We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Healthline only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Was this helpful?

Your scalp may feel sore due to different causes, including skin disorders, tension headaches, and some infections. Treatment can depend on the underlying cause.

Scalp pain can be caused by a number of things, from easy-to-treat dandruff to infection or infestation. Common symptoms include prickling, burning, or tingling sensations, as well as flaky, itchy skin.

Keep reading to learn more about the potential causes and what you can do to treat them.

Common causes of scalp pain include the following:

Skin disorders

Dermatitis is a common condition associated with a general inflammation of the skin. Symptoms include an itchy rash and swollen skin. You may also experience blisters, crusts, or flakes. These symptoms can be triggered by contact with many common things, such as:

  • certain metals
  • certain soaps
  • poison ivy
  • certain cosmetics
  • pollution
  • water
  • certain laundry detergents
  • certain hair products


Folliculitis, furunculosis, and carbunculosis are all infections of the hair follicles that can cause scalp sensitivity. These infections can be painful, sore, or warm to the touch. They often affect the back of the neck, the back of the scalp, or the armpit. Sometimes, pus can be squeezed out from these skin lesions.

Fungal infections of the scalp, such as tinea capitis and tinea versicolor, are most common in children and can cause hair loss.


What may look like flakes of dandruff could be lice. If you’re experiencing any itchiness or have red bumps that may crust or ooze, you should seek immediate medical attention. Lice is highly contagious and can live up to 30 days on your scalp or body. Lice eggs can live even longer.


A tension headache can also cause scalp pain. Stress, depression, or anxiety can cause or worsen your symptoms, making muscles tense.

Temporal arteritis

The temporal artery is a blood vessel that runs on the side of your head in front of your ear. Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal artery becomes inflamed and very tender to touch. Symptoms associated with this condition include jaw pain, headaches, and visual disturbances.

Temporal arteritis most often affects older adults. This is especially true of those with a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica.

Other possibilities

Scalp pain can also be caused by:

  • sunburn
  • heat
  • cold
  • wind

This pain can also be worsened or triggered by hair loss. For women, hormones associated with the menstrual cycle may also contribute to scalp pain.

Those with naturally greasy or dry scalp are more prone to scalp pain and may even experience sensitive skin in other areas. You may also be more likely to experience symptoms if you:

  • are stressed
  • are anxious
  • are depressed
  • live in an area with a varying climate or cold temperatures
  • have allergies
  • have asthma

Treatments vary depending on the cause or symptom. Special shampoos like Selsun Blue or Head & Shoulders can help alleviate itchiness or dry, flaky scalp.

Change your shampoo, rinse your hair more carefully, and brush your hair gently. Ibuprofen or similar over-the-counter medication may help relieve inflammation or headaches that cause sensitivity.

Certain essential oils, such as lavender or rosemary, can help heal sores that may be causing scalp pain. However, applying undiluted essential oil to your scalp may make your symptoms worse. You’ll need to dilute it first.

To dilute the oil, mix 4 to 6 drops of essential per each ounce of a carrier oil. Sweet almond oil works well for the hair.

Before applying to your scalp, test the mixture on a small patch of skin, say, on your forearm. Wait 24 hours to determine whether your skin is going to have a reaction. If it doesn’t, it should be okay to use the mixture on your head.

Gently massage the mixture into your hair and scalp. Leave it in for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out. You may need to apply a gentle shampoo up to three times and rinse well.

Depending on your symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention. If first-line treatments aren’t relieving your irritation, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication or special shampoo. If special care is needed, you doctor may refer you to a dermatologist.

Although some people naturally have a tender scalp, an underlying medical condition may also be causing your symptoms.

If your symptoms are severe and continue to persist, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Whether this can clear up in a few days or a few weeks depends on your symptoms.