Scalp psoriasis may result from an overactive immune system, genetics, and environmental factors. Treatments may include OTC shampoos, prescription medications, and at-home remedies.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes a buildup of skin cells in different parts of the body. These excess skin cells form dry, scaly skin patches that may flake, itch, or bleed.

Up to 80% of people with psoriasis experience skin patches on their scalp. This is known as scalp psoriasis. Symptoms may also affect other body parts, such as your elbows, knees, and lower back.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for scalp psoriasis.

Scalp psoriasis is a form of plaque psoriasis. It causes silvery-red or purplish scaly skin patches, known as plaques.

In scalp psoriasis, these skin plaques usually affect the back of your head and your hairline. However, they may develop anywhere on your scalp, including your forehead and the back of your ears.

Other symptoms of scalp psoriasis may include:

  • fine white or yellow skin flakes on your scalp
  • an itchy sensation
  • a burning sensation
  • dryness
  • bleeding

In severe cases, scalp psoriasis may lead to temporary hair loss. Hair usually grows back once you treat scalp psoriasis and it clears up.

Learn more about what scalp psoriasis looks like.

The exact cause of psoriasis isn’t known.

That said, research suggests it may result from your immune system not working properly, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA).

With psoriasis, your immune system may produce more T cells. These are a type of white blood cell that travels through the body, fighting off viruses and bacteria.

If you have too many T cells, they may attack healthy cells by mistake and produce more skin cells and white blood cells. In the case of scalp psoriasis, these excess skin cells may lead to inflammation, skin patches, and flaking.

Some risk factors and triggers have been associated with scalp psoriasis, including:

Treatment for scalp psoriasis will depend on several factors, such as:

  • the severity of your symptoms
  • underlying conditions you may have
  • whether you’re taking any medications
  • your general health

Your treatment plan will aim to provide symptom relief and prevent complications, such as hair loss. A healthcare professional may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, as well as at-home remedies.

Psoriasis shampoos

Psoriasis shampoos are a popular topical treatment available OTC or by prescription.

Shampoos, lotions, or gels that contain coal tar are recommended for scalp psoriasis because they can help relieve itching and flaking. Scale softeners with salicylic acid may also help loosen psoriasis plaques on your scalp.

It’s important to use fragrance- and alcohol-free shampoos, as these may dry your scalp and worsen symptoms.

Medical treatments

Several medical treatments may help treat scalp psoriasis, including topical, oral, and injection medications.

It’s important to work with a healthcare professional, as some medications may have possible side effects and interact negatively with other drugs.

Topical medications

Some topical medications available as a cream, foam, or ointment include:

Oral medications

Some oral medications may help relieve the symptoms of scalp psoriasis by reducing inflammation and cell growth. These may include:

Other medical treatments

Some other medical treatments for scalp psoriasis may include:

Home remedies

Some home remedies may help relieve your symptoms of scalp psoriasis when used alongside medical treatments.

That said, more research is needed to fully support their role in the treatment of scalp psoriasis.

Here are some popular home remedies for scalp psoriasis to moisturize your scalp or reduce inflammation:

Should you peel your flakes?

It’s important to avoid peeling your flakes, as this may result in bleeding, infection, or hair loss.

Learn more about how to safely manage your scalp psoriasis flakes.

Dermatitis is a term that describes several types of skin inflammation.

Like psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis may also affect the scalp. However, while some of the treatments for these conditions may overlap, the conditions themselves have different causes.

Scalp psoriasis is likely due to immune system issues. On the other hand, seborrheic dermatitis is likely due to a reaction to a yeast that lives on your skin or from excess sebum production, which is an oil the skin makes.

The skin plaques in both conditions also differ.

With scalp psoriasis, you’ll notice itchy, flaky, silvery-red scales that may extend beyond the hairline. In dermatitis, scales are white or yellowish and accompanied by dandruff.

A doctor can usually tell the difference between scalp psoriasis and dermatitis by taking a look at the affected area. In other cases, it might be trickier to tell the difference.

They may perform a skin scrape or take a biopsy. An overgrowth of skin cells will be present in cases of scalp psoriasis. In dermatitis cases, there will be irritated skin and sometimes bacteria or fungi.

Seborrheic dermatitis may cause dandruff, which may share the following symptoms with scalp psoriasis:

In addition, dandruff may also cause:

  • dry skin on other parts of the face, such as the eyebrows or ears
  • a greasy or oily scalp

However, dandruff won’t cause the thick plaques that are typical of psoriasis. Dandruff doesn’t usually have well-defined borders like psoriasis plaques tend to have.

Dandruff is usually easier to treat than psoriasis and can typically be managed with the right shampoo or home remedy.

What is the root cause of scalp psoriasis?

The exact cause of scalp psoriasis isn’t known. However, research suggests it may be due to an overactive immune system, genetics, and environmental risk factors.

How can I tell if I have psoriasis on my scalp?

Symptoms of scalp psoriasis may include dry, scaly, and itchy skin plaques. These may appear red on lighter skin tones or purple and gray on darker skin tones. These skin plaques are also likely to be flaky.

How do you get rid of psoriasis scales on your scalp?

Treatment for scalp psoriasis may include OTC or prescription shampoos, gels, and ointments, as well as oral medications, injectable medications, and at-home remedies.

What happens to untreated scalp psoriasis?

If left untreated, scalp psoriasis may lead to temporary hair loss.

Scalp psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that may cause dry, scaly patches to develop at the back of your head or around your hairline.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience changes to your skin that don’t resolve on their own or with home treatment. They could help design a treatment plan appropriate for you.