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Itchy Scalp and Hair Loss: Are They Connected?

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 09/17/2017

Updated 04/25/2024

Does an itchy scalp have you worried and looking for answers to questions like “Does an itchy scalp mean your hair is growing?” or “Does scratching your head cause hair loss?” Look no further — we’re here to tell you that an itchy scalp isn’t likely to cause hair loss (at least not directly).

However, some skin conditions that cause you to develop an itchy scalp may also affect your hair follicles and contribute to hair shedding, thinning or even permanent hair loss.

Below, we’ve explained why an itchy scalp typically isn’t a sign of male pattern baldness, common causes of an itchy scalp and their relationship to hair loss and what you can do to treat scalp itching, as well as your options if you’re starting to notice the signs of baldness.

Scalp itching, or scalp pruritus, is a common condition that affects everyone occasionally.

Fungal infections, irritants and allergic reactions can all cause an itchy scalp. Over time, severe itching and vigorous scratching can damage the follicles, potentially leading to problems like hair loss. For instance, scarring due to intense itching may permanently damage scalp tissue and cause hair follicles to stop growing.

You might have heard the opposite — that there’s an itchy scalp hair growth connection, but sadly, this isn’t true. If you’ve ever gotten a burn, you might have noticed that your skin got itchy as it healed, but it’s not the same in the hair growth world — itchiness doesn’t mean you’re about to see a fuller, healthier head of hair.

Luckily, it’s also not usually a warning of a serious issue.

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Itching and its associated conditions are neither triggers of androgenic alopecia nor warning signs of this condition.

Male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is by far the most common cause of hair loss in men. It occurs when the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) targets your hair follicles.

Over time, DHT can miniaturize your hair follicles, preventing them from growing new hairs. This process usually begins around your hairline or the crown of your scalp, resulting in the receding hairline many guys develop in their 20s, 30s or 40s.

We’ve discussed the relationship between hormones and hair loss in more detail in our guide to DHT and male pattern baldness.

Unlike scalp conditions such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis or fungal infections, male pattern baldness generally doesn’t cause your scalp to itch or feel uncomfortable.

Instead, DHT-related damage happens slowly, with your hair follicles gradually miniaturizing and losing the ability to produce new hairs over years and decades.

Put simply, you typically won’t feel much itching if you’re starting to lose hair due to male pattern baldness. Most men who go bald don’t feel anything at all — instead, they gradually notice the effects of DHT when they look in the mirror.

This means that an itchy or irritated scalp isn’t a reliable sign that you’re starting to shed hair due to male pattern baldness.

Dealing with an itchy scalp can be a major annoyance, especially if nothing you do seems to get the itching under control.

But can an itchy scalp cause thinning hair? Not directly, but it can lead to or indicate conditions that can cause permanent or temporary hair loss.

A variety of different skin issues may cause you to have an itchy scalp, including diseases, temporary skin conditions and even irritation or allergic reactions caused by ingredients in skin and hair care products.

The bad news is that some of these conditions can damage your hair follicles, which may worsen or cause hair loss.

But there are signs beyond itchiness that you can look for if you're concerned that you’re starting to develop a bald scalp. These include:

  • Thinning hair all over your head

  • Gradual receding around your hairline

  • A bald patch around the crown of your head

  • Hair that’s unusually slow to grow or lacking in coverage

  • More hairs than usual on your pillowcase or in your hairbrush

Itching may be caused by or related to some of these issues.

Our guide to the early signs of hair loss goes into more detail about these symptoms and the key things to look for if you’re concerned that you might be losing your hair.

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Once you identify the cause of your itchy scalp, treating the issue and getting rid of the itch often becomes a lot easier.

Below, we’ve listed several of the most common causes of an itchy, irritated scalp and the effects that these conditions can have on your hair follicles and general hair growth.

Scalp Ringworm (Tinea Capitis)

Fungal infections can cause severe itching, especially when they affect your scalp. Tinea capitis — an infection that’s also known as scalp ringworm, or scalp fungus — is a type of fungal infection that develops on your scalp and inside your hair follicles.

Like other fungal infections, tinea capitis can develop when your skin comes into contact with infectious fungi, such as the dermatophyte species Microsporum and Trichophyton.

These fungi are often found in wet, moist areas, such as locker rooms and showers. They often spread from person to person via combs, hats and sports clothes. Some pets, such as cats, can also transmit fungal infections like tinea capitis to humans.

Tinea capitis can cause a range of symptoms, including small patches of inflamed and scaly skin on your scalp, broken strands of hair and severe itching. When severe, it can even cause pus-filled, inflammatory nodules called kerions to develop across your scalp.

It’s common to experience patchy hair loss with this type of infection. Severe tinea capitis can even cause scarring that might damage your hair follicles and lead to permanent hair loss in some areas of your scalp.

If you have tinea capitis, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

You can usually treat this type of skin infection with oral antifungal medication. Your healthcare provider may also suggest a shampoo or topical medication to control fungal growth and reduce itching.

Our complete guide to scalp fungus goes into more detail about tinea capitis, from its common causes to its symptoms and long-term effects, as well as the steps you can take if you think you may be affected by this fungal infection.

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a skin condition in which your hair follicles become infected and inflamed, causing small bumps or pimple-like lesions to develop on your scalp.

Most cases of folliculitis are caused by bacteria that make its way into the surface layers of your hair follicles. However, some cases may be caused by fungal species, viruses and even mites that inhabit your skin.

You may be more likely to develop folliculitis if you shave your head, wear tight clothing that rubs against your hair or touch your scalp often.

Some medications, such as lithium and cyclosporine, can also increase your risk of developing folliculitis.

Folliculitis typically clears up on its own, provided your immune system is healthy, and you stop the behavior that caused it to develop in the first place.

If you’re looking for faster relief, applying a hot compress to the area may help drain the affected follicles and prevent itching. Some antibiotics and antifungal medication may also help to clear this type of infection and improve recovery.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease that can affect your scalp and other areas of your skin with large numbers of sebaceous (oil-producing) glands.

This type of skin issue is most common in infants (in whom it’s called cradle cap) and middle-aged adults. It can cause itching, inflammation, swelling, dandruff and greasy white scales on affected areas of your body, including your scalp.

You may be more likely to develop seborrheic dermatitis if you’re male, have an immune system disorder, use immunosuppressant medication, live in a region with low humidity or have a health condition such as Parkinson’s disease, depression or dementia.

While there’s no direct link between seborrheic dermatitis and hair loss, scratching your scalp often or aggressively may damage your hair follicles and cause you to shed hair.

Like most scalp conditions, seborrheic dermatitis is treatable. If you have seborrheic dermatitis, your healthcare provider may suggest washing your hair with a shampoo that contains coal tar, pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole or selenium sulfide to control itching and relieve your symptoms.

If you have recurrent seborrheic dermatitis, they may also recommend using medication to stop breakouts from returning.

Lichen Planopilaris

Lichen planopilaris, or LPP, is an inflammatory condition that can affect your scalp and hair. It’s a form of lichen planus, a common disease that can cause swelling and inflammation in your mucous membranes. If you have lichen planopilaris, you may spot small bumps developing around clusters of your hair. As lichen planopilaris becomes more severe, it can cause pain, burning and itching on your scalp.

Lichen planopilaris can also cause scaly skin, red patches on your scalp and patches with little to no hair growth.

When untreated, it can lead to permanent hair loss due to damage to your hair follicles.

If you have lichen planopilaris, you’ll need to limit damage to your hair by avoiding colors and other artificial substances. You can also control symptoms with topical and systemic medications such as corticosteroids, tacrolimus and hydroxychloroquine.

Overly Harsh Shampoo

Some shampoos contain harsh ingredients that can irritate your scalp and cause itching.

One common shampoo ingredient often linked to itching is propylene glycol, a solvent that can cause eczematous dermatitis.

Some fragrances that give shampoos a distinctive scent can cause scalp itching and/or irritation. As such, paying attention to what you see on the label is important if you've got sensitive skin.

If you often get an itchy scalp after washing your hair, you may benefit from switching to a milder shampoo that doesn’t contain irritating ingredients.

These shampoos are often labeled “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin” and can usually be found in your local supermarket or drugstore.

Dirt, Dust or Pollutants

Dirt, dust and other irritants found in the environment can become stuck in your hair and cause your scalp to become irritated, itchy and uncomfortable.

If your scalp is dirty, it may start to itch. Make sure to wash your hair frequently to remove dirt, dust and other pollutants that can become trapped against your skin, as well as the natural oils that can build up on your scalp over time.

Skin Diseases

Certain skin diseases, such as psoriasis, can cause you to develop a rash that affects your skin and causes itching.

Psoriasis is a type of autoimmune disease in which your skin produces new cells at a faster rate than usual. It can cause thick, red patches of skin with flaky scales to develop on your body, including on your scalp.

Although psoriasis doesn’t directly cause hair loss, scratching your head frequently or pulling at areas of skin affected by psoriasis may cause hair shedding.

If you have psoriasis, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. They may suggest using a medicated shampoo, topical treatment or light therapy to control your symptoms and make your psoriasis more manageable.

Other autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata do not respond well to supplements and at-home remedies. If you experience itchy skin, scabs, a dry scalp or other signs of irritation without an apparent cause, a diagnosis will be essential to finding the proper treatment.

Dandruff

A variety of different skin conditions can cause dandruff — small flakes of skin that can break off from your scalp and land on your shoulders and clothing.

Although dandruff doesn’t directly cause itchiness, it’s a common symptom of skin conditions that cause dryness, irritation and itchiness.

Most of the time, you can treat dandruff using an anti-dandruff shampoo. Our guide to getting rid of dandruff provides several techniques that you can use to wash away dandruff and stop it from making a return.

Allergic Reactions

In addition to shampoos, certain chemicals used in other skin and hair care products can cause an allergic reaction on your scalp. This can lead to irritation and itching, among other uncomfortable symptoms.

One chemical that’s often linked to allergic reactions is para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which is commonly used in black hair dyes.

Other products, such as conditioners and some skin care treatments, may also contain irritating ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer often develops on your scalp, as this part of your body is frequently exposed to the sun. Research suggests that as many as 13 percent of malignant cutaneous neoplasms, or skin tumors that are cancerous, develop on the scalp. This can make your scalp itchy.

While skin cancer won’t affect your hair, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any flesh-colored, red or brown spots or bumps on your scalp, especially if they don’t go away over time.

If you have an itchy scalp that doesn’t improve on its own over a few days, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Almost all conditions that cause an itchy scalp are treatable, whether with medication, changes to your scalp and hair care habits or a mix of approaches.

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you feel your scalp becoming more inflamed and itchy, develop sudden hair loss or have a family history of skin problems that affect the scalp and/or hair.

On the other hand, if you’re starting to develop a receding hairline, a bald patch at your crown or diffuse hair thinning, there’s a good chance you’re affected by male pattern baldness.

Male pattern baldness is treatable, but it’s important to take action as quickly as possible to stop your hair loss from becoming more severe.

Currently, the medications finasteride and minoxidil are the most effective treatments for male pattern hair loss.

Finasteride is a prescription medication that works by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT. When used daily, finasteride can reduce DHT levels by 70 percent and slow down, stop or even reverse the effects of male pattern baldness.

Minoxidil is a topical medication that’s applied directly to your scalp. Although it doesn’t reduce DHT levels, minoxidil helps to improve hair growth by moving your hair follicles into the growth phase of the hair growth cycle and stimulating local blood flow.

Research shows that finasteride and minoxidil are particularly effective when used together. In one study published in the journal Dermatologic Therapy, more than 94 percent of men who were balding had improvements in hair growth after using finasteride and minoxidil for 12 months.

We offer finasteride and minoxidil online as part of our range of men’s hair loss treatments, with finasteride available following an online consultation with a healthcare provider. We also offer them together for a powerful, two-in-one hair loss treatment.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

An itchy scalp can indicate many things, from oily, dirty hair that needs to be washed thoroughly to skin irritation that may need to be treated using a topical medication.

Although male pattern baldness usually doesn’t cause an itchy scalp, several medical conditions that can affect your hair follicles may involve itching, rashes and discomfort.

If you’re concerned about hair loss, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible to prevent it from getting worse. The earlier you act, the better your chances of preventing further hair loss and stimulating new hair growth.

You can get started by talking with your primary care provider, scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist or accessing our range of hair loss medications online.

16 Sources

  1. Ho, C.H., Sood, T. & Zito, P.M. (2021, November 15). Androgenetic Alopecia. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/
  2. Al Aboud, A.M. & Crane, J.S. (2022, May 8). Tinea Capitis. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536909/
  3. Ringworm of the scalp. (2020, November 10). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000878.htm
  4. Winters, R.D. & Mitchell, M. (2022, May 1). Folliculitis. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547754/
  5. Folliculitis. (2020, October 10). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000823.htm
  6. Tucker, D. & Masood, S. (2022, May 8). Seborrheic Dermatitis. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551707/
  7. Lichen planopilaris. (2021, November 8). Retrieved from https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/3247/lichen-planopilaris
  8. Lepe, K., Nassereddin, A. & Salazar, F.J. (2021, November 22). Lichen Planopilaris. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470325/
  9. Andersen, K.E. & Storrs, F.J. (1982, January). Skin irritation caused by propylene glycols. Hautarzt: Zeitschrift fur Dermatologie, Venerologie, und Verwandte Gebiete. 33 (1), 12-14. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7085276/
  10. What is Psoriasis? (2020, August 18). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/psoriasis/index.htm
  11. Psoriasis. (2019, February 20). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/psoriasis.html
  12. Mukkanna, K.S., Stone, N.M. & Ingram, J.R. (2017). Para-phenylenediamine allergy: current perspectives on diagnosis and management. Journal of Asthma and Allergy. 10, 9-15. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5261844/
  13. Prodinger, C.M., Koller, J. & Laimer, M. (2018, June). Scalp tumors. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. 16 (6), 730-753. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ddg.13546
  14. Zito, P.M., Bistas, K.G. & Syed, K. (2022, May 8). Finasteride. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/
  15. Badri, T., Nessel, T.A. & Kumar, D.D. (2021, December 19). ​​Minoxidil. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
  16. Hu, R., et al. (2015). Combined treatment with oral finasteride and topical minoxidil in male androgenetic alopecia: a randomized and comparative study in Chinese patients. Dermatologic Therapy. 28 (5), 303-308. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/dth.12246
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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