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It can be troubling to find scabs developing on your scalp for no apparent reason. When you haven’t fallen or been injured in some way, don’t simply write the problem off as a fluke or as a result of aging.
Use this guide to determine the cause and fix for scalp scabs.
Common Causes and Remedies for Scalp Scabs
Allergies, dry skin, and disease are among the top causes of scalp scabs, according to Healthline. All of these causes present themselves in the form of dry or irritated, itchy scalps. Here are the 9 most common causes.
1. Allergic Reactions
People have developed allergies to common and not so common materials, and research is still being conducted to find out why our immune systems react to certain seemingly innocuous products like dairy or wheat.
The good news is that you can generally rule out food allergies as the cause of scalp scabs.
If an allergic reaction is causing your scalp to break out in dry, inflamed patches, it was most likely due to physical contact. An unusual substance touched your scalp.
It might have been a new shampoo or hair care product with a dye or chemical component that irritated your skin.
It might have been a cleaning, laundry, or industrial chemical you were working with. If you have been working outside or hiking recently, you might have come into contact with poison ivy or oak.
If you been to the doctor for an examination recently, the physician might have gloves made from latex, a substance known for causing allergic reactions in many people, according to the American Latex Allergy Association.
If you think you have come into contact with a substance that is causing an allergic reaction, think back through the last 24 hours. Contact rashes develop quickly, usually within a couple of hours of touching the product.
If you can remember a new chemical, product, or plant touching your head in the last day, you might have found the source of your scalp scabs. Try to remember when your scalp first became irritated to further narrow down the possible offending products.
If you are certain that you have not come into contact with a new chemical or plant variety, this does not mean that you are not experiencing an allergic reaction. Oddly, our allergies can change and develop over time.
Substances that never affected you before might now, and allergies become stronger in the presence of a weakened immune system.
If you are ill or recovering from an illness, your body might be hypersensitive to fighting off possible allergens. If your body only mildly reacted to a substance before, the severity of the reaction could increase with more exposure or in the face of other illnesses.
Treating Allergic Reaction Scalp Scabs
Do not scratch your scalp as you might spread the allergen or open new cuts for scabs to develop. Wash your head in cool water and with a mild soap. If you believe poison oak or poison ivy might be involved, wash with an urushiol oil cleanser.
Apply an anti-itch and anti-bacterial creams, such as calamine lotion and Neosporin, to prevent further irritation and infection. If your scalp scabs were due to an allergic reaction of this nature, they should heal within a few days.
Dandruff: Dandruff can be a result of many factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, oily skin, overly dry skin, and Malassezia fungus are the most common causes. In all of its forms, dandruff causes extra skin cells to grow, making your scalp itchy.
If you don’t treat dandruff or if you scratch it too much, scabs will develop, and the problem will become worse.It’s fairly easy to know if you have dandruff. You can spot the extra skin cells flaking off into your hair or onto your clothes. Determining the cause of dandruff is equally simple.
Does your skin feel more oily than normal? Oily skin can be a result of aging, fluctuating hormone levels, humidity, a change in hair care products, or an alteration in bathing habits.
Nearly the same questions apply to dry skin. A change in outside humidity or indoor climate control can trigger dry skin. As we get older, our skin also dries out. Too harsh of hair care products and bathing either too frequently or too infrequently can lead to dandruff and scalp scabs.
If neither oily nor dry skin seems to be the cause of your dandruff, your skin might be the victim of Malassezia. All adults carry this fungus, but relatively few experience increased skin cell growth as a result.
Treating Dandruff Scalp Scabs
Adjust your hair-washing routine, check your humidity settings, and consider using a different hair care product. If you have oily skin, try washing your hair and head more frequently, up to twice a day.
If you have dry skin, wash your hair less frequently, as little as twice per week. If you are still experiencing dandruff and/or scalp scabs, try purchasing a medicated shampoo for dandruff control to combat Malassezia fungus and more specifically address scalp health issues.
Psoriasis: Causing chronic, severely dry and flaky skin, psoriasis is another skin disorder characterized by increased skin cell production. As WebMD states, psoriasis causes skin cells to produce at 10 times their normal rate. They also die quicker.
As new cells are produced, the older skin cells are pushed to the surface where they create dry, flaky surfaces. The dry skin can crack and bleed, causing painful sores and scabs.
If you have psoriasis on your elbows or knees (the most common areas), don’t be surprised if it also crops up on the top of your head once in a while. Psoriasis symptoms fade or flare up over time.
Just because you’ve never experienced it on your head before doesn’t mean it’s not psoriasis. It might happen once and then never again. If, however, you have not experienced psoriasis anywhere else, it is unlikely that the first occurrence will be on your scalp.
Treating Psoriasis Scalp Scabs
Psoriasis is not a disease and so cannot be cured. You can treat psoriasis with medicated ointments or targeted steroid injections. At this time, you will likely always have some symptoms of psoriasis, but you can reduce their severity with regular treatment.
Eczema: Coming from the Greek word for “to boil over,” eczema shows up most often the form in red blisters on a patch of rough skin. As the National Eczema Association tells us, it is most common in babies and children, but adolescents and adults can also develop eczema even if they never had it when they were younger.
Like psoriasis, it is not a disease but a skin disorder. It usually shows up first on the backs of your knees, your inner elbows, and around your face, including the backs of the ears, neck, and scalp.
The skin will be red and dry with small sores that will bleed minimally and then develop into scabs. Eczema will normally appear in the same area upon each flare up. Most cases of eczema in children disappear as they grow into adulthood.
Treating Eczema Scalp Scabs
Eczema is another disorder that cannot currently be cured with medical treatment. Instead, you can minimize flare-ups with medicated shampoos and lotions.
Applying these topical treatment prevents new symptoms from developing while reducing the severity and length of current symptoms. They help remove the scaly skin and foster the growth of new, healthy skin underneath.
5. Lichen Planus
Lichen Planus: An as yet unknown, entity, Lichen planus causes purplish-gray itchy bumps. It most often appears on middle-aged adults and is commonly seen on the wrists, ankles, genitals, scalp, finger and toenails, and along the edges of cuts.
No one knows why lichen planus occurs. It might be a result of a chemical interaction with certain prescription drugs, liver disease, or even an autoimmune reaction to foreign substances. MedicineNet reports that persons who have had a bone marrow transplant will sometimes exhibit lichen planus.
When lichen planus occurs on the scalp (specifically named lichen planopilaris), it usually causes scars and bald patches where hair will not grow back. Lichen planus is easy to spot for the color.
The bumps also have a unique shape. They are raised polygonal shapes with flat tops. The “planus” portion of the name refers to the flat-topped bumps, and the “lichen” descriptor denotes the fact that it looks like a lichen colony, not that it is one.
Treating Lichen Planus Scalp Scabs
If you notice lichen planus anywhere on your body, see your doctor. There is not a cure at this time, and symptoms can recur for years. You can reduce the period and severity of the outbreak, and help prevent further occurrences with topical ointments and by taking oral medications.
Anti-itch creams or pain relievers will help you avoid scratching the bumps and causing more bleeding. You can also take antihistamines to reduce the itching sensation.
Ringworm: Another easily identifiable possible cause of scalp scabs, ringworm is a fungal infection that appears in the form of a fully closed or semi-circle.
It is also the first contagious affecter on our list, so be careful when diagnosing and treating ringworm. You can spread it to other areas of your body (it’s called jock itch below the waistline) or to other people.
Ringworm creates dry, patches of skin in the form of circles. When it occurs on your scalp, it can even lead to permanent hair follicle damage and balding. It is usually contracted by touching an infected person or animal.
As EverydayHealth reminds us, fungal varieties prefer moist areas. To minimize your risk, wash thoroughly after handling animals or participating in close contact sports, such as wrestling.
Never wear wet or sweaty clothing for a long period. Bathing or at least drying off and changing your clothes will reduce the incubation period the fungus has to take root.
Treating Ringworm Scalp Scabs
If you have ringworm, carefully avoid touching the affected area. Bathe with antifungal shampoo and continue to apply antifungal ointment to all affected areas.
7. Head Lice
Lice: A head louse is a small insect that bites your scalp to suck your blood and lays eggs at the base of your hair follicles. You will feel them crawling on your scalp and can see them if you look closely enough or extract them with a comb.
While they do not cause scalp scabs by themselves, the itching sensation of them biting you and crawling on your head will cause you to scratch and possibly open sores, similar to mosquito bites.
Such sores could become infected, especially in the presence of head lice, and will form scabs as any normal abrasion or cut.
Treating Head Lice Scalp Scabs
Head lice is contracted through contact with another person who has lice, meaning that you are also now “contagious” if you have them. Be sure to use a medicated head lice shampoo and insist that everyone in your household do as well.
Wash all clothes, blankets, and cushions that might be harboring head lice. Use a pest control carpet cleaner for floors. As the Head Lice Center tells us, lice will die within a couple of days when forced out of your hair.
Shingles: Have you had chicken pox? If so, you still have it in its dormant form. If your immune system becomes weak enough, the chicken pox virus will re-appear in the form of shingles.
You can identify a shingles rash by the band of blisters that form on your skin and scalp. The blisters are painful, attacking the nerves of your skin tissue, and will cause small scabs over each bump. As Medical News Today tells us, 1 million people exhibit signs of shingles every year.
Treating Shingles Scalp Scabs
Shingles typically lasts 2-4 weeks. You can treat it with pain relievers, anti-itch creams, and prescription anti-viral medications.
9. Eosinophilic Folliculitis
Eosinophilic Folliculitis: If you have HIV/AIDS, you might develop sores on your skin and scalp. The sores will scab and then leave a dark patch of skin when they heal.
Treating Eosinophilic Folliculitis Scalp Scabs
Speak to your doctor about any new symptoms you are experiencing. Your physician will be able to recommend a medicated shampoo, topical ointment, or oral medication to reduce the formation of sores and aid in the healing process.
Fortunately, most causes of scalp scabs are easy to identify. Once you determine the cause of your scalp irritation, you can take the necessary steps to reduce, prevent, and heal from the underlying condition.