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What Causes a Tender Scalp?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many contributing factors to the development of a tender scalp. Among them are basic issues such as dry skin and overly tight hairstyles. Sometimes, however, a tender scalp may be caused by hair that is very heavy and pulls on the scalp. There are even some conditions, such as ringworm and acne, that contribute to a sore scalp. In some cases, a person may even develop a tender scalp because of overly energetic combing and brushing.

Dry skin is among the issues that can contribute to a sore scalp; when the scalp is very dry, a person may experience tenderness. Some people try to combat this by putting moisturizing products in their hair. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always relieve the problem. Sometimes, however, the person can minimize the soreness by drinking more water and other liquids. This works to approach the problem from within.

In some cases, a fungal infection may be at the root of tender scalp issues. For example, a scalp condition called tinea capitis, also referred to as ringworm, is marked by reddened sections of scalp; round, scaly patches; itching; and scalp soreness or tenderness. Some people even develop black dots and sores that fill with pus when they have this condition. Treating this condition with antifungal drugs, which are typically taken orally, will often relieve the symptoms of tinea capitis, including tender scalp.

Interestingly, acne may also be at the root of things when it comes to scalp tenderness. Most people associate acne with the face, but it can develop on the scalp as well. A person who has oily skin and dandruff may treat it with specialized shampoos. Sometimes oral medicines may help as well.

Many people enjoy the look of long, heavy hair, but it can sometimes cause tender scalp symptoms. When hair is very long and heavy, it may actually pull at the scalp and contribute to soreness and irritation. In some cases, a person with heavy, extremely long hair will also notice hair breakage along her hairline.

Sometimes it is a person’s hairstyle that is the cause of her tender scalp symptoms. For example, a person who wears an overly tight braided hairstyle may develop a sore, irritated scalp. A too-tight ponytail can cause this issue as well. In fact, some barrettes, hair combs, and even hats can cause or contribute to the development of a tender scalp.

In some cases, a person may actually cause herself to have scalp tenderness. For example, some people are overly rough when it comes to grooming themselves. Being a bit gentler when combing or brushing may sometimes help to relieve scalp tenderness.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a TheHealthBoard writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon974670 — On Oct 20, 2014

I have thin strands of hair, but lots of curly hair, and I also suffer from a sore scalp at the top of my head after a few days of having my hair straightened. I've always wanted to know why, and why not the whole scalp?

By anon965849 — On Aug 14, 2014

There is another reason people may have a tender head. I have, all my life. I've worn my hair long and short, and stopped tying it back so tightly when that would give me a headache. I'm gentle in brushing and try to brush, sparingly.

I have a tender head, because my neurons in my scalp are sensitive. Apparently, these nociceptors of mine are easily triggered.

By anon933809 — On Feb 17, 2014

I've been ill recently and haven't been bothered about my hair so much. It's been tied up very tightly in a pony tail. My scalp is very sore. I can't even touch it because it hurts a lot. What should I do?

By anon335135 — On May 18, 2013

I looked this up because every time I straighten my hair (which is thick, but short length) I guess I tug on my hair too much that the next day when I leave my hair alone and straight without moving my hair around, the hair settles and when I do move my bangs to the other side or something my scalp gets so sore. This always happens after straightening and when I have my hair into a pony tail but it's not like I pull my hair back into a sleek pony tail just the loose pony tail and I still have a soreness in the center of my scalp. I don't have dandruff or anything. I guess it's blood circulation in my scalp.

By anon331391 — On Apr 22, 2013

I wear extensions occasionally, but for the most part I think that my scalp is just naturally tender. I also dread going to salons.

By anon324401 — On Mar 10, 2013

I suffer with scalp soreness after visiting the hairdressers. All that pulling, washing and combing leaves me very tender. It's so bad that I dread going and spend the next few days in pain. Any suggestions?

By anon316471 — On Jan 28, 2013

I have really thick, long curly hair. When I straighten it, after a few days my scalp gets sore --most likely from my hair getting heavy and having it picked up some.

By cloudel — On Jan 27, 2013

I get a really sore and tender scalp when I wear my hair in a ponytail all day. If I wear it in a low ponytail at the nape of my neck, this doesn't happen, but if I put it up midway or on top of my head, my scalp gets really sore.

I have to pull it tight so that it won't fall down. When I take out the elastic at night, my scalp just aches for several minutes. I have to wait until the ache subsides before I can brush it.

By Oceana — On Jan 26, 2013

Regular dandruff shampoo doesn't work for me. I use it and still get flakes a few days later.

I can't help but pick at the flakes, because I want to remove them before anyone sees them. This leaves sore red spots on my scalp that lead to more dandruff.

So, I found a dandruff shampoo that contains coal tar. It worked in one use, and the dandruff stayed gone a long time. I only use it when the dandruff comes back.

By healthy4life — On Jan 26, 2013

@StarJo – It's kind of sad that the tender scalp treatment in that case would be cutting your hair. I know that most people with really long hair have been growing it out for years, so cutting it would really bother them.

By StarJo — On Jan 25, 2013

I had no idea that having long hair could make your scalp tender! I have hair that is nearly waist length, but I don't have a tender scalp.

I suppose that someone with really thick hair that is also long might be more at risk of having a tender scalp. Mine is of medium thickness, so this might be why I don't have a problem with it.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a TheHealthBoard writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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