There are many different conditions that result in scalp inflammation and hair loss. It could result from microbial infection, allergen, or pollutants. Inflammation isn’t always a cause for concern, but sometimes, it can be indicative of a serious health condition.
What Is Scalp Inflammation?
Inflammation that specifically affects the scalp region is known as scalp inflammation. Keep in mind that it’s a process and not a disease on its own. It’s a part of the immune system which sends out inflammatory cells in the event of sickness, injury, or infection.
It’s good when it’s helping in wound healing. However, too much of it for a long period of time can cause damage to the healthy tissues. There are two types of scalp inflammation:
Chronic Inflammation – This is the type of inflammation that occurs even when there is no invasion by a foreign body. The body continues to send out white blood cells, which start attacking healthy cells. When triggered, this may last for months or years.
Acute Inflammation – This is when the immune system sends out white blood cells to respond to an injury and invasion of microorganisms. It is when people usually experience swelling, warmth, and redness, among other symptoms. This doesn’t last for more than a few days.
Both these types of inflammation can affect the scalp and even the surrounding tissues. It’s important to know the different signs of inflammation so that you can get your scalp checked by your dermatologist. These include:
- Pain and discomfort
- Flakes and scaly patches
- Itchiness (scalp pruritis)
Depending on the type of inflammation, it is possible for you to experience hair loss. For instance, if your immune system is attacking healthy hair follicles, you will lose them. Sometimes, this type of hair loss is temporary, but it can also be permanent.
What Are the Causes of Scalp Inflammation and Hair Loss?
The following are some of the causes of inflammation of the scalp, which can cause hair loss in men, women and children.
According to Cleveland Clinic, 11% of the population has seborrheic dermatitis. It is a skin condition that can result in the inflammation of the hair follicles. Many people complain of itchy scalp and hair loss in this condition. That’s because of the release of the chemical histamine.
It results in the formation of scaly plaques on the scalp. While it is not exactly known what causes it, the Malassezia yeast is widely believed to be the culprit. According to National Eczema Foundation, it can also be triggered by:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Illness and medications
- Cold weather
- Harsh chemicals
Another inflammatory skin condition, psoriasis, results in the formation of scaly patches (thicker and clearly defined than in seborrheic dermatitis). According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, it affects 125 million people worldwide (2-3% of the total population). It most commonly affects the scalp. It is a chronic condition that can result in scarring and permanent scalp hair loss.
Also known as eczema, atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disorder. It can affect the scalp along with other areas of the body. It is a chronic condition and may result from a combination of genetics, environmental factors and allergens. It can result in:
- Intense itchiness
It can affect children below the age of 6 and affect them as they get older. There are periods of flareups and remission. Scalp inflammation and hair loss from atopic dermatitis can occur. Scratching usually leads to this. It can damage the skin of the scalp, or the force of scratching can pull the hair out.
It’s the skin’s reaction to an allergen or irritant that ends up causing scalp inflammation and hair loss (due to intense itching). If it’s due to an irritant, a rash can appear on the spot, but in the case of allergens, it can take days.
According to a study published in Skin Appendage Disorders, contact dermatitis of the scalp is common and can occur due to items such as:
- Hairpins, clasps and brushes (Nickel)
- Gels (Propylene Glycol)
- Bleaches (Ammonium Persulfate)
- Dyes (Cobalt)
- Fragrances in shampoo, conditioners, tonics, etc. (Balsam of Peru)
- Hair glues (Cabra Mix)
It is another type of inflammatory disorder where hair loss occurs due to immune system problems. It is possible for inflammation to trigger this condition. Alopecia areata can result in the formation of smooth, bald patches on the scalp.
It is a fungal infection of the scalp that can be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. The inflammatory type can form patches (kerion) on the scalp. The condition can result in scarring, which can result in permanent hair loss.
Also known as scarring alopecia, this scalp inflammation is an umbrella term for hair loss, resulting from conditions that involve the body cells. Some examples include:
- Lupus erythematosus
- Folliculitis decalvans
- Eosinophilic pustular folliculitis
- Lichen planopilaris
It can also be non-inflammatory, such as burns (heat or chemical) and physical trauma.
There are some environmental factors that can cause inflammation of the scalp and hair loss. The most significant of these is sunburn (like a first-degree burn), which triggers an inflammatory response by the body. It doesn’t have to be caused by direct sunlight. Tanning beds and phototherapy can also cause this.
Blow-drying can result in heat damage and cause inflammation. Similarly, physical trauma can trigger the same response. Here, it’s more the injury that may cause hair loss. Inflammation is only a part of the wound healing process.
How To Treat Scalp Inflammation and Hair Loss?
You can do the following to treat the inflammation and the consequent itchy scalp and hair loss.
Do Gentle Haircare
It’s important that you avoid using any harsh chemicals on your head or doing any heat treatments. Since scalp inflammation can result in pain, it’s better if you don’t tie your hair too tightly. In addition, it can cause hair loss due to another condition known as traction alopecia.
Use Special Shampoos
You should consult your dermatologist about this, but shampoos with certain ingredients can help soothe the inflammation. You may be recommended those containing:
- Zinc pyrithione
- Selenium sulfide
- Liquor Carbonis Detergens (tar derivative)
- Salicylic acid
These shampoos may also have antimicrobial ingredients, which can help treat the root cause of the condition.
Ultraviolet radiation has been used for the treatment of inflammation. It could include the use of both UVA and UVB. Other than phototherapy, red light therapy is also used to decrease inflammation.
Get Scalp Massage
Since scalp build-up can result in inflammation, scalp massages are one way to get rid of it. You can try doing it using coconut, peppermint or tea tree oil, which are anti-inflammatory. Not only can a massage dislodge the build-up but also promote blood circulation. This can help in regrowth.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Another way that you can take care of scalp inflammation and hair loss is by consuming anti-inflammatory foods. There are special diets that include such foods (AIP, Mediterranean diet).
Foods rich in carbohydrates can worsen inflammation. The same goes for red meat and fried foods. Leafy greens, nuts, fish, and fruits can be anti-inflammatory. Keep in mind that certain allergens can trigger inflammation, so you’d have to avoid those foods, anyway. You can also consider taking probiotics to strengthen your immune system.
Medications & Surgery
Your doctor may prescribe medications to first treat the illness or its symptoms. For that, you might be given:
- Steroids (topical cream, tablet, or injection)
In addition to that, your doctor may suggest using minoxidil to promote the regrowth of hair. However, it may have some side effects, and it may not work.
There’s also platelet-rich plasma therapy to consider if you want to speed up hair regrowth after temporary hair loss. Since it will use your blood, you don’t have to worry about an allergic reaction.
The concentration of platelets will speed up the healing of the skin and the hair. If the hair loss is permanent, you may be recommended a hair transplant for lifetime restoration.
There are different causes of scalp inflammation and hair loss. It can result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
Sometimes, it’s only acute, resulting from an injury or infection. In case of swelling and inflammation after an injury, many people turn to ice packs. While it will not help with hair loss, it can help reduce the inflammation and provide you with temporary relief from the pain. If you don’t have any scarring, it should be possible for your hair to grow back normally.
However, if the inflammation is chronic, it can cause permanent damage to the hair follicles. In this case, your hair will not grow back permanently unless you undergo restoration surgery.
Depending on the reason behind the inflammation, there are different ways that you can get it treated. Some conditions have no cure, only their symptoms can be treated. It’s best to consult your dermatologist about this.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.