo." Considering a sulfate-free option for the regular shampoo days anyway, and will definitely be investigating the ones you listed above. I figure something with tea tree might not be bad option. This would be after patch-testing the oil itself, however... I may then try replacing the Selsun Blue entirely with something like this, and/or alternating with Nizoral, which I've never tried.

    1. Hang on to your bottle of Selsun - just in case! Nizoral works really well for some people. For the tea tree shampoos, you want the tea tree oil to come in near the preservatives in the ingredient list to have it around 1%. I think reading reviews can be as good as anything. Some tea tree products will work well, some won't work at all and that depends on the person as much as the product, if there is enough tea tree oil to be effective.

  15. Hello and thank you so much for all this information! I was about to wash my hair with tea tree oil and was wondering about the concentration of tea tree oil in shampoo. You wrote that 1 drop in 1 teaspoon of shampoo = 5% tea tree oil. I read on my tea tree oil bottle that 1 ml = 20 drops, and 1 teaspoon = 5 ml, so 1 teaspoon = 100 drops. So wouldn't a 5% solution be 5 drops in 1 teaspoon? I am really mixed up right now and don't know if I am calculating this wrong or not, I have been using tea tree oil before for treating rosacea by using a 5% solution, (5 drops of tto in 1 teaspoon of carrier oil), but I am not sure anymore if this is the right ratio... I also read on another site to mix 10 drops of tto into 8 oz of shampoo and that this would equal a 2% solution, and that using a solution higher than 5% could be irritating to the skin. So I was wondering if you could help me finding out the truth about the adequate quantity of shampoo and tea tree oil to use. Thank you!

    1. Hello Camille,
      If you want to be accurate, you need to weigh all formulas you create. Formulating by weight gives you the most consistent product time and again. In that case, 5% tea tree oil if you were making up a 100g mixture would be 5 grams tea tree oil + 95 grams of (everything else in total) because 5+95=100. For a smaller batch - of, say, 50g that is 2.5 g tea tree oil.
      To get that accuracy, you need a scale that weighs 0.00 (2 decimal points). And if you're treating rosacea - then the scale is a worthwhile investment.

      A single drop is anything but a standard measure. Drop-size depends on the opening of the dropper, and the force applied to the dropper. So I encourage you to take out the guess-work and weigh it out. Best wishes - Wendy

  16. Do you leave scalcipin in or are you supposed to wash it out?

    1. Hello Unknown,
      You leave Scalpicin on after applying it. It dries fairly quickly, especially if you don't open the nozzle all the way to avoid over-applying and having drips.