Common Scalp Conditions: The Causes and Solutions

Common Scalp Conditions: The Causes and Solutions

There are a number of different scalp conditions. Here’s a guide to some of them:


Dandruff is the build-up of dead skin cells on the scalp that stick together and break off in larger visible flakes. The symptoms of dandruff typically include irritation, flaking, and dryness.

In much the same way as the rest of your skin, healthy scalps continually shed dead skin cells—usually in small amounts that are hard to detect. When the delicate rhythm of skin renewal on the scalp is upset, too many skin cells are produced too quickly. The medical term for this increased shedding is “hyperkeratosis”.

A reaction occurs on the scalp causing dead skin cells to develop at a rate that is too fast for the skin to slough off normally. Dead skin cells build up on the scalp, sticking together and breaking off in larger, visible flakes. If the scalp becomes significantly inflamed and irritated, then you may have developed seborrheic dermatitis. There is no scientific consensus on what causes increased skin cell production to the point of flaking.

Fortunately, you can control most symptoms with anti-dandruff shampoos. These shampoos work in different ways such as:

  • Slow down the process: Medicated shampoos with coal tar can help slow the proliferation (overproduction) of skin cells on the scalp and have antipruritic properties (relieves itching).
  • Clear scalp build-up: Shampoos with salicylic acid help break down scalp build-up and split flakes into smaller, less visible pieces that can be washed away easily.
  • Anti-fungal action: Shampoos which include Zinc Pyrithione and Ketoconazole have anti-fungal properties which can help manage dandruff.

See some recommended products for controlling Dandruff:

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis

Unlike dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis does not occur solely on the scalp. It commonly affects areas such as the scalp and eyebrows but patches may also appear on the eyelids, creases of the nose, lips, behind the ears, in the external ear and along skin folds. Symptoms include reddened, irritated skin, increased flaking and larger flake size. The scalp may be oily, causing flakes to have a yellowish tinge.

Like dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis has no “cure”, but medicated shampoos can help control the symptoms. Medicated shampoos containing coal tar, ketoconazole, salicylic acid and selenium sulphide are just a number of ingredients that can help with the symptoms of seborrhoeic dermatitis.

Scalp Psoriasis

The severity of scalp psoriasis can vary from slight scaling to thick, crusted plaques. Scalp psoriasis may look similar to seborrhoeic dermatitis, but there are differences. While seborrhoeic dermatitis scales usually appear yellowish and greasy, psoriasis scales generally appear powdery with a silvery sheen.

According to the Psoriasis Association, psoriasis affects 2% to 3% of the UK population. Of these people, about half have scalp psoriasis. Although this condition has long been misunderstood, scientists now believe psoriasis is caused by a defect in the immune system that causes an overproduction of skin cells. This leads to inflammation and the build-up of large, silvery plaques on the skin’s surface, especially on the knees, elbows and scalp.

Always ask your healthcare professional for advice when treating your scalp psoriasis. Doctors and pharmacists often recommend shampoos containing active ingredients. These can include coal tar and salicylic acid to help treat the symptoms of scalp psoriasis.

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