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Experiencing Sore Scalp and Hair Loss? Here's What You Should Know

Dealing with a sore, sensitive scalp is no fun — especially if you're experiencing scalp pain leading to hair loss. But what causes this unpleasant condition, and what can you do about it?

Here's the expert advice you need about the causes and solutions of scalp pain and hair loss, including what products you should start using to encourage a healthier scalp.

Causes of Scalp Sensitivity: What the Experts Say

So what might cause a painful scalp? Clinical dermatologist Dr. Enrizza P. Factor said there are a number of reasons you might have a painful or itchy scalp. "A sore scalp or scalp sensitivity can be caused by a number of different health issues and other problems," she said. "Something as harmless as dermatitis can lead to scalp soreness, or something more serious, like an infection, may be the cause."

"A form of hair loss called alopecia areata can also cause scalp tenderness," said Dr. Factor. "In this condition, hair follicles fall out in round clumps from the scalp and sometimes the body. Alopecia areata presents in patches, while alopecia totalis involves the loss of all hair from the head."

If your hair hurts, or you notice you have dry or scaly patches on your scalp, Dr. Factor said you might be experiencing an underlying medical condition, such as the following:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis (caused by an immune system response to an allergic reaction)
  • Fungal infections, such as tinea capitis, scalp ringworm or head lice

    Scalp psoriasis might also be the underlying cause of your dry scalp. "Scalp psoriasis causes discolored patches, scales or flaking on the scalp," said Dr. Factor. "The patches are very itchy and can become sore. Scratching the patches can worsen them, cause bleeding or lead to hair loss. Painful scalp itching, scaling and burning could mean you have an infection or a chronic skin condition. Sometimes these symptoms can also be related to other disorders, such as hair loss disorders. Speak to your doctor if you're feeling pain on your scalp that isn't going away." This is especially important because common symptoms of scalp tenderness can also be signs of skin cancer.

    If you suspect you have any of these serious conditions, Dr. Factor said to speak to a consultant dermatologist or other doctor for treatment options.

    Dr. Factor also pointed out that common skin conditions can be impacted by lifestyle factors. "A sore scalp can be caused by an infected hair follicle, scalp pimples, or tension from certain hairstyles that may pull the hair too tight," Dr. Factor said. "Other causes for scalp tenderness include trauma from a head injury or underlying skin condition like eczema or cellulitis."

    Shop: Th Best Scalp Health Kits

    Tips to Soothe Your Tender Scalp

    If you consult with a doctor about your sore scalp and there are no medical issues to be concerned about, trichologist and beauty branding expert Kerry Yates said there are many steps you can take to soothe your sensitive skin.

    Massage Your Scalp Regularly

    For a little extra scalp protection, Yates recommends giving yourself a daily massage. "Massaging the scalp for a minimum of four minutes daily will relieve tensions and tightness while improving blood circulation," she said. "Several studies have shown simple scalp massage has helped to improve scalp health and helps to decrease hair fall."

    Reduce Stress

    Because your hair health is so intimately connected to the overall health of your body, Yates said taking steps to support the wellness and functioning of your whole body can make a big difference in the health of your scalp.

    Stress is tied closely to hair loss, so Yates said getting your heart rate up can help kill two birds with one stone. "Exercise boost your metabolism as well as reduces stress," she said. "Stress can lead to hair loss, and by taking it out of the equation, you can help to save your hair. Yoga is a great exercise to solve stress while getting healthy." Eliminating stressors will help you and your doctor determine their impact on your scalp health.

    Get the Nutrition Your Body Needs

    Another critical wellness step for scalp health? Eating those fruits and veggies. "Eat a balanced diet to support your body’s needs," said Yates. "Take vitamins if you are missing any nutritional component. This will keep your hair follicles functioning properly." A daily hair vitamin designed to support hair and scalp health can help fill any nutritional gaps.

    Reevaluate Your Product Routine

    Once you've got your inner wellness handled, it's time to check that product routine. "All shampoos are not created equal," said Yates. Medicated shampoos can help with particular scalp issues, but, in general, it's good to seek out hair products, including shampoos and conditioners designed to help hair look thicker and fuller — not strip your scalp of its protective oils.

    "Stay away from any shampoos that tout super cleansing benefits," said Yates. "These are not meant to be used daily and can cause an unhealthy scalp environment. Use “cleansing” shampoo no more than once a month, if that, and use it sparingly."

    In general, Yates said, if you have a sensitive scalp, you're probably washing your hair more than it needs. " Wash your hair every other day versus every day," she said. "The daily use of cleansers can cause dryness and scalp irritation."


    Use Dry Shampoo

    Need something to keep your hair from feeling oily between washes? Dry shampoo can help, but Yates warns not to overdo it. "Most people are using dry shampoo incorrectly," she explained. "It is meant to be used on the hair and then brushed out, eliminating dirt/grime/product buildup along the way. Instead we are leaving it on scalp and letting it accumulate for days and days. This can cause the follicles to become clogged, leading to inflammation and damage. Ask yourself, “Would I ever leave makeup on my face for five days without rinsing away?" That is, in essence, what you are doing with dry shampoo." Try a plant-based, dry shampoo formulated without talc to avoid buildup and support a healthy scalp ecosystem.

    Be Mindful of How You Brush Your Hair

    Yates said that how you handle your scalp is just as important as the products you use, so make sure to be gentle, especially with daily routines like brushing. "Aggressive brushing can cause inflammation which leads to follicle damage," she explained.

    It's also important to make sure you're using the right brush for your hair type. "Look for round-tip bristles and be gentle with your scalp," said Yates. "Using the wrong brush on top of brushing your scalp and hair aggressively can cause follicle challenges."

    Avoid Tight Hairstyles

    If you're a fan of the ballerina bun or high pony, your hairstyle may also be to blame for your scalp pain. "Stop pulling your hair back," said Yates. "Aggressive tension along the hair line or tight ponytails along the crown will cause irreparable follicle damage preventing proper function. If you like to wear your hair in a tight ponytail, try one a bit lower, towards the nape of the neck, to limit strain on your hairline. Constant pulling will result in permanent follicle damage and prevent the follicles from operating normally. Extreme cases will result in traction alopecia. Be nice to your hair!"

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    A Healthier Scalp Means Happier Hair

    Tending to your scalp health will help resolve any itchiness, soreness or other symptoms tied to hair loss. But it also helps support the growth of healthier, happier hair.

    By being mindful of scalp wellness, Yates said you're supporting the growth of longer, stronger and fuller appearing hair. "Remember to be nice to your scalp, and it will produce gorgeous hair," she said.

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    Photo credit: Mikael Blomkvist/Pexels

    Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.