How Can I Treat Eczema on My Scalp?

December 22, 2021

man with scalp eczema

Eczema is a common skin health concern that can affect just about any part of the body, but when an eczema flare-up happens on the scalp, it may be especially uncomfortable and potentially difficult to treat. According to Dr. Sam Awan of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Plano and McKinney, Texas, “Eczema on the scalp can be very painful, itchy, and uncomfortable. The good news is, with proper daily care and quick treatment during flare-ups, most people can manage and minimize the adverse effects of scalp eczema.” In this blog, Dr. Awan will review the basics of scalp eczema and the potential treatment options.

What Is Scalp Eczema?

When defining scalp eczema, Dr. Awan explained, “Eczema is not actually one single condition. It’s an umbrella term that may be used to refer to different types of eczema and dermatitis, chronic skin conditions that cause inflammation, irritation, dryness, and itching. While different types of eczema may impact the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis is the most common type of scalp eczema. This type of eczema most often occurs on parts of the body with oil-producing glands.”

Some of the types of eczema that may impact the scalp include:

  • Atopic dermatitis This is the most common form of eczema and what most people think of when they hear the word eczema. This type of eczema typically develops initially in children, but it can continue throughout life. It causes redness, itching, and inflammation. If people have atopic dermatitis on other parts of their bodies, they are much more likely to experience a flare-up on the scalp.
  • Contact dermatitis – This form of eczema develops due to contact with environmental allergens and irritants. It may develop on the scalp as an allergic contact reaction to substances like shampoos, conditioners, dyes, and other hair care products. Flare-ups may also be triggered on the scalp as a reaction to materials or chemicals transferred via hats, hairnets, or other items worn in the hair. Contact dermatitis often looks like a rash with red, irritated, itchy, and inflamed skin.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis – This form of eczema most often affects oily parts of the body, including the scalp. In infants, this condition may be referred to as cradle cap. This is the most common type of eczema that develops on the scalp. It causes the skin to redden and become scaly or flaky. It may look and feel similar to dandruff.

While the cause of scalp eczema is unknown, certain factors increase the risk for developing this form of eczema, including:

  • Having excessively oily or dry skin
  • Dealing with poorly managed stress
  • Regular contact with irritants, allergens, or chemicals
  • Living in cold, dry environments
  • Being male

How Is Scalp Eczema Diagnosed?

If you have eczema on other parts of the body and you notice itching, redness, inflammation, and flaking skin on the scalp, you may easily recognize these warning signs of eczema. However, Dr. Awan says, “It is easy to mistake eczema for other skin conditions, so it’s always recommended to work with a dermatologist to receive an official diagnosis. This ensures you take the right steps to treat this condition. In most cases, your dermatologist will be able to easily diagnose scalp eczema by visually examining the skin.” In addition to a visual examination of the scalp, your dermatologist may perform allergy testing and other tests to rule out alternative causes of the symptoms associated with scalp eczema, including dandruff, allergic reaction, psoriasis, and rosacea.

How Is Scalp Eczema Treated?

When it comes to treating eczema, Dr. Awan explains, “Treatment recommendations will vary based on the severity of your eczema flare-up. In most cases, a scalp eczema flare-up will clear up on its own, but it can be extremely uncomfortable. Your dermatologist can help you create a plan to address the symptoms and diminish the length and severity of your flare-up.”

While patients will receive a personalized treatment plan from their dermatologist, some of the frequently recommended treatments for scalp eczema include:

  • Scalp moisturizers – Your dermatologist may recommend a medical-strength emollient moisturizer in a gel, spray, or oil, which is easier to apply on the scalp. There are also options available over the counter.
  • Topical steroids – A simple 1% hydrocortisone cream available at your local pharmacy can provide relief for itch and inflammation related to scalp eczema. There are also stronger options and solutions specifically formulated for easy application on the scalp.
  • Salicylic acid – For very scaly or inflamed skin on the scalp, salicylic acid may be combined with topical steroid treatment.
  • Removing scaly, dry skin –You may need to take steps to carefully remove the thickened, flaking skin without damaging the scalp. This can be done by using a gentle shampoo and massaging the scalp. Mineral oil can also be used to loosen and remove flakes.
  • Medicated shampoos – For seborrheic dermatitis, medicated shampoos may be recommended to control yeast. These shampoos should be used daily during flare-ups and a few times a week outside of flare-ups to maintain skin health.

Can I Prevent Scalp Eczema Flare-ups?

According to Dr. Awan, “Once you get a scalp eczema flare-up under control, it’s important to take steps to maintain skin health and prevent future flare-ups. Your dermatologist can help you find the right daily scalp care products.” While it’s always recommended to work with a dermatologist to create a personalized skincare routine, some basic steps you can take to minimize risk for scalp eczema flare-ups include:

  • Keep your scalp clean – Wash your scalp regularly, especially if you’ve been sweating, with a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo and apply a conditioner
  • Moisturize – Apply moisturizer to the scalp at least once a day
  • Cut back on styling – Avoid using styling products, especially those that contain alcohol and other drying agents, or minimize use significantly to reduce the risk of a flare-up
  • Protect the scalp – Wear hats and other protective clothing to minimize scalp exposure to sunlight, cold, or dry weather

Visit U.S. Dermatology Partners for Scalp Eczema Treatment

If you’re having a tough time managing a scalp eczema flare-up or you want to develop a personalized maintenance care plan, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a U.S. Dermatology Partners office near you. Our local offices make it easy to get started by completing our simple online scheduling request form. In just a few minutes, you can provide our local dermatology practice team with all of the details they need to get started setting up your appointment. Then, they’ll reach out to finalize the details of your visit.

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