We know how frustrating and confusing scalp pain can be, especially when it seems difficult to shake. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to find the solution.
In this post, we’ll break down the most common causes of a burning sensation on your scalp and what you can do to get some much-needed relief. Scalp discomfort and irritation are common and not necessarily a sign of something more serious going on. While we’ll outline many possible contributing factors in this post, it’s important to remember to listen to your body and know when to seek medical advice from a professional who can give you personalized care and perhaps a helpful diagnosis.
People with all hair types and natural oil production can experience a scalp-burning sensation.
Often, it comes down to what the scalp has come into contact with. Don’t forget, your scalp is ultimately just skin. The organ plays host to a diverse and complicated microbiome. When its balance is disrupted, it often won’t take long before you start feeling the symptoms. Let’s discuss why your scalp might be burning.
In the same way that everything you eat has an impact on your body, everything that comes in contact with your scalp can have an impact on your scalp and hair health. Pollutants and dangerous ingredients in hair care products can do significant damage to your scalp, potentially causing uncomfortable scalp symptoms.
In a study on those experiencing scalp sensitivity, pollution and shampoo were found to be some of the most common triggering factors.
If the air quality in your area is low, that may be the culprit for your scalp irritation. On the other hand, if you’ve recently tried out a new hair care product or undergone a chemical treatment like bleaching your hair, the ingredients could be harming your scalp health as well. This type of irritation is typically classified as contact dermatitis.
Some scalp sensitivity is due to skin conditions. Some of these conditions can be caused or worsened by external irritants, but others simply develop on their own or are linked to your genetics. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common conditions that cause scalp irritation:
Folliculitis: This one is super common. Folliculitis is what happens when hair follicles become inflamed. This can happen for many reasons. Generally, it’s because of a bacterial infection or inflammation related to shaving. Folliculitis usually presents as a cluster of small red bumps or bumps with white heads that are itchy and painful to the touch.
Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a common condition believed to be tied to the body’s immune system. Psoriasis causes an overproduction of skin cells, which build up and create scaly patches. Often, these patches can be irritated and itchy. Psoriasis is treatable but is often a chronic condition that can flare up at different times.
Eczema: A similar condition when it comes to a sensitive or itchy scalp is eczema or atopic dermatitis. Eczema is also believed to be an autoimmune condition, which commonly presents as rough, dry patches but can result in blistery and irritating spots as well. Eczema tends to be highly reactive to external factors like the weather, topical products, and stress.
Seborrheic Dermatitis: This one is just a fancy term for dandruff. Scientists are still working to figure out why some people are more susceptible to dandruff, but generally, it’s tied to an imbalance of the scalp’s microbiome. When too much of a fungus called Malassezia is present on the scalp, the scalp produces lots of sebum, which builds up and flakes off. Dandruff is usually oily and yellow, distinct from dry scalp, and can be irritating, especially when the scalp is sore and the hair feels stiff.
Alopecia Areata: If your sore scalp is connected to hair loss, you may be dealing with alopecia areata. While people usually don’t experience pain when they lose their hair from alopecia, some have reported a burning or tingling sensation before losing hair. Alopecia is also an autoimmune disorder.
These are only a few conditions related to scalp burning, and it’s important to remember not to self-diagnose. If you suspect you have any of these conditions, the best thing you can do is book an appointment to see a doctor and get some professional advice.
Sun damage is one of the least talked about but widely experienced contributing factors to the sensation of burning on your scalp. By now, most of us are used to applying SPF to the skin on our faces every single day. It’s a must-do during our daily skincare routine and should be a must in your scalp care routine as well. Even people with ultra-thick hair can experience sunburn on the scalp, especially along their hair part. Unless you’re wearing a hat, your scalp is exposed to UV damage if you’re not using SPF.
Lastly, there’s a chance you’re dealing with scalp irritation or burning because of hormonal issues. Hormonal shifts, whether due to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause for women, an increase in dihydrotestosterone, or simply a major influx of stress, can all lead to scalp issues. When trying to understand what’s going on with your scalp, consider the wider context. Did it coincide with a major life event or illness? Putting together a timeline can get you one step closer to the solution. We’ve really only scratched the surface (no pun intended) when it comes to scalp burning. If any of these factors feel like they could be your cause, then keep reading to figure out what you can do to get some relief.
People with all hair types and natural oil production can experience a scalp-burning sensation. Often, it comes down to what the scalp has come into contact with.
Depending on what’s causing your scalp irritation, you can do several things to address it. Hair and scalp care is a delicate science, and you want to be gentle, patient, and informed when introducing any new routine.
If you suspect your scalp symptoms may be due to a skin condition, like a type of eczema, you should consult a dermatologist for professional guidance and prescription medication if necessary.
If you suspect seborrheic dermatitis to be the root cause of your scalp irritation, and especially if you notice flakes, one of the best things you can do is to introduce a shampoo that contains an active ingredient that treats dandruff and has antifungal properties. Our Balancing Shampoo is our favorite way to address dandruff. With Zinc Pyrithione and natural, vegan ingredients, it’s both gentle on the scalp and hardworking to get rid of build-up and flakes. In between washes, try out our Restoring Serum for soothing relief from itching and to control oil production between washes.
An allergic reaction often causes contact dermatitis. If you’ve dealt with allergies before, you probably know which ingredients to avoid, but sometimes these allergies can pop up out of the blue and make your scalp itchy, red, and swollen. That’s why it’s a good idea to test on a small area whenever you try out a new product.
Apply a small amount to the skin on your arm and wait a few hours to see how you react. If you experience any irritation or itching, don’t apply the product to your scalp.
Chronic or unexpected stress can significantly influence your scalp's health. This can manifest in many ways, with increased cortisol leading to scalp irritation and sudden hair loss.
Integrating de-stressing activities into your daily routine is one of the greatest steps you can take, both for your scalp and for your mind. Try meditation, daily walks, an exercise routine or whatever works addressing stress. Small changes like reducing stress, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep can significantly affect your overall health.
To avoid sun damage, you should take steps to protect your scalp. This means applying SPF to your scalp, especially on your part. There are some great powder SPFs that you can easily apply with a brush. A hat and some shade will always do the trick when all else fails. If you wouldn’t sit directly in the sun without any protection on your face, then why do it to your scalp? After all, it’s the first part of your body the light hits.
Using the wrong products, or even too many products in your hair care routine when your scalp is in pain can often exacerbate the issue. Since the source of scalp pain is often contact dermatitis related to artificial ingredients and allergens, you should take a look at what you’re using on your hair and scalp. Read the ingredient labels and keep an eye out for potentially irritating ingredients like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dyes, and synthetic fragrances (simply marked as “Fragrance” on the ingredients list).
Bring your routine back to basics and consider eliminating products, so you can get to the bottom of which products are causing your scalp sensitivity.
Your scalp is not the place for guesswork, especially if your burning is related to a skin condition like the ones we mentioned above. If you’re dealing with an infection or serious damage, you’ll need a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and access effective medicated treatments.
Scalp burning and irritation can be tough to deal with. With the right products and lifestyle choices, you can find relief and ensure a comfortable and soothed scalp.
We know how uncomfortable and often-times frustrating scalp irritation and burning can be. That’s why we developed our line of scalp care products using the active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione to control oil production and address the root cause of irritation. We’ve also left out the harsh ingredients found in many scalp care products to ensure your scalp is soothed and cleansed without compromise. Check out our quiz to find the products best suited to address your scalp concerns and support a healthy, gorgeous head of hair.
Built for those looking to address constant or severe flaking, redness, or irritation and want their mane left looking refreshed and silky smooth.