NAPPY Q & A: ITCHY SCALP, PREVENTION, CONTROL AND TREATMENT

By Hadassah Agbaps - July 17, 2013

Is this you?

Hi people! What's been on? I've been really occupied lately with exams, interviews, meetings and a bout of malaria....but I'm back now!

Has anyone of you been battling with itchy scalp?

An itchy scalp is really embarrassing ( side eyes and shift shift....could it be lice?!).
I've have suffered from itching but not to the point of hair loss that a fellow naturalista of mine complained to me about. There was a round short patch in the middle of her head where the hair was breaking off. I never thought itchy scalp could be that serious!

 Itchy scalp for me meant dandruff, product buildup and dryness which was usually remedied by shampooing and light moisturizing with a natural oil mixed with an antimicrobial essential oil like eucalyptus and I'm good to go and sometimes I noticed faster growth in those itchy areas, probably because of the hair massage I was forced to give to those areas. I don't keep long nails so there wasn't any fear of tearing my scalp apart!

Another lady, this time relaxed also complained to me about itching which was driving her crazy to the point of a big chop!
Thank God, what both needed was a slight change in their routine and products and they were relieved.

So for anyone out there also suffering from itchy scalp, I'd like to share this with you. Before I start, I'd like to outline the root causes of itchy scalp for prevention sake.

Itching is not necessarily as a result of bad hygiene.
Some skin diseases like psoriasis can also cause itching of the scalp. Sometimes, the itching is localized only to the scalp area. In other cases, it may extend to the rest of the body. Repeated itching can result in scratches or excoriations of the skin. This could promote bacterial infection.

Various causes of an itchy scalp are:

Dry Scalp: Some people have a dry skin including that of the scalp. The dryness results in itching. The itching could get worse in the winter months or following repeated washing of the hair with harsh shampoos. Such shampoos should be avoided and moisturizing creams and lotions should be used. Regular use of hair oil can help to reduce this problem.

Infestation with Lice: Infestation with lice, small parasites which suck blood, is common in females in crowded areas. The lice spread from one person to another through close contact. The bites of the lice result in itching especially behind the ears. Repeated scratching of the scalp results in excoriation of the skin. Bacteria may grow in the skin scratches resulting in infection. The condition is diagnosed by the presence of lice and the eggs of lice called nits in the hair. Use of special medicated shampoos and lotions helps to control the condition.

FUNGAL INFECTION

Dandruff: Dandruff is a common scalp condition that appears after adolescence. It follows infection of an oily scalp by a small fungus called Malassezia furfur. The patient repeatedly scratches the scalp, which is followed by falling off of scales. It may be accompanied by temporary loss of hair. Dandruff in the presence of an excessively oily scalp with additional inflammation of the scalp is referred to as seborrheic dermatitis. In severe cases, scales may also be observed in the face area. Dandruff can be treated with shampoos containing ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide.

Cradle Cap: Cradle cap is a condition that affects newborn children of 3 months or younger. In these cases, there is crusting over the head with loss of hair. The exact cause of this condition is not known. It may be due to excess secretion of sebaceous glands due to the influence of maternal hormones. The yeast, Malassezia furfur, may also play a role in causing this condition. The condition is usually harmless and gets better after the baby is around a year old.

Ringworm Infection of the Scalp: Ringworm is a fungal infection that results in circular thick lesions. In the scalp, the area over the ringworm is accompanied by marked itching and breaking of hair. It responds to treatment with antifungal medications.

BACTERIAL INFECTION:

Bacterial Infection of the Scalp: Bacterial infection of the scalp results in itching. Besides pus formation, oozing, crusting and matting of hair is also observed. Local or oral antibiotics are used to treat the condition.

 Hair Folliculitis: Inflammation of the hair follicle is called folliculitis. Folliculitis occurs because of bacterial or fungal infection. Besides causing pain, folliculitis can also result in itching.

VIRAL INFECTION

Chickenpox:
Varicella zoster is a virus that causes chickenpox. Chickenpox may be associated with blisters in the scalp, which result in itching. The virus can also affect the nerves in older individuals resulting in shingles. Fluid-filled blisters are found along the nerves, with pain and itching along the nerves.

INFLAMMATION

Contact Dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction of the skin to certain chemicals applied to the skin (in this case, the scalp) like shampoos, dyes etc. The itching is usually absent the first time the chemical is applied. However, subsequent applications may produce itching, oozing, crusting and scaling. The patient should avoid contact with the allergen and may require local steroid creams.
I'd like to add that contact dermatitis can also occur with natural products if you are allergic to them

Psoriasis of the Scalp
: Psoriasis is a condition where the skin is covered with thickened flat areas called plaques. The plaques are covered with silvery scales. The plaques on the scalp are usually accompanied with plaques over the rest of the body, thus helping to diagnose the condition. Psoriasis of the scalp may also be accompanied by arthritis.

Lichen Planus: Lichen planus is another inflammatory disorder that affects the skin including the scalp. It results in scarring and loss of hair over the affected part. It is treated with steroids.

Hypothyroidism: Thyroid problem can cause itching scalp. The hormones secreted by the thyroid glands helps the body maintain moisture levels, among other things. When the hormone levels are low, one experiences dry itchy skin, dry hair and scalp and even dry mouth.

PSYCHOLOGICAL CAUSES

Stress and anxiety can result in repeated scratching of the head, with subsequent loss of hair.
Source:medindia

I'd like to add, another cause of itching that is overlooked is:
The use of expired natural oils and butters on the scalp or unhygienically processed and stored natural oils and butters. We mistakenly assume that all natural products are good irrespective of the source and condition. That is wrong. Microbes growing on the natural oils and butters degrade them and release waste products which may be toxic and irritate the skin. So if it's rancid, has an odd colour, stored unhygienically , please avoid.

Another thing to note is a seemingly good natural oil or butter if applied over generously on skin or scalp may cause itching due to growth of microbes. What is food for your skin and scalp is also food for the microbes which naturally reside on the skin most especially if it's dirty.

CONTROL AND TREATMENT

1. Using a good quality shampoo, conditioner and other hair care products: Poor quality shampoo containing drying sulphates, poor quality conditioners and hair care products containing drying alcohols and pore clogging silicones are the leading causes of dryness and contact dermatitis which causes itchy scalp. It's important thus to purchase good quality hair products. Also a dirt free scalp can be described as healthy scalp so the first step is to make sure that you wash your hair a minimum of once a week. In choosing shampoos, you may get the medicated shampoo with antibacterial elements or buy the hypo allergenic ones to avoid this problem from ever coming back. This was the solution to the relaxed sister's itch. She had to be more careful with relaxer application, greasing her scalp lightly to protect her scalp. She also had to change her shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer because her shampoo contained drying sulphates that was harsh, her conditioner and moisturizer contained mineral oil, petrolatum and other pore clogging chemicals which she used directly on her scalp. Shea butter was a bit heavy for her scalp but castor oil mixed with olive oil worked just fine.

2. You can use both topical and oral antibiotics and antifungal agents as recommended by your doctor. 'Social doctoring' is not the best. What worked for your friend may not work for you and you may develop drug resistance which may make the itching even harder to cure.

3.Drink water. Water keeps your skin fresh and well hydrated. In turn it will also keep your scalp and hair fresh and hydrated. To keep your body moistened, drink at least 8 cups of water everyday and cut down on caffeinated drinks.

4. Spritzing - Make a simple hair spritz. This spritz can be as simple as water and tea tree oil/eucalyptus /rose oil  or your can use a store bought spray leave-in conditioner. Just spritz your scalp throughout the week, when your scalp looks dry or gets itchy.

5. Avoid use of heavy oils on scalp.  Make sure, whatever you use doesn’t have heavy oils such as petrolatum, silicones, mineral oils and even natural oils that could cause build up, you want it to be a light spray that your scalp can absorb. This is a better alternative to greasing the scalp.You don't need super fancy hair oils (though they are nice) to treat your scalp.
Olive oil is extremely moisturizing and gentle, as are amla and coconut. Make sure they are not rancid and are stored hygienically.

6. Improve nutrition:Dry scalp may be caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as not getting enough vitamins B6 and B12 in your diet. Boost your intake through fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals and, if necessary, through supplements such as flaxseed oil, zinc, and selenium.

7. Make sure you wash your wigs, hair nets, scarfs, bonnets, pillows, spreads, towels, combs as often as possible. This is very often overlooked and was one thing my naturalista missed. She often wore a wig and she felt washing it often would damage the wig. I advised her to wash with shampoo, air dry in the sun with the inside facing out and to always wear a wig cap before putting on the wig. This was in addition to the topical antifungal ointment she was using and it cleared up. I advised her to be light handed with shea butter application to avoid feeding microbes as well as her scalp. Thankfully, her hair is grown now!

8. Avoid fixing weaves and extensions for a long period of time. The warm humid, dirty, oily environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, lice and mites.

9. Take a chill pill!

I hope these  tips works for you too and if you've suffered from dry scalp and have tried a method that worked please do share!

Now I sign off to take my medications.

Till I spill again,
Live Beautifully. Naturally.
HadassaH.




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