Bumps on your scalp can be a symptom of a few different health conditions. Most of the time, these bumps indicate an allergic reaction or clogged hair follicles, neither of which is usually a cause for concern.

This article will help you narrow down the cause of the bumps on your scalp so that you can figure out your next steps and know when to call a doctor.

Here’s a summary of the more common causes (and symptoms) of bumps on the scalp. More information about each condition follows.

SymptomsCauses
small itchy bumpshives, dandruff, lice
small red bumpsscalp acne, skin cancer
large scaly patches with small bumpsscalp psoriasis
bumps that ooze or pusfolliculitis
large, domed bumps without painpilar cysts

Folliculitis is a skin infection caused by damage to your hair follicles. This infection can result in raised red bumps that look similar to acne pustules. Other symptoms include pain, stinging, and pus drainage from the site of the infection.

Treatment options start at home. A warm compress or antibacterial shampoo may improve symptoms of pain, redness, and drainage. If home remedies don’t work, you may need a prescription option from a doctor.

Scalp acne refers to breakouts that happen on your scalp. Like any other kind of acne, they can be caused by bacteria, hormones, or clogged pores. Buildup from shampoo or hairspray can also cause scalp acne. These bumps can be painful, itchy, red, or inflamed. They may also bleed.

Treating scalp acne sometimes starts with switching up your hair care routine. Cut back on oil-based products and make sure to wash your hair often to avoid oil buildup. If changing your hair care routine doesn’t work to treat your scalp acne, you may need to see a dermatologist.

An allergic reaction to a hair product or something else in your environment can cause bumps (hives) on your scalp. This condition is called allergic contact dermatitis.

Hives may itch, peel, or feel dry and scaly. After washing your scalp with cool water and rinsing off irritants, your allergic reaction may subside. If it doesn’t, or if you are having frequent recurring allergic outbreaks on your scalp, you may need to speak with a doctor.

Head lice are tiny insects that can live on your scalp. They’re highly contagious and can cause itching and bumps on your scalp.

Treatment at home for head lice usually begins with a special shampoo with insecticide ingredients. You will also have to comb through your hair with a special fine-toothed tool to find lice eggs (also called nits).

If you have lice, you’ll need to treat all fabric surfaces in your house (such as pillows, bedding, and upholstered furniture) to prevent reinfestation. A doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter lice treatment if at-home treatment attempts aren’t successful.

Atopic dermatitis is also known as dandruff. This common condition can be caused by a yeast overgrowth on your scalp, or by hair products that are drying out your scalp. Symptoms include bumps on your scalp as well as scaly, dry patches of skin underneath your hair.

Stress and dehydration can make dandruff worse. So can itching. Using a special shampoo can often relieve symptoms of dandruff. In extreme cases of dandruff, your doctor may need to give you a prescription for a specialty shampoo.

Pilar cysts are caused by keratin buildup in pockets of skin under your scalp. These cysts are not harmful to your health, but you may want to treat them for cosmetic reasons. Treatment may include draining the cyst or having it surgically removed.

The cyst itself is the only symptom, and you shouldn’t feel pain to the touch. Pilar cysts can last for years, or may go away on their own.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. About 13 percent of malignant skin cancer is found on the scalp. Flesh-colored, waxy bumps on your head and recurring sores on your scalp can be signs of skin cancer.

If you notice a suspicious spot on your head, you should show your doctor at your next appointment.

Skin cancer is very treatable, especially if it’s diagnosed early in the progression of the condition. Treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and cryogenic removal of the affected area.

Scalp psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that’s characterized by thin, silvery scales in patches on your scalp. Sometimes these scales can feel bumpy to the touch, and they often itch. Scalp psoriasis can occur whether or not you have psoriasis elsewhere on your body.

Psoriasis is considered an auto-immune condition. Soaking your skin in warm water and using special shampoos and conditioners can help soften and remove bumpy psoriasis plaques.

Your doctor may also recommend prescription medication if your scalp psoriasis starts to trigger other conditions, like hair loss.

The causes of bumps on your scalp range from benign conditions like a temporary allergic reaction to more serious conditions like skin cancer.

Most cases of bumps on your scalp will resolve on their own after a rinse in the shower and some gentle scrubbing. Bumps that keep recurring or don’t go away may be an indication that you need to speak to a dermatologist.

It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about any concerning bumps or lumps that you notice on your scalp. They can diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan.