7 Common Scalp Issues — And How to Treat Them
The treatment: Dr. Desai recommends treating seborrheic dermatitis early and aggressively to avoid complications such as hair loss. Often a prescription strength anti-yeast shampoo called ketoconazole will do the trick. If flakes are still falling, a topical steroid may be in order.
Alopecia: Hair Loss
The cause: “Hair loss can be due to a number of different factors, including genetics, medications, inflammation, hormonal abnormalities, and hair fragility,” says Ko. Regardless of the cause, it is super distressing. If you notice hair breaking/shedding or bald spots on your scalp, it is important to get evaluated by a health care provider immediately. They almost certainly will run blood work to evaluate for anemia, vitamin deficiency, thyroid abnormalities, hormone levels, and autoimmune markers.
If blood tests check out, other sources of stress such as the death of a loved one, surgery, or a car accident can cause a massive shedding months after the incident. Most of the time, it’s just mother nature’s way of saying “you’re not a kid anymore.” Yes, as we linger in that hormonal purgatory between childbearing age and menopause, estrogen levels decrease, and often, so does our hair. It also may be the toll of years of bleaching, dyeing, straightening, perming, and rocking tight, slicked back top knots, ponytails, or braids just catching up to us. The issue of hair loss if obviously complex and takes proper medical attention to figure out.
The treatment: Your doctor is going to want a thorough physical done, so that any medical problems detected can be treated. Underlying scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis should be addressed. In the case of hormonal thinning, there are treatments such a Rogaine, a solution that thickens existing hair, and spironolactone, a pill, which helps to block the male hormones ravaging our system as we tread toward menopause. Eating a well-balanced diet, filled with vitamins such as B12, folate, and biotin are also useful when experiencing hair health woes. Lastly, taking a break from over-processing your hair and rocking more natural styles are definitely encouraged. In extreme cases, hair transplant is an effective option.
Cysts: Fluid-Filled Sacs
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The cause: Like any other organ, cysts can occur on the skin. The good news: Scalp cysts are common, and easy to identify. They are usually marble- or grape-sized fluid-filled sacs that you can feel when your comb or brush runs over it. For the most part, scalp cysts are mostly genetic, benign, and no cause for concern. That being said, in some cases they can get infected or irritated, causing pain and drainage.
The treatment: Leave them alone, or look to a medical professional to have them surgically removed.
Ringworm: Scaly Rash and Bald Spots
The cause: Also called tinea capitis, it usually happens in little kids but occasionally adults get them too. According to the Mayo Clinic, there a few ways of contracting this fungus: Human to human, animal to human (cats are a common source), and object to human (clothing, towels, bedding/ linens, combs, and brushes). The resulting rash is usually painful and scaly, sometimes even causing enlarged lymph nodes. It also can cause bald spots, broken hairs, and black dots.
The treatment: Taking an antifungal pill usually does the job. Treating or discarding infected sources can help to prevent re-infection.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis: Itchy Redness
The cause: Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical that is widely used as a permanent hair dye, and guess what? It can wreak havoc on the skin. It’s also one of the most common causes of scalp allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), with the chemicals/fragrances included in shampoos and conditioners coming in right behind as a close second. ACD can cause extreme itching and discomfort. The good thing is it’s usually easy to figure out the cause because of the timing between chemical contact and rash.
The treatment: Identifying the cause, and eliminating it are the most important steps in treating ACD. Using a topical steroid gel, foam, cream, or ointment for two to three weeks will help decrease inflammation and get you back on track.