Shingles may develop on your scalp and face if the virus that causes it travels along the trigeminal nerve. It may cause burning pain, itching, and clusters of painful blisters. Prompt medical care is advised.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lays dormant in your body for years after chickenpox resolves. If it reactivates, the virus travels down your nerve paths and causes shingles symptoms.

Shingles rashes typically develop on the torso or chest, but they can also appear anywhere in the body, including the face and scalp.

The early symptoms of shingles may include:

Pain may peak as you notice a rash start to develop on one side of the scalp. You may first experience skin discoloration and bumps that progress into clusters of tiny fluid-filled blisters. These blisters may ooze and bleed, and then crust over forming itchy scabs.

Hair loss is possible at the site of the rash, particularly if you scratch the area. You may also experience pain or tenderness on one side of your face.

It’s not possible to spread shingles to other areas of your body by touching the rash. But an active shingles rash is highly contagious to other people until the blisters dry up and scab over.

If someone who’s never had chickenpox comes in direct contact with the rash, they may get chickenpox. If they’ve already had it, they may develop shingles.

You can see what a shingles rash looks like here.

Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster (chickenpox) virus.

A shingles rash will affect the nerve path where the virus reactivates. The trigeminal nerve (one of the cranial nerves) innervates the scalp and the face. When the virus travels along this nerve path, shingles will impact these areas.

What reactivates the shingles virus is not yet clear. However, medical experts suspect it has to do with a weakened immune system. Chronic conditions, intense stress, and some medications can suppress the immune system and may facilitate the reactivation of the chickenpox virus.

Only people who’ve had chickenpox can develop shingles.

No cure is available for shingles. Treatment aims to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms and prevent complications.

Medical care is advised as soon as you notice the first symptoms, even if you don’t have a rash yet. If you experience a persistent burning pain and a tingling sensation on your scalp, it’s likely shingles.

Healthcare professionals often recommend starting on antiviral medications within 72 hours of the first symptoms to lower the chances of complications.

Shingles on the face is considered a medical emergency because it may affect your eye. If you notice the rash on your scalp traveling down your forehead or along the nose, consider seeking a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

If shingles isn’t managed adequately, it may lead to permanent bald patches. If the rash extends down to your eye, it may lead to blindness.


To treat your shingles, a healthcare professional may recommend:

  • prescription antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • pain medication
  • corticosteroids to manage inflammation and hair loss

Other strategies to relieve pain may include:

  • nerve blocks in some cases
  • topical lidocaine patches (if the rash is resolved)
  • pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin)

Self-care techniques

Self-care remedies might also help with the discomfort of shingles on your scalp. You may want to try:

  • resting cool, damp towels on the rash
  • avoiding hats, caps, and bed linens (pillowcases) made of materials that attach to the rash
  • using lukewarm water to shower

Anyone who’s had chickenpox may develop shingles later on. A weakened immune system facilitates the chickenpox virus to reactivate as shingles.

Reactivation of the virus may be associated with:

If you’ve never had chickenpox, a shingles vaccine is available. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine Shingrix in 2017 to treat shingles and to replace the previous vaccine, Zostavax.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults ages 50 years and older get the shingles vaccine. You may want to ask your healthcare professional about possible side effects of the vaccine.

Shingles may appear anywhere on your body, including the scalp. Seeking the care of a healthcare professional when you first notice symptoms is highly advised to reduce the chance of complications, like bald patches and vision loss.