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Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition causing a buildup of skin cells in different parts of the body. These excess skin cells form silvery-red patches that can flake, itch, crack, and bleed.
When psoriasis affects the scalp, it’s called scalp psoriasis. Scalp psoriasis may also affect the back of the ears, forehead, and neck.
Scalp psoriasis is a common condition. Experts estimate that psoriasis affects 2 to 3 percent of people worldwide. If left untreated, it can cause more severe psoriasis symptoms. It also causes chronic inflammation that’s been linked to serious conditions such as:
Treatment for scalp psoriasis varies based on its severity and location. Generally, psoriasis treatments to the head, neck, and face are gentler than treatments used on other parts of the body.
There is anecdotal evidence that some home treatments may help reduce scalp psoriasis symptoms. These are best used in conjunction with medical treatments that have been proven effective in treating this condition.
There are several types of psoriasis, ranging from mild to severe. Scalp psoriasis is a form of plaque psoriasis, which is the most common type. It causes silvery-red, scaly patches, known as plaques, and can affect any part of the body. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis that affects the head, face, or neck.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes scalp and other kinds of psoriasis. They think it happens when a person’s immune system isn’t working properly.
Someone with psoriasis may produce more of certain types of white blood cells called T cells and neutrophils. The job of T cells is to travel through the body, fighting off viruses and bacteria.
If a person has too many T cells, they may begin to attack healthy cells by mistake and produce more skin cells and white blood cells. These cells appear on the skin where they cause inflammation, redness, patches, and flaking in the case of scalp psoriasis.
Lifestyle and genetics may also be related to psoriasis. The following factors may increase your risk of scalp psoriasis:
Having one parent with scalp psoriasis greatly increases your risk of having the condition. You have an even greater risk of developing the condition if both your parents have it.
Those with excess weight appear to more commonly develop scalp psoriasis. Those who are obese also tend to have more skin creases and folds where some inverse psoriasis rashes tend to form.
Your risk of psoriasis is increased if you smoke. Smoking also worsens the severity of psoriasis symptoms in those who have it.
High stress levels are linked to psoriasis because stress affects the immune system.
Viral and bacterial infections
Those with recurring infections and compromised immune systems, especially young children and those with HIV, have an increased risk of psoriasis.
Those with scalp psoriasis may notice that their symptoms are worsened or triggered by a number of factors. These commonly include:
- lack of vitamin D
- alcohol addiction
- infections, including strep throat or skin infections
- skin injuries
- some medications, including lithium, beta-blockers, antimalarial drugs, and iodides
Does scalp psoriasis cause hair loss?
Hair loss is a common side effect of scalp psoriasis. Fortunately, hair usually grows back once scalp psoriasis is treated and clears up.
Treating scalp psoriasis can prevent severe symptoms, chronic inflammation, and hair loss. The types of treatments you need depends on the severity of your scalp psoriasis.
A doctor may combine or rotate several different options based on your needs. Here are some common treatments for scalp psoriasis:
The following medical treatments have been proven to treat scalp psoriasis:
Anthralin is a cream applied to the scalp for minutes to hours before you wash it off. Follow your doctor’s application and dosage directions.
Anthralin is sold under the following brand names in the United States: Drithocreme, Dritho-Scalp, Psoriatec, Zithranol, and Zithranol-RR.
Calcipotriene is available as a cream, foam, ointment, and solution. It contains vitamin D, which can change how skin cells grow on parts of the body affected by psoriasis. It’s sold in the United States under the brand names Calcitrene, Dovonex, and Sorilux.
Betamethasone and calcipotriene
This combination of corticosteroid (betamethasone) and vitamin D (calcipotriene) works to relive the redness, swelling, itching, and other symptoms of scalp psoriasis while also changing how skin cells grow on affected areas.
In the United States this medication is sold as Enstilar, Taclonex, and Taclonex Scalp.
Tazarotene comes as a foam or gel and can be applied to the scalp to ease redness and inflammation associated with scalp psoriasis. It’s sold under the brand names Avage, Fabior, and Tazorac.
Methotrexate is an oral medication that can stop skin cells from overgrowing. It must be taken on a fixed schedule determined by your doctor.
Brand names sold in the United States include Rheumatrex Dose Pack and Trexall.
Oral retinoids are oral medications made from vitamin A designed to reduce inflammation and cell growth. It can take anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks to work. It’s sold as acitretin (Soriatane) in the United States.
Cyclosporine works by calming the immune system and slowing the growth of some kinds of immune cells. It’s taken orally once daily at the same time every day. The efficacy of cyclosporine in treating psoriasis over a long period of time isn’t well understood.
Cyclosporine is sold as Gengraf, Neoral, and Sandimmune in the United States.
Biologics are injectable medications made from natural substances that reduce the body’s immune response. This can decrease the inflammation and redness caused by psoriasis.
Ultraviolet light therapy
Phototherapy is a light therapy that exposes affected skin to ultraviolet light (UV). Ultraviolet B (UVB) is effective in treating psoriasis. Regular sunlight emits a broadband UV light but psoriasis treatment with artificial light is narrow band UVB.
Tanning beds aren’t recommended because they use UVA light, not UVB. The use of tanning beds raises the risk of melanoma by 59 percent.
Laser treatments have recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are especially effective for scalp psoriasis.
Home remedies aren’t proven to alleviate scalp psoriasis symptoms. But some people say they can help reduce symptoms when used along with medical treatment.
Here are some popular home remedies for scalp psoriasis:
- aloe vera cream applied three times a day to the scalp and other effected areas
- apple cider vinegar solution, washing over effected areas
- baking soda and water paste, used to reduce scalp itchiness
- capsaicin cream, used to reduce flaking, redness, and inflammation
- coconut or avocado oil, to moisturize affected areas
- garlic, pureed and mixed with aloe vera and applied daily as a cream or gel and then rinsed off
- mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape) cream, an herbal treatment that can reduce the body’s immune response
- oatmeal bath to reduce itchiness, inflammation, and flaking
- omega-3 fatty acids taken as fish or plant oil supplements to reduce inflammation
- sea or Epsom salt bath to reduce redness and inflammation
- tea tree oil to reduce inflammation
- turmeric to decrease inflammation
- vitamin D to cut down on redness and inflammation
Psoriasis shampoos are a popular home treatment. While you can get medicated shampoos from a doctor, there are many over-the-counter products that can reduce your symptoms without a prescription.
Research suggests that the most effective shampoos contain one or many of the following:
- witch hazel
- coal tar
- salicylic acid
Should you peel your flakes?
Avoid peeling your flakes, as that may result in hair loss. If you want to improve the appearance of your scalp psoriasis, experts suggest combing your flakes out gently.
Some symptoms, such as redness and flaky skin, are shared by both scalp psoriasis and dermatitis. Both conditions can affect the scalp. While some of the treatments for these conditions overlap, they’re different conditions with different causes.
With scalp psoriasis, you’ll notice silvery-red scales that may extend beyond the hairline that cause itching, flaking, and redness. In dermatitis, scales are yellowish and accompanied by dandruff.
Scalp psoriasis is caused by immune dysfunction. Dermatitis is caused by various skin irritants like allergens.
A doctor can usually tell the difference between scalp psoriasis and dermatitis by taking a look at the affected area of your skin. In other cases, it might be trickier to tell the difference.
Your doctor might perform a skin scrape or take a skin sample called a biopsy. Scalp psoriasis will show an overgrowth of skin cells, while dermatitis will show irritated skin and sometimes bacteria or fungi.
See a doctor for any changes in your skin that don’t resolve on their own or with home treatment. They’ll be able to help design a treatment plan appropriate for you.
Scalp psoriasis is a common skin disorder causing redness, inflammation, and flaking of the scalp as well as other parts of the head, neck, and face.
Home treatments may be helpful in reducing symptoms when used in combination with medical treatments recommended by your doctor. Proper treatment of this condition can help reduce discomfort and risk of serious diseases that are linked to scalp psoriasis.