Dermatology Treatments : How to Get Rid of Eczema on the Scalp
What Is Scalp Eczema?
Irritated, red, and itchy skin on the scalp, which causes the flakes known as dandruff, is called scalp eczema.
Scalp eczema is a type of eczema that causes inflamed, itchy, dry skin to form on your scalp.
The most common type of scalp eczema is known as seborrheic dermatitis, and its most unwelcome symptom is dandruff.
When a baby's scalp gets this scaly, flaky skin, it's often called cradle cap. (1)
Scalp Eczema (Seborrheic Dermatitis) Symptoms
Scalp eczema is characterized by skin patches that may have these symptoms:
- Red and scaly
- Greasy or waxy
- Very itchy or feel like it's burning
- Oozing or have "weeping" lesions
- Causing a discharge from the ear if eczema continues from the scalp into the ear canal
- Causing changes in skin color after healing (2,)
Other skin conditions — such as psoriasis, allergic contact dermatitis (inflammation caused by an allergic reaction to a certain substance), atopic eczema (which often occurs in those with asthma or seasonal allergies), and rosacea — may cause symptoms similar to those of scalp eczema. (4)
What Causes Scalp Eczema?
Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory condition caused by the overproduction of sebum, the natural oils secreted by sebaceous glands in the scalp. It is not contagious.
Because seborrheic dermatitis is a condition related to the sebaceous glands, it can also appear in other oily areas of the skin, including the face (eyebrows, eyelids, and center of the face), ears, upper chest, upper back, armpits, and genitals. (3)
There is a strong association between seborrheic dermatitis and yeast of the genus Malassezia, which are normally present in the skin but often overgrown in people with the skin condition.
The exact connection between the yeast and the eczema symptoms is poorly understood, but research suggests that a nonspecific immune reaction may be to blame. That is, some interaction between Malassezia, their metabolites (substances produced during metabolism), and skin and immune cells results in an inflammatory reaction. (4,5)
Importantly, once someone is sensitized to Malassezia, the yeast will always cause an immune reaction. (6)
What Are the Triggers and Risk Factors of Scalp Eczema?
There are numerous triggers that worsen scalp eczema symptoms, such as extreme weather (particularly cold, dry weather) and stress.
Some other potential triggers for scalp eczema:
- Hormonal changes
- Harsh chemicals from detergents and soaps
- Heavy alcohol use or alcohol-based lotions
- Medications such as psoralen (for psoriasis), interferon, and lithium
- Heavy sweating
- Exposure to an allergen
You have an increased risk of developing scalp eczema if you have these conditions:
Medications for Scalp Eczema
There is no cure for scalp eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, but medications can help reduce and prevent symptoms.
Irritation and an itchy scalp can usually be treated with a medicated, over-the-counter dandruff shampoo.
The chemical ingredients in these shampoos can help ease the inflammation and get rid of flaky, scaly skin when used two or three times a week. Look for these items:
Topical creams, ointments, or sprays made from these ingredients can also be applied to help calm the irritation and stop the flaking.
If you have severe scalp eczema, your doctor may prescribe products containing stronger doses of the above medicines or medicines containing other ingredients, such as corticosteroids, , sulfacetamide sodium, Protopic (tacrolimus), or Elidel (pimecrolimus). (2,8)
How to Prevent Scalp Eczema Flare-Ups
The severity of seborrheic dermatitis may be lessened by controlling risk factors and triggers and taking care of the skin.
To manage scalp eczema and help prevent flare-ups, do your best to follow these recommendations:
- Avoid exposure to any suspected irritants and allergens.
- Clean your scalp thoroughly, but avoid drying it out by using only a quarter-size dollop of a gentle shampoo and warm, never hot, water.
- Keep your stress level under control.
- Shampoo your hair after you've been sweating heavily, such as after a workout, since perspiration can be a trigger.
Scalp eczema often responds to treatment, but it also often returns. For some people, exposure to the sun may improve symptoms.
Be on the lookout for signs of a flare-up and start treatment right away. (2,7,8)
You may want to see a dermatologist to help identify the triggers for scalp eczema and get a prescription treatment if over-the-counter remedies aren't effective or don't help you get scalp eczema under control.
See your dermatologist as soon as possible if your eczema-related skin patches drain fluid or pus, form crusts, or become very red or painful.
Video: How to Take Care of Your Ears : Getting Rid of Eczema From Ears Naturally
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