What Causes Scalp Eczema
Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory condition caused by the overproduction of sebum, the natural oils secreted by sebaceous glands in the scalp. It is not contagious.
Because seborrheic dermatitis is a condition related to the sebaceous glands, it can also appear in other oily areas of the skin, including the face , ears, upper chest, upper back, armpits, and genitals.
There is a strong association between seborrheic dermatitis and yeast of the genus Malassezia, which are normally present in the skin but often overgrown in people with the skin condition.
Scientists dont fully understand the exact connection between the yeast and eczema symptoms, but research suggests that a nonspecific immune reaction may be to blame. That is, some interaction between Malassezia, their metabolites , and skin and immune cells results in an inflammatory reaction.
Importantly, once someone becomes sensitized to Malassezia, the yeast will always cause an immune reaction.
Yes You Can Get Eczema On Your Scalp
If you have a scalp, its going to itch at some point. But if the top of your head is severely itchy, you might actually have eczema on your scalp. Yup, it happens.
Eczema is a condition that can cause flare-ups of a red, scaly, itchy rash to appear on different parts of your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which generally shows up on areas of your body like your hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, elbows, and knees, but it can be anywhereincluding under your hair.
You might not think you can have eczema if youre having issues only with your scalp, but its possible. While its likely that having scalp eczema also means that you have it elsewhere, its not a requirement. Sometimes eczema can be seen only on the scalp,Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, tells SELF.
Translation: If youre dealing with intense scalp irritation, dont assume you can combat it on your ownget to a dermatologist as soon as you can.
You would think you couldnt miss having eczema on your scalp, but people with this condition often mistake it for something else. Many times, patients just assume it is a consequence they have to live with from their hair products, or that they have a dry scalp,Cynthia Bailey, M.D., a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care, tells SELF.
Heres How To Treat Eczema On Your Scalp:
The first thing to do if you think you might have scalp eczema is to get a proper diagnosis from a board-certified dermatologist. They might prescribe certain treatments like drugs to reduce inflammation and calm an overactive immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But there are some things you can do at home to help soothe your eczema, particularly when it comes to your hair-washing habits:
Avoid overwashing. For instance, if you experience the symptoms of eczema on your scalp, you might assume you have an especially bad case of dandruff, which can result in itching, scaliness, and flakes that drift down onto your clothes. In response, you might decide to wash your hair more often, but that can actually make things worse because it strips the scalp and hair of their natural moisturizing oils and can contribute to dryness and irritation.
Wash only with gentle shampoos and conditioners. Eczema is often triggered or worsened by irritant or allergic reactions, including reactions to harsh hair- or skin-care products. Its possible for anyone to get this type of reactionwith or without eczema, Dr. Bailey says. But if you do have eczema, you are more susceptible to these reactions and they can trigger your eczema symptoms.
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How Is Seborrheic Dermatitis Treated
In teenagers and adults, seborrheic dermatitis usually doesnt disappear on its own without treatment. Type of treatment depends on the area of the body that is affected and how severe your condition is.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the visible signs of seborrheic dermatitis and itching and redness. Treatment includes use of over-the-counter products and prescription products. Prescription products include topical antifungals, calcineurin inhibitors and corticosteroids. Ongoing maintenance treatment is often needed. You may need to use a combination of these treatments:
- Cradle cap usually clears up without treatment when the child is between eight and 12 months old. It may be treated daily with a mild baby shampoo.
- Massage or brush the scalp with a soft brush several times a day and after each shampoo. Be careful not to cause a break in the skin, which can lead to infection.
- If the problem continues, or the baby seems uncomfortable and scratches the scalp, contact your pediatrician or dermatologist. He or she may prescribe a prescription shampoo or lotion.
- Other areas of affected skin may be treated with a gentle steroid lotion.
Adolescents and adults:
For moderate to severe cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a shampoo containing betamethasone valerate , clobetasol , fluocinolone or fluocinolone solution . Shampoo your hair as directed. Some products are used daily, others are used twice daily for two weeks then two times a week.
Is Eczema On The Scalp Common
Eczema is not among the most common conditions that can appear on the scalp. However, the most common type of scalp eczema is seborrheic dermatitis, which is also known as cradle cap in infants.
As per a study conducted by the Department of Dermatology, Calcutta National Medical College, India, about 13.4% of children under the age of 5 years are infected with seborrheic dermatitis, which is at peak during infancy.
As per a study conducted by Kamedis Ltd, almost 5% of the general population across the world is affected by scalp eczema, and men are affected more than women.
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How To Use Topical Corticosteroids
When using corticosteroids, apply the treatment accurately to the affected areas. Unless instructed otherwise by your doctor, you should follow directions on the patient information leaflet that comes with the corticosteroid.
Do not apply the corticosteroid more than twice a day. Most people will only have to apply it once a day.
To apply the topical corticosteroid, take the following steps:
- apply your emollient first and ideally wait around 30 minutes before applying the topical corticosteroid, until the emollient has soaked into your skin
- apply a good amount of the topical corticosteroid to the affected area
- use the topical corticosteroid until the inflammation has cleared up, unless otherwise advised by your GP
Speak to your prescriber if you have been using a topical corticosteroid and your symptoms have not improved.
When To See A Doctor Or Healthcare Provider
Scalp eczema may be chronic, but patients can successfully manage symptoms with the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
If your condition is disrupting your life or causing you to be uncomfortable, embarrassed, or anxious, call your primary care provider or a provider specializing in skin conditions and make an appointment to be evaluated.
If your scalp begins to display red streaks, ooze pus, or crust over, that may be a sign of an infection that requires immediate medical intervention to address.
Also, if you have itchy skin and begin to develop a fever, tightness in your chest, cough, wheeze, begin to lose your voice, or have swelling or tingling in your face, tongue, lips, or throat, you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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How Eczema On Your Scalp Could Lead To Hair Loss
Hair loss is something that most of us experience throughout our lives. There are many different reasons for hair loss and the culprits that trigger your hair loss can be completely different from others. One such cause of hair loss is eczema on your scalp.
The itchy, red and irritated scalp is a source of frustration and uneasiness for anyone. It also induces many side effects in most of the people, one of the most prominent side effects of such condition is hair loss.
One Last Thing About Scalp Eczema Treatment
Scalp eczema can be uncomfortable, but there are several over-the-counter solutions that can help relieve your symptoms.
But as always, consulting a professional can help you manage this skin condition. In particular, you may want to see a dermatologist to help identify the triggers for scalp eczema and get a prescription treatment if the remedies youve tried arent effective.
Importantly, see your dermatologist as soon as possible if your eczema-related skin patches drain fluid or pus, form crusts, or become very red or painful.
Additional reporting by Diana Rodriguez.
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How Do I Take Care Of Myself
If you have seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, you can try some of the over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. If one shampoo doesnt work, look at the active ingredient and try another product with a different active ingredient . Shampoos should remain on your scalp for at least five minutes before rinsing off.
If you think you have seborrheic dermatitis on your face or body, see your healthcare provider or dermatologist. They will examine you to determine the extent and severity of your condition. You will work together to develop the best treatment approach to get your condition under control and manage flare-ups. Follow all instructions and never hesitate to call your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cradle Cap
Babies can develop seborrheic dermatitis when they’re between 2 weeks and 12 months old. It usually starts with cradle cap. A baby with cradle cap will have slightly red scaly or crusty yellow patches on the scalp. It may also start on the face or diaper area and spread to other parts of the body.
- red and moist in skin creases and folds
- yellowish with greasy patches or crusts
- scaly or flaky
Seborrheic dermatitis might look uncomfortable or irritating to the skin. But it usually isn’t itchy and doesn’t seem to bother infants.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Eczema On Your Scalp
When your skins barrier is unable to function properly, that makes it difficult for the skin to keep moisture in. It also makes the skin more sensitive to potential irritants. So, according to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of eczema often include:
very dry skin
patches of reddish or brownish skin
intense itching that gets especially bad at night
sensitive or swollen skin after scratching
flakes on your clothes or shoulders after scratching
small bumps that might leak fluid
thickened or cracked skin
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Who Gets Seborrheic Dermatitis
About 11% of the population has seborrheic dermatitis. It occurs most often in infants younger than three months old and in adults ages 30 to 60. It is more common in men than in women, and in Caucasians more than African Americans.
If you are born with naturally oily skin, you are more likely to get this type of dermatitis. A history of psoriasis in your family makes you vulnerable as well. If you live in a dry, cold region, the weather doesnt cause the seborrheic dermatitis, but it does make it worse.
If you have these health issues, youre more prone to seborrheic dermatitis:
Causes Of Eczema On The Scalp
- Stress and illness
Age is another factor. Infants up to 3 months and adults ages 30 to 60 are at a higher risk for developing scalp eczema.
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What Is Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common, noncontagious, easy-to-manage skin condition. This type of dermatitis causes itchy red patches and greasy scales on your skin along with white or yellow crusty or powdery flakes on your scalp.
Seborrheic refers to the sebaceous glands while derm means skin. Its called dandruff when its on a teenagers or adults scalp, and cradle cap when its on a babys.
Seborrheic dermatitis can occur in other areas of your body. These are areas with the most sebaceous gland activity: your upper back and chest, face/forehead, the creases at the base of your nose, behind your ears, navel , eyebrows, under your breasts and in the creases/bends of your arms, legs and groin.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a lifelong condition that appears, disappears with treatment, and flares up from time to time.
Main Types Of Scalp Eczema Treatment
Seborrheic eczema is a chronic skin condition, which means there is no cure. However, there are many different methods for successfully treating eczema on the scalp.
The most common treatments for scalp eczema come under one of the below categories:
We explain more about each of these treatments below:
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How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Seborrheic Dermatitis
Theres little that can be done to prevent seborrheic dermatitis. Cradle cap is a natural, harmless condition. It can be simply treated at home. If you are a teenager or an adult with seborrheic dermatitis, you might be more prone if you have higher than normal levels of androgens, a higher level of lipids in your skin or have an overgrowth of the yeast that is always present on your skins surface.
Some simple healthy things you can do to reduce your risk include getting plenty of rest, controlling your emotional stress and getting a daily small doses of sunshine . Stay away from the midday sun.
Always follow your healthcare providers instructions for using medicated shampoos and skin products. Under treatment or inappropriate treatment can result in flare-ups of your condition and return visits to your healthcare provider.
Eczema On Scalp Symptoms
Eczema on scalp involves symptoms around the hairline and behind the ears. The symptoms include:
- Redness in light skin tones
- Brown, purple gray, or ashen color in darker skin tones
- White or yellowish crusty scales on the scalp
- Greasy, swollen skin
- A rash that can look like psoriasis
Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis are commonly seen on the scalp, face, around the back of the ear, and in some instances, on the chest, under the arms and/or in the genital region.
Eczema on the scalp can occur anytime during a persons lifespan, but it most commonly happens during infancy or during adulthood .
When seborrheic dermatitis affects infants, the condition most commonly clears up on its own, but in adults, SD usually has a pattern of flareups with symptoms that can come and go for many years.
In adults, seborrheic dermatitis affects nearly 5% of the general population. SD is slightly more common in men than in women.
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Scalp Eczema Vs Scalp Psoriasis
Scalp eczema and scalp psoriasis can look very similar, but a trained dermatologist or other healthcare provider will be able to tell the difference and suggest the correct treatment.
It sometimes requires a skin biopsy to tell the difference.
Patients with both conditions can have red, scaly skin, but those with psoriasis have thicker, drier skin, and silvery scales.
People with psoriasis may experience soreness or pain as a part of their condition, and may find that their skin is more challenging to treat than those with eczema.
Keep Showers Short And Lukewarm
This is especially true if you take long, superhot showers, are shampooing frequently to battle what you think is dandruff, or are scrubbing vigorously to do the same. Using anything hotter than warm water can worsen eczema, as can exposing yourself to water for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, scrubbing hard at scalp eczema can scratch your skin, which might just make your condition worse.
Plenty of products at your local drugstore might promise to help with an itchy scalp, but using something like an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo wont treat your eczema. It could even make it worse, depending on whats in it. Its really best to talk to your doctor, Dr. Day says: In most cases, only prescription-based treatments really work. Even if you dont have scalp eczema, your doctor can identify whats going on, offer treatment, and make your itchy scalp one less thing hanging over your head.
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