A tingling, burning, or just plain painful sensation when you’re pulling your hair back isn’t only uncomfortable — it can be confusing. The sharp pain might seem like it’s coming from your hairs themselves, but it’s actually coming from nerves in your scalp.

Scalp pain that comes from moving your hair has several possible causes. The good news is that it’s treatable.

This article will cover the basics of everything you need to know if you’re having frequent, mysterious pain when you move your hair.

Scalp pain when you’re repositioning hair can take the form of:

  • itching
  • aching
  • tingling
  • burning

Some people describe it as the feeling of having your hair combed or brushed aggressively, like a scraping or pulling feeling.

Since moving your hair triggers the pain, it’s only natural that many people assume your hair is what’s feeling the pain, too.

But since hair strands don’t have any nerves in them, it follows that it’s the underlying scalp that’s experiencing pain when you tug, pull, or even lightly stimulate the hair strands attached to it.

Scalp pain that occurs when you move your hair can be a symptom of other health conditions, such as:

Scalp pain starts with irritation or inflammation of the skin on your head. This irritation or inflammation can have several different causes, including:

Your options for treating scalp pain are highly dependent on the cause. If pain when you touch or move your hair is a regular symptom for you, you’ll probably need a dermatologist’s help to determine why it’s happening.

For an allergic reaction

Scalp pain that appears suddenly and doesn’t have any other symptoms might be a result of an allergic reaction, particularly a reaction to a new hair product.

The first line of treatment may be to give your hair a rest from new products for a day or two, and rinse your scalp in cool water instead of using harsh shampoos.

Don’t apply essential oils or any other product meant to condition hair and the scalp until you’re certain an allergic reaction has passed.

For eczema or psoriasis

If your scalp appears to be flaking or peeling, try gently brushing your scalp when it’s dry with a soft-bristled brush.

If scales or flakes come out of your hair, it could be your first indication that you’re dealing with eczema, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis on your scalp.

For a headache

In cases when your scalp pain occurs during a headache, the two conditions could be related. An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may relieve your symptoms until the pain subsides.

For folliculitis

Folliculitis is an infection or inflammation of your hair follicles. An antibacterial cleanser or antibiotic is sometimes needed to clear up the infection.

In some cases, your doctor will need to take a bacterial culture from a pustule to confirm a diagnosis. This will also help them prescribe the correct treatment.

It’s hard to know what will trigger scalp pain before it occurs. Once you’ve had this symptom, there are things you can do to minimize the amount of pain you feel in the future:

  • Get treatment for any skin condition, such as eczema and psoriasis, even if it doesn’t usually affect your scalp.
  • Carefully read product labels to avoid triggering allergic reactions on your scalp.
  • Gently brush your hair, and wash it with lukewarm, cleansing water every other day.
  • Avoid using sticky, adhesive-based hair products that contain alcohol, as they can strip your hair of moisture. Examples include many gels and hair spray products.
  • Keep your hair and scalp healthy by following the hair hygiene tips recommended by the American Academy of Dermatologists.

If you often have pain on your scalp from moving your hair, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Also see your doctor if you experience any of the following on your scalp:

  • scaly patches
  • breakouts
  • bleeding areas

Scalp pain when you move your hair isn’t uncommon. There are several possible causes. Some of the causes are temporary and don’t need any treatment, but many of them do.

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.