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  5. Scalp Eczema: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Preventive Tips

Are you experiencing excessive scalp flaking and itching? It can probably be scalp eczema, which most of us often misinterpret as dandruff, psoriasis[1], or other fungal infections.

While many underlying factors can cause eczema on the scalp, one can experience multiple forms of scalp eczema caused by different factors at the same time.

Read on to understand in detail how you can treat scalp eczema effectively.

Our Ayurvedic Doctor Speaks

‘’Scalp eczema caused by contact dermatitis can go away once your skin stops being exposed to the particular irritant triggering it. However, scalp eczema caused by seborrheic or atopic dermatitis can be a stubborn skin condition that can persist for years.’’

Dr. Zeel Gandhi (Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine & Surgery), Chief Ayurvedic Doctor, Vedix

What Causes Scalp Eczema?

There are different types of dermatitis conditions that can result in scalp eczema. Seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis are the most common forms of scalp eczema.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis[2] occurs when your immune system overreacts to the growth of yeast present in your skin while the sebaceous glands on your scalp start producing sebum excessively.
  • Contact dermatitis[3] is caused when your skin reacts to irritants or allergens such as fragrances, cobalt, nickel, balsam of Peru, etc.
  • Atopic dermatitis[4] is caused due to genetic variation and environmental factors that can trigger aggravation of dryness on your scalp.
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‘’Scalp eczema caused by contact dermatitis can go away once your skin stops being exposed to the particular irritant triggering it. However, scalp eczema caused by seborrheic or atopic dermatitis can be a stubborn skin condition that can persist for years,” says Dr. Zeel Gandhi, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor at Vedix.

What Does Scalp Eczema Look Like?

Here is the picture of eczema on the scalp for you:

psoriasis eczema skin disease

Scalp eczema can be associated with red, itchy, and inflamed skin. One of the remarkable symptoms of scalp eczema is the excessive shedding of white skin flakes from your scalp. Over a period, scalp eczema can result in bacterial and fungal infections in the affected area, extreme discomfort, and anxiety.

Scalp Eczema Symptoms

  • Red and flaky patches on the scalp
  • Very dry skin on the scalp
  • Severe itchiness that gets intense at night
  • Swollen and tender scalp skin after scratching
  • Blisters which ooze out a clear fluid
  • Greasy and waxy scalp
  • The skin color may change in the affected area even after the condition is healed.

What Are The Triggers And Risk Factors Of Scalp Eczema?

Some of the common triggers for scalp eczema are:

  • Stress[5]
  • Hormonal imbalance[6]
  • Genes
  • Other medical conditions such as HIV, Parkinson's disease, acne, psoriasis, rosacea, hay fever, asthma, other forms of eczema, etc.

Other risk factors associated with scalp eczema are:

  • Dry and cold weather
  • Greasy hair
  • Dry skin
  • Lack of sleep
  • Sweating
  • Coming in contact with different irritants in the products or environment[7]
  • Alcohol consumption or using alcohol-based products
  • Depression or eating disorder

How Do You Treat Eczema On The Scalp?

1. Scalp Eczema Ayurvedic Treatments

  • As per Ayurveda, eczema on the scalp can be correlated to the condition of ‘Vicharchika’[8].
  • To treat scalp eczema, Ayurveda suggests the following herbal applications:

A. Herbal Bathing

The affected area is bathed using the decoction or fermented liquid prepared from khadira herb. Dusting powders, oil, or ointment prepared from khadira are used for topical scalp eczema treatments.

When you have severe scalp eczema symptoms, then triphala kashaya or decoction should be used to wash the infected lesions.

B. Dusting With Herbal Powders

If the eczema patches are oozing fluid, then the powders prepared from herbs such as neem, turmeric, tree turmeric, etc. are used for dusting the infected areas.

C. Herbal Lepa For Scalp Eczema

Mix 100 ml of neem oil, 100 ml of sesame oil, and 50 gms of turmeric powder to prepare a lepa or herbal cream. Applying this lepa on eczema patches helps to reduce symptoms effectively.

D. Herbal Hair Products

When you have scalp eczema, it is better to opt for Ayurvedic hair products such as oils, shampoos, hair packs, or serums that contain Pitta dosha balancing ingredients.

‘’Some of the skin-soothing ingredients you can look for in hair products when you have scalp eczema are manjistha, sariva, mahanimba, chandana, karanja, haridra, kutaja, bakuchi, chakramarda, daruharidra, neelini, vasaka, gudoochi, nimba, khadira, etc.,” says Dr. Zeel.

E. Herbal Oil Treatment

Ayurveda recommends moisturizing your scalp regularly using herbal oils when dealing with scalp eczema. ‘’Karanja taila, lakshadi taila, mahamarichayadi taila, chakramarda taila, marichadi taila, devdarvyadi taila, etc. are some of the medicated oils you can opt for warm oil scalp eczema treatments,” says Dr. Zeel.

F. Herbal Medications For Internal Administration To Control Eczema

Based on your imbalanced doshas and severity of condition, your Ayurvedic doctor may recommend the following internal medications:

  • Triphala guggulu
  • Gandhaka rasayana
  • Khadirarishta
  • Tikta ghrita
  • Patola katurohinyadi kashaya
  • Panchatiktaka kashaya
  • Mahatiktaka kashaya
  • Vasagudoochyadi kashaya
  • Patoladi kashaya
  • Neela ghrita
  • Maha manjishthadi kwatha
  • Kaishora guggulu, etc.

Important Note:

You should take the Ayurvedic medications for scalp eczema only under the guidance of a certified Ayurvedic practitioner.

G. Ayurvedic Dietary Recommendations

Foods to eat: Bitter vegetables, older grains, green gram, snake gourd, barley, wheat, etc.

Foods to avoid: Heavy and oily foods, dairy products, sour foods, fish, jaggery, horse gram, over spicy or salty foods, processed foods, sugarcane derivatives, etc.

Vedix Tip: Always eat your meals in a quiet and ventilated corner. Chew the food properly before gulping it in and do not drink water while you eat. You can take water half an hour before or after your mealtime.

2. Natural Remedies

Below are some of the most effective home remedies for eczema on the scalp:

A. Tea Tree Oil

Several studies suggested Tea tree oil for treating scalp eczema as it has a broad spectrum of anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties that help ease the symptoms and severity of scalp eczema.

How Tea Tree Oil Benefits Scalp Eczema

  • Lessens irritation on the scalp
  • Fights infection-causing microbes
  • Soothes your inflamed scalp
  • Protect your scalp tissue from free radical damage
  • Controls the spread of infection
  • Reduces itching

How To Use

  • Add 1-2 drops of tea tree oil into 12 drops of any carrier oil such as jojoba, almond, olive, coconut, or avocado oil.
  • Give a gentle massage with this oil to your scalp and hair.
  • Wait for half an hour and wash your hair with an Ayurvedic shampoo.
  • You can also add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to a quarter-sized amount of your shampoo.

Important Note:

Do not forget to do a patch test before using tea tree oil for your scalp eczema.

B. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar restores the pH balance in your scalp. It also has natural anti-microbial properties which fight the infection caused by scalp eczema.

How Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits Scalp Eczema

How To Use

  • Add 1 spoon of apple cider vinegar into 1/4 cup of sunflower oil.
  • Wash your hair under the shower.
  • Apply the vinegar-oil mixture to your damp hair and scalp.
  • Leave it for half an hour before rinsing it off with a mild herbal shampoo.

C. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can soothe your scalp eczema. Also, it contains polysaccharides that help in stimulating healing and healthy skin growth on your scalp. Researchers claim that treating eczema with aloe vera is one the most effective ways to deal with it with minimum side effects[9].

How Aloe Vera Benefits Scalp Eczema

  • Controls itching.
  • Moisturizes and hydrates your scalp.
  • Prevents infection on the eczema-affected skin.

How To Use

  • Cleanse your scalp with unscented herbal shampoo and lukewarm water.
  • Dry your scalp and hair with a cotton towel.
  • Apply the freshly extracted aloe vera gel directly to the affected area on your damp hair.
  • Wait for 10 minutes and reapply the aloe vera gel on your scalp eczema patches.
  • Leave it overnight and wash it off the next morning.
  • Repeat it every day until the symptoms reduce.

3. Medical Treatments

Despite taking home treatments for eczema on the scalp for a while, if the condition still persists, then you need to visit a dermatologist.

Medicated shampoos, creams, or gels that contain one or more of the below ingredients are prescribed by dermatologists to treat scalp eczema:

A. Salicylic acid- It loosens the dry and scaly patches caused by scalp eczema.

B. Coal tar- It helps in controlling itching, inflammation, and thickening of the skin caused by scalp eczema. Also, researchers found that there is no increased risk of cancer after coal tar treatments for eczema[10]. Hence, it is a safer option.

C. Ketoconazole- It is an anti-fungal agent that controls yeast activity on your scalp when you have atopic dermatitis.

D. Selenium sulfide- It controls redness, irritation, itchiness, and flakiness caused by scalp eczema.

E. Zinc pyrithione- It controls anti-bacterial activity and prevents infections.

These products help to reduce itchiness and cleanse the scalp buildup formed due to scalp eczema.

Studies found that using shampoos containing selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, and ketoconazole has significantly improved the symptoms of scalp eczema within 2 weeks.

Oral antifungal medications are prescribed by doctors in very severe cases of scalp eczema. In mild cases of scalp eczema, antifungal ointments, sprays, or creams that contain corticosteroids or coal tar help you control flaking and scalp irritation.

Although doctors prescribe topical corticosteroids for controlling flaking, redness, and itching, it is not recommended for usage over long periods.

4. Dietary Supplements

Taking dietary supplements such as omega-3, zinc, probiotics, vitamins-A, B and D, etc. can be beneficial in some cases of scalp eczema.

Important Note:

You should take the above-mentioned medical treatments for scalp eczema only under the guidance of an experienced doctor or dermatologist.

How Can You Prevent Eczema On The Scalp?

1. Wash your scalp and hair regularly using a mild scalp eczema shampoo, especially after workout sessions. However, avoid overwashing your scalp and hair as it can strip off the natural moisturizing oils.

2. Avoid using any product that may irritate your skin such as harsh soaps or chemical dyes.

3. As per the study conducted by the Department of Dermatology and STD, JIPMER, Pondicherry, India, even chemical Holi colors contain lead oxide, chromium iodide, copper sulfate, silica, etc., which result in contact dermatitis on your scalp and skin.

4. Use products that are free of harmful chemicals or fragrances.

5. Always choose your hair products carefully with ingredients that do not trigger allergic reactions.

6. Avoid using blow dryers.

7. Avoid washing your scalp with hot or cold water. Always prefer lukewarm water to wash your scalp and hair.

8. Ensure you get enough sleep to keep your stress under control.

9. You can rely on Pranayama and meditation regularly to keep your stress levels in control[11].

How To Diagnose Scalp Eczema?

There is no specific test that helps in decisively diagnosing scalp eczema as the fungus and yeast that are naturally present on everyone's scalp play a role in the development of scalp eczema.

Usually, doctors can diagnose seborrheic dermatitis from a physical examination.

Also, doctors may collect a small sample by skin scraping to determine the presence of fungal infection and to rule out any other similar scalp conditions such as allergic reactions, psoriasis, etc.

As per a study conducted by the Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine of Pusan National University, and Kyungpook National University, Korea, Dermoscopy helps to a great extent in differentiating seborrhoeic dermatitis from scalp psoriasis clinically.

Scalp Eczema Vs Psoriasis

Though both scalp eczema and psoriasis come with itchy and red patches on the scalp, they have slight differences in appearance.

Scalp eczema appears as dry, flaky, and red patches. These patches may sometimes have small bumps which ooze fluid. Also, the affected area becomes sensitive and inflamed due to scratching.

On the other hand, scalp psoriasis is an autoimmune condition[12] in which thick and scaly patches in greyish color are formed on the scalp. These thickened patches are known as 'plaques', which may be triggered by microbial infections or stress.

However, both scalp psoriasis and eczema can be triggered by genetic factors. So, if one of these conditions runs in your family, then you are more likely to have it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Scalp Eczema

1. Is Eczema On The Scalp Common?

Eczema is not among the most common conditions that can appear on the scalp. However, the most common type of scalp eczema is seborrheic dermatitis, which is also known as cradle cap in infants.

As per a study conducted by the Department of Dermatology, Calcutta National Medical College, India, about 13.4% of children under the age of 5 years are infected with seborrheic dermatitis, which is at peak during infancy.

loosen cradle cap of seborrheic dermatitis of baby's head

As per a study conducted by Kamedis Ltd, almost 5% of the general population across the world is affected by scalp eczema, and men are affected more than women.

2. Does Scalp Eczema Cause Hair Loss?

Healthy hair grows from a healthy scalp. When you have scalp eczema, the inflammation associated with the condition in your scalp tissue does not provide a viable environment for healthy hair growth. Moreover, scratching and picking the affected eczema patches can lead to further inflammation and hair follicle damage, which results in bald patches or hair loss.

As per a study conducted by the Center of Dermatology and Hair Diseases of the University of Zurich, scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis increase the oxidative stress on the scalp, which in turn contribute to hair loss significantly. Also, as per a case study conducted by the Department of Dermatology, Niigata Central Hospital in Japan, contact dermatitis caused by hair dyes resulted in severe hair loss.

However, scalp eczema related hair loss is likely to be temporary and your hair restarts growing once the condition is treated.

The Last Word

Scalp eczema or cradle cap can affect infants under the age of 3 months, which clears up usually after the baby reaches 6 months of age. However, it can return during late adolescence or between the ages of 30-60 years.

Different treatments help to manage the symptoms efficiently but they may not help to cure the scalp eczema completely. While in most cases, scalp eczema can last for years, mild infection can clear up without treatment.

At Vedix, we evaluate your scalp and hair conditions based on your doshas. This helps us to customize an Ayurvedic hair care regimen for you that addresses your unique scalp and hair needs.

Know Your Dosha Now

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