Why does the scalp hurt?


A sore or sensitive scalp can be caused by a number of health and other problems. Something as harmless as dermatitis can cause scalp pain or something more serious, like an infection. If you're wondering why your scalp hurts, read on to learn more about the causes.

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Dermatitis describes skin irritation and rashes. It can be caused by genetics, an overactive immune system, infections, allergies, and irritants. This can cause dry, red, and itchy skin in the affected area, including the scalp. People with other skin conditions are at higher risk of developing sore and tender scalp.

Watch out

The type of dermatitis that affects the scalp will determine the most effective treatment. For example, if your scalp dermatitis is caused by an irritant or allergen, you can avoid contact with irritating foods and it will probably go away.

In other cases, such as seborrheic dermatitis, treatment may include over-the-counter shampoos or prescription shampoos that contain ingredients such as:

  • Coal tar: this substance is obtained from coal. Coal tar shampoos can be used twice a week for seborrheic dermatitis. However, coal tar carries the risk of contact dermatitis – skin irritation from direct contact with an allergen or irritant, so use it with caution.
  • Selenium Sulfide: Selenium sulfide is an anti-infective agent that relieves itching and flaking of the scalp. Shampoos containing this ingredient are used to treat seborrheic dermatitis and various scalp conditions that can cause discomfort or pain.
  • Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is derived from the native Australian Melaleuca tree. Tea tree oil shampoo can be used daily.
  • Zinc Pyrithione: Zinc pyrithione is a compound with antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties that can help treat scalp dermatitis.
  • Topical Antifungal Agents : Shampoos containing ketoconazole or ciclopirox have antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used when scalp dermatitis is caused by a fungus.
  • Topical corticosteroids : Topical corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications such as betamethasone valerate and fluocinolone that can be used to relieve scalp problems that are not caused by fungi.


An infection occurs when a pathogen enters the body and causes disease. It can be caused by viruses, fungi, parasites, or bacteria.

Some types of infections can affect the scalp and cause pain and tenderness in the scalp. For example, folliculitis, furunculosis, and carbunculosis can cause irritation and pain on the scalp.

Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles, while furunculosis can affect both the hair follicles and the glands that open to the hair follicles, releasing oily and waxy substances to lubricate the hair. Carbunculosis occurs when boils (painful pus-filled lumps) form that build up under the skin due to infection.

Hair follicle infection can cause symptoms such as:

  • Red bumps on the scalp filled with white pus
  • Itching
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Irritation

When to see a doctor

Your doctor will need to examine all types of scalp infections. If you suspect that an infection is causing your scalp pain, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Watch out

Treatment for scalp infections may include:

  • Antibacterials : If bacteria are causing a scalp infection, Keflex (cephalexin) oral antibiotic or Bactroban topical antibiotic cream may be prescribed. For reinfections, stronger antibiotics, such as tetracycline or minocycline, can be used for a longer period of time. In some cases, a mild cortisone cream is required to relieve symptoms.
  • Antiparasitic Agents – Studies have shown that silicone oils known as dimethicones can help clear scalp infections caused by ticks, lice, and similar parasites.
  • Antifungal Agents: Antifungal agents can be oral or topical. For example, if the fungus causing the scalp infection is ringworm, treatment usually includes oral antifungal medications such as fluconazole, terbinafine, itraconazole, and griseofulvin.

For mild folliculitis, home remedies like an antibacterial cleanser or anti-itch creams can help. In more severe cases, antibiotics will be required. If boils or carbuncles (lumps of boils) form on your scalp, see your doctor to drain them.


Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes red, itchy, and scaly patches on the skin, including the scalp. This causes skin cells to proliferate faster than they can lose.

Psoriasis affects the scalp in about 80% of people with the condition, and the scalp is usually one of the first areas affected. In addition to itching and flaking, psoriasis can also present with symptoms such as:

  • Cracked skin
  • Dry Skin
  • Scalp pain

Watch out

Scalp psoriasis can be treated in the following ways:

  • Over-the-counter products: Products that contain salicylic acid and coal tar may provide relief.
  • Topical corticosteroids : Certain medicated shampoos and other topical medications can be helpful in treating psoriasis of the scalp. Effective ingredients have been shown to include salicylic acid and clobetasol, which are topical corticosteroids in the form of lotions, creams, gels, foams, sprays, and oils.
  • Phototherapy : Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light to slow the growth of skin cells.
  • Dithranol : This medicine controls the growth of skin cells so that they do not multiply faster than they can shed.
  • Vitamin D analogs : Vitamin D can help slow the growth of skin cells.
  • Immunotherapy : Immunosuppressants can help counteract an overactive immune system in psoriasis. This type of therapy can help reduce flare-ups when symptoms get worse.


Sunburn occurs as a result of excessive exposure to the sun and as a result, skin damage occurs. A sunburn on the scalp can cause pain and irritation in the area. Other symptoms of sunburn include:

  • Redness of the scalp
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Dry and flaky skin

If the burn is particularly severe, you may also experience weakness, confusion, fainting, dehydration, and shock.

Watch out

In most cases, sunburn can be treated at home. The skin heals on its own, but it takes time. You can ease scalp pain by taking a cold shower or applying a cool, wet compress to your scalp. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can also help with pain. To reduce puffiness, you can apply a mild aloe moisturizer to your scalp.

You may want to avoid using certain shampoos or hair products that can cause additional irritation. Foods containing benzocaine or similar ingredients that end in "cain", such as topical pain relievers, should be avoided as they can cause irritation.

Can sunburn cause hair loss?

Sunburns on the scalp can be serious, but are unlikely to cause hair loss. If your skin is very flaky, you could lose your hair. However, once the area has healed, the hair will grow back.

Tense headache

Tension headaches are the most common types of headaches . They usually appear behind the eyes and around the neck. People with tension headaches often describe this sensation as feeling a tight band wrap around their head.

During a tension headache, muscles in the head and neck area contract and cause pain. The pain that occurs during a tension headache is dull and pressure-like and is usually worse in the temples, the back of the neck, and the scalp. It can also cause pain in the scalp.

Watch out

The first course of treatment for tension headaches is usually over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen (Alev), or acetaminophen. Many people with this type of headache self-medicate at home.

For some, tension headaches can be recurring or chronic . Treatment for recurrent tension headaches is usually the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline .

There are several non-drug treatments for tension headaches, including:

  • Hot and cold therapy : Using a hot or cold compress on this area can help relieve tension headaches.
  • Relaxation techniques : Tension headaches can be triggered by stress, so learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and listening to relaxing music can help reduce the frequency of tension headaches.
  • Biofeedback : Biofeedback works by placing sensors on the body or head. These sensors then track physical responses to identify specific stressors or stressful feelings or situations so you can learn to manage them.

Temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis is characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the temporal arteries (blood vessels) near the temples. The temporal arteries help carry blood to the brain and head.

Temporal arteritis is a rare condition that generally affects adults over the age of 50. It is more common in women than in men. It is not clear what causes this condition, but it is believed that problems with the immune response may be one of the factors.

Temporal arteritis presents with a variety of symptoms, the most common of which is a persistent stabbing headache on one or both sides of the forehead. It can also cause pain in the scalp or temples. Other symptoms can include:

  • Hot
  • Jaw pain
  • Eye sight problems
  • Muscle pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weightloss
  • Fatigue

Watch out

Temporal arteritis can be treated with medicine. First-line treatments are glucocorticoids like prednisone , which can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Is Temporal Arteritis a Medical Emergency?

Temporal arteritis, also called giant cell arteritis or Horton's arteritis, is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If left untreated, it can lead to serious, life-threatening health complications.


Fibromyalgia is a painful disorder that affects the soft tissues. The exact cause is unknown, but contributing factors may include abnormal processing of central nervous system pain reports, chemical imbalances, and genetics. It causes chronic and widespread pain, even on the scalp.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Memory problems
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet.

Watch out

Treatment is aimed at improving symptoms and overall quality of life. Fibromyalgia is usually accompanied by other conditions that make it worse. Because of this, the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms coincides with the treatment of comorbid conditions (other conditions present) such as:

Various medications can be used to control pain, such as:

  • Gabapentinoids : Gabapentinoids are a class of medications made up of gabapentin and pregabalin that work by inhibiting certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) that cause pain. Examples of gabapentinoids used in fibromyalgia include Gralise (gabapentin) and Lyrica (pregabalin).
  • Sedatives : Sedatives like Ambien can help people with fibromyalgia sleep better, which can improve their symptoms.
  • Antidepressants : Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used for pain in fibromyalgia. They regulate brain chemistry, especially in areas that affect emotion and pain. When the levels of certain chemicals in the brain change, pain can be reduced by limiting the amount of pain signals sent out.
  • Tricyclic compounds : You can also use medications that contain both antidepressants and muscle relaxants. They regulate chemicals in the central nervous system to reduce pain throughout the body.

Treatment may also include the use of pain relievers such as ibuprofen, stress management techniques, and strength training or exercise.

Does fibromyalgia affect hair?

Fibromyalgia affects the entire body and can cause changes that can lead to hair loss. Hair loss is generally not permanent and is more common during periods when a person with fibromyalgia is under significant stress.

Hair extension

Hair extensions are used to add puffiness or length to a person's hair. The hair used can be synthetic or natural human hair. Hair extensions come in different shapes and can be attached to the hair, glued on or sewn on.

Hair extensions can cause scalp discomfort for a variety of reasons, including being too tight on the scalp, being too heavy, or containing an irritant that causes an allergic reaction. Hair extensions are also linked to headaches and hair loss.

Watch out

Treatment for scalp pain caused by hair extensions is a simple waxing. There is no other way to relieve pressure on the scalp than to remove them. It may be helpful to try a different type of hair extension, especially for people experiencing scalp discomfort due to an allergic reaction.

When to see a doctor

If you experience symptoms such as a severe headache or rashes that appear on other parts of your body and on your scalp, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Any scalp pain that does not go away in a week or two should be further investigated by a healthcare professional. This includes pain caused by dermatitis, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, and recurrent tension headaches. Some of these are chronic conditions that require ongoing treatment.

Temporal arteritis is a life-threatening condition and should be treated immediately at the first sign of symptoms.


Various skin conditions, such as dermatitis, infections, and psoriasis, can affect the scalp and cause pain. Other conditions that affect the head or blood vessels in this area, such as tension headaches and temporal arteritis, can also lead to scalp pain. Systemic conditions like fibromyalgia can cause scalp pain. Sometimes sunburns and too heavy hair extensions can also irritate the scalp.

Frequently asked questions

Which doctor do you see if your scalp hurts and hurts?

If you suspect that a skin disorder is causing your scalp to be sensitive, see a dermatologist . For conditions like fibromyalgia, you may want to see a rheumatologist . For tension headaches and temporal arteritis, you may need to see a neurologist. It depends on the reason.

If you don't know which doctor to go to, make an appointment with your doctor who can treat your condition or refer you to a specialist.

What Causes Scalp Sensitivity To Touch?

Tension headaches, infections, and skin conditions can cause scalp sensitivity. However, in some cases, the scalp can be overly sensitive and has nothing to do with the underlying health problem. It's best to ask your healthcare professional for an evaluation to rule out medical problems that may be causing your sensitive scalp.

How to reduce the sensitivity of the scalp?

The first thing to do is find out what is causing the sensitivity, because treatment depends on the cause. You can take good care of your scalp, such as gently brushing your hair, changing shampoo if you suspect your current shampoo is irritating your skin, and making sure all hair products are thoroughly rinsed off.

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