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Sensitive Scalp: Three Big Symptoms & How to Treat

Written by Robbie Salter
Sensitive Scalp: Three Big Symptoms & How to Treat

As much as we may hate to admit it, our bodies are very sensitive. From the food we eat to the products we apply to the humidity in the air around us, our body is constantly interacting with and being influenced by external factors. That said, our bodies are also resilient, and if our systems are working as they should, we can manage a great deal of fluctuation.

Why do we develop sensitivities? What does ‘sensitive’ really mean? And how can we build back a resistance?

When it comes to scalp sensitivity, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to explore the various symptoms, causes, and treatments for tenderness up top. 

The Symptoms of a Sensitive Scalp

Sensitivity can manifest in various ways, but the most common are the big three of scalp dermatology — itching, flaking, and irritation.

1. Itching

One of the first signs of scalp sensitivity is itching. An itchy scalp can be relentless with constant scratching, never seeming to satisfy the urge. Itching is especially common in the case of dandruff, dry scalp, and infection but can also be caused by hair care products.

2. Flaking

Where there is an itch, there is generally a flake. Our fingernails are quite effective at picking up dead skin. An excess of dead skin on the scalp can happen because of multiple conditions, the most famous being dandruff. 

The oily, crusty flakes we know as dandruff result from an overproduction of sebum from the hair follicles, usually accompanied by fungal overgrowth. That said, flaking can happen outside of a case of dandruff. Dry skin and skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema can also lead to flaking.

3. Irritation

This last symptom is a biggie, as it describes a wide range of symptoms. Irritation can span from mild discomfort to an intense burning sensation. Scalp sensitivity can feel like stinging, soreness, redness, and/or swelling.

Why is Your Scalp Sensitive?

As far as skin goes, the scalp can be especially prone to irritation. While the reason you may be experiencing scalp sensitivity can remain something of a mystery, these are the most common.

Dermatitis

Simply put, dermatitis describes the general swelling of the skin. This is really more of a blanket term that can cover several causes, including irritation due to:

  • Allergic reactions to the ingredients in products you’ve applied.

  • The temperature or quality of water you use when washing your hair.

  • Damaging shampoos or products that strip your scalp of its natural oils.

  • Harmful treatment of the scalp, like over-brushing or heat damage.

Thankfully, dermatitis is not contagious and is extremely common, so there are a number of solutions for treating it, which we’ll touch on below.

Infection

A more serious condition (though equally treatable in most cases) is infection. These tend to appear on the scalp in the hair follicles — folliculitis, furunculosis, and carbunculosis are all follicle infections.Scalp sensitivity is almost a given in these cases and is often accompanied by uncomfortable bumps.

Infestation

Okay, we know that word sounds scary, but all we mean when we say ‘infestation’ is lice. Sure, lice can be a little creepy — they’re small insects that feed on our blood and breed like crazy — but as anyone who’s ever attended a summer camp knows, they’re common and simple enough to get rid of.

Exposure

Lastly, another cause of scalp sensitivity that will also be familiar to former summer camp kids is sunburn! We don’t generally think about applying sunscreen to our scalps, but it’s one of the most important places to protect. In general, sunburn, windburn, and cold weather can result in discomfort, itching, and flaking on our scalps.

Sensitivity can manifest in various ways, but the most common are the big three of scalp dermatology — itching, flaking, and irritation.

How to Deal With a Sensitive Scalp

The best way to know how to treat your scalp sensitivity is to talk to your dermatologist. In preparation for that conversation, take stock of how you treat your scalp. 

How often do you wash your hair, and with what products? Are you dealing with new stresses? Even a prohibitive diet plan can make an impact on the health of our scalps. More often than not, cases of scalp sensitivity are as simple as swapping in a new product or cutting back on heat damage. Let’s talk about some treatments you can explore.

Choose Your Hair Care Products Wisely

If you remember one thing from this article, we hope it’s this. The products you apply to your scalp make a massive difference in how your skin feels and hair looks. 

When it comes to skin irritation, Mother Nature provides us with all the solutions we need. Many essential oils including lavender, peppermint oil, and rosemary. are known to include antimicrobial and soothing properties that can be helpful in addressing a sensitive scalp.

Essential oils and Zinc Pyrithione make for a powerful team when it comes to treating dandruff. While you can topically apply essential oils, mixing a couple of drops with a milder carrier oil, we always recommend looking for products that include them to ensure that you’re applying the proper dosage.

Our Balancing Shampoo includes both lavender and Zinc Pyrithione, stopping the growth of fungus on the scalp and reducing flakes. It’s sulfate-free and smells like heaven.

If you’re looking to treat dandruff, make sure you use a shampoo that includes Zinc Pyrithione. It’s an FDA-listed active ingredient that curbs the growth of fungus, helping restore balance to your scalp’s microbiome. It’s safe and effective and has been the proven way to treat dandruff for 50+ years.

Be Cautious of Sulfates

Take a look at the back of shampoo bottles, even the ones that claim to be all-natural, and you’ll likely find sulfates. 

Sulfates are cleansing agents that are a little too good at washing your hair. In fact, they strip your hair of the natural oils that prevent dry scalp, leaving your hair ultra-clean and your skin ultra-irritated. People with sensitive scalps often experience redness, cracking, and itching due to sulfates in their shampoos.

Take Protective Measures

We really can’t overemphasize the necessity of protecting your scalp from the sun. Apply sunscreen to your scalp, especially along your part. Regularly switching up where you part your hair will also help reduce sun exposure. In addition to using SPF, try a baseball hat on sunny summer days or a wooly beanie on cold, snowy days. 

The air in the winter, especially in the northeast and midwest, is less humid, and as a result, our skin tends to become more dry and prone to cracking and dryness. Insulating your scalp from the elements can go a long way.

Furthermore, you should try to limit how often you’re applying direct heat to your head. We know the blow dryer is your best friend, but cutting back on heat damage can really make a difference for the health of your scalp, which ultimately is the most important thing.

Try a Scalp Massage

If you’re experiencing build-up, a scalp massage can be an effective solution for clearing away skin cells and excess product.

Scalp brushes can help exfoliate, increase circulation to the scalp, and even fortify hair growth. Try it out on a dry scalp before a wash and see just how much cleaner your head will feel walking out of the shower. 

Bonus, scalp massages feel so good and are a gentle way to say goodbye to build up (which can lead to increased irritation)

Book an Appointment

Dry scalp and dandruff are easily solved, but if you’re experiencing chronic irritation and sensitivity or can see scaling, bumps, or irregular redness, your best bet is to talk to your dermatologist. 

Scalp health is nothing to mess around with.

Trust the experts and take your concerns seriously. As widespread as they are, the major symptoms of a sensitive scalp are frustrating. Prioritizing your scalp’s health is one of the most caring things you can do for yourself.

Building Back Resistance

Ironically when you build in healthy routines and make better choices for the products you use in your hair, you’ll stop having to think so much about what’s going on up there. 

You don’t have to just live with itching, irritation, or all-around sensitivity. There are simple, natural solutions that can ensure your scalp is protected. All you have to do is find what works best for you.

That’s why we’ve created a quiz to help you understand your scalp health and point you in the direction of scientifically formulated products that are proven to address scalp itch, dryness, redness, and flaking. 

The “Triple Threat” Set
The “Triple Threat” Set

The award-winning medicated Shampoo and Serum target your flaking, and the Conditioner keeps your locks bouncy and beautiful. Safe for everyday use. Consider The "Whole Darn Set Set" if you're looking for maximum control and comfort.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.