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What Causes a Scaly Scalp?

Alex Tree
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A scaly scalp is a common occurrence with a plethora of possible causes, such as bamboo hair syndrome, dandruff, and scalp psoriasis. Some problems, like a vitamin deficiency or emotional stress, are believed to trigger dandruff or cause flare-ups to become worse. Whatever the cause, treatment is usually available in the forms of shampoo and conditioners, healthier eating habits, and dietary supplements. Avoiding dry scalp triggers can help a person reduce his or her amount of flakes and itchiness, but it is important to remember that, contrary to the popular myth, dandruff, scalp psoriasis, and other scaly scalp conditions do not normally lead to baldness. In addition, it is normal for the condition to eventually return after a successful treatment due to dry scalp triggers or genetics.

One condition that can cause a scaly scalp is referred to as bamboo hair syndrome. The main symptom of this condition is that the shaft of the hair literally looks like bamboo, with a distinctive overlapping pattern. Other accompanying symptoms of this condition include susceptibility to asthma and thin amounts of hair. This inherited condition is rare, and treatments include antihistamines, topical steroids, and antibiotics for associated skin infections.

Another condition that can contribute to the presence of a scaly scalp is dandruff. Dandruff is essentially dead scalp skin coming off the head. The problem is that, while all skin cells die and fall off as they are replaced, sometimes this process is accelerated. This accelerated natural process is sometimes chronic, caused by extreme temperatures or aggravated by other irritations. In addition to scaly patches of scalp, dandruff is typified by itchiness and white flakes of dead skin in the hair.

Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease that tricks the body into accelerating the growth of skin cells. This condition commonly appears as white or red patches of scaly skin, and it can affect the entire body or just one spot, like the scalp. Some researchers believe the disease is genetic, but it also seems to occur after an injury to the skin. No cure has been discovered for scalp psoriasis, though it can often be effectively managed with topical treatments.

The treatments for scaly scalp vary as much as its underlying causes. Some of the conditions require medicated washes and topical ointments, while others may require oral medications such as antibiotics. Scaly scalp is always caused by another condition, and thus diagnosis is of utmost importance when seeking a treatment for it.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Apr 09, 2013

My grand-daughter has cradle cap right now. The top of her scalp is covered in a scaly rash. She is just three weeks old!

By stoneMason — On Apr 09, 2013

@turkay1-- Does your scalp also itch?

If so, you might have seborrheic dermatitis. This is when the scalp gets inflamed due to various reasons and causes symptoms like scaly, itchy, flaky scalp. It might really be the change in climate triggering it like you said. It could also be a fungal infection. I think this might be most likely since skin fungi tend to favor warm, humid climates.

See your dermatologist. He or she can give you a shampoo to treat your dermatitis. It should take care of the symptoms. I also think you should take some time to relax because stress will make it worse.

By candyquilt — On Apr 08, 2013

I have scaly scalp but I don't think I have any of the conditions mentioned in the article.

It started recently, after I moved to Florida. The hot and humid climate has affected my skin and scalp a lot. I'm experiencing excessive oil production on my face and my scalp. The oil is also giving my scalp and hair and odd smell. I have scales that are similar to dandruff but more extreme.

I used to wash my hair once every two days before, now I have to wash it every day. But despite this, just several hours after shampooing, my hair is again oily and scaly.

What might be the reason?

Alex Tree

Alex Tree

Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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