Your skin typically has a small amount of yeast that doesn’t cause any problems. But when too much of this type of yeast grows, you may develop an infection. It’s more likely to develop when a particular part of your body is unusually moist and not exposed to a free flow of air.
A yeast infection can develop anywhere on or inside your body. This includes your feet, fingernails, and scalp.
Research has found that Candida is one of the most common types of fungus to cause infections of the skin and other organs. Although studies have identified more than 20 species of this fungus, most Candida infections (candidiasis) of the skin are caused by the one known as Candida albicans.
Candida thrives in warm and moist areas, but you can develop a scalp yeast infection even without these conditions. Sometimes the natural environment of your skin can become unbalanced. This can occur due to:
- medical conditions
- unhealthy diet
- certain medications
- harsh chemicals in some personal grooming products
Small cuts on your scalp may also provide an entryway for the fungus to get below the surface. All of these factors can create favorable conditions for Candida to grow.
A scalp yeast infection is often curable with treatment. But if left untreated, Candida can cause more serious health concerns if it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the:
- digestive system
- internal organs
The risk factors for candidiasis include:
- weakened immune system
- inflammatory conditions
- use of antibiotics, corticosteroids, or birth control
- coexisting skin conditions, such as psoriasis
- being under 5 years old or over 55 years old
There are several signs and symptoms that might point to a scalp yeast infection. You may experience one or more of the following:
- red or purple rash, cracks, or patches on the skin
- white, flaky scales or shedding
- areas that appear soft, moist, and white
- white, pus-filled pimples
Symptoms that Candida has spread beyond the scalp include:
- digestive issues
- urinary tract or genital irritation
- white, painful lesions in the mouth, known as oral thrush
- sinus pain
Other conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. The only definite way to know that your scalp irritation is an infection caused by Candida is to visit a doctor for a skin lesion KOH exam.
If your scalp yeast infection lasts for a long time, you may accumulate a lot of flakes and dead skin. Frequently scratching or applying drying chemicals to the affected area can also damage hair follicles.
All these factors could lead to some hair loss. This is especially common in people who have hypothyroidism.
However, if you notice random circular patches that are completely bald, see your doctor. You may have an infection called tinea capitis. It’s also known as ringworm of the scalp.
Most scalp yeast infections can be treated with topical over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. These come in the form of ointments, shampoos, or foams.
Research shows that antifungal drugs known as azoles, such as fluconazole (Diflucan), are very successful, as well as allylamines. Together, these topical antifungals have an 80 to 100 percent success rate in treating Candida.
Look for one of these active ingredients on the label of any medication you purchase:
If the infection hasn’t cleared after using OTC antifungals, ask your pharmacist to help you choose a cortisone foam. Your doctor can also prescribe a stronger medication, such as nystatin or amphotericin B.
Some people use natural alternatives to treat a scalp yeast infection. Although they’re gaining popularity, more research is needed to explore their effectiveness. Here are some home remedies you can try:
- Try diluting apple cider vinegar in equal parts with water to help loosen dead skin and reduce inflammation.
- Coconut oil is thought to have antifungal properties. Use it on its own, or with 12 drops per 1/4 cup of essential oil.
- Essential oils may have antimicrobial properties that may help a scalp yeast infection. Add one to a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. Some essential oils to try include tea tree oil, lavender oil, or lemongrass oil.
Seborrheic dermatitis is marked by chronic inflammation and skin shedding that comes and goes. It’s usually more strongly associated with oily skin than Candida. The cause is unknown, but other natural skin yeasts may be to blame.
The treatments for seborrheic dermatitis and a scalp yeast infection are the same. However, seborrheic dermatitis will keep recurring in most people who have it, while a scalp yeast infection may not.
You can also ask your doctor to perform a skin culture to know exactly what’s causing your symptoms.
To prevent scalp yeast infections from developing, follow these tips:
- Keep your scalp dry, clean, and cool.
- Practice healthy scalp hygiene.
- Eat and drink a healthy, varied diet.
- Practice moderation with starchy food, sugar, and alcohol.
- Avoid overusing antibiotics and steroids.
- Give your scalp breathing room. Don’t wear caps, hats, hoods, or scarves more than necessary.
Scalp yeast infections are relatively common. They’re easy to treat with a variety of OTC antifungals. Home remedies might work, but more research is needed on their effectiveness.
Early treatment can help get Candida under control and prevent it from spreading to other parts of your body.