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What Causes Scalp Scabs?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are a variety of conditions which can lead to scalp scabs. Most scabs in this region do not come from a condition itself, but from scratching. When the skin is scratched regularly, it may break and a lesion is formed. As this lesion heals a scab is the result. Common conditions of the scalp which may lead to itching and irritation, and thus scratching, include psoriasis, dandruff, eczema, and sunburn.

To prevent scalp scabs from appearing in the first place, it is important to resist the urge to scratch. If an underlying skin condition is to blame for severe itching, it is a good idea to see a dermatologist for proper treatment. Creams, gels, and specialized shampoos can often be prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms until healing takes place.

If scratching has already occurred and scalp scabs have become a problem, it is important not to pull or pick at the scabs, as this could lead to additional bleeding and prolong the healing process. Scabs form as the body’s immune system sends platelets to the injury site to plug the wound, prevent bacteria from entering and to clot the flow of blood. By pulling off these scabs one may reopen partially healed wounds and cause additional soreness and scabbing.

Occasionally a bacterial or fungal infection may cause scalp scabs even without itching. These infections can cause open sores or boils which may erupt and heal over with time. Once healing has taken place, scabs can appear. Any condition which causes frequent sores or scabbing should be checked by a family doctor or dermatologist. Scabs which do not go away on their own despite being left alone could signal an underlying disorder.

Occasionally skin cancer will be found on the scalp, especially since this area is often left unprotected from the sun. Hair is not adequate sun protection, even in those with long hair, because ultraviolet rays can still get through.

There are rarely severe complications with scalp scabs aside from discomfort and the appearance of unsightly scabs if hair is thin, but sometimes more severe side effects do occur. If scabs become very severe, the hair may begin to thin and fall out, especially if a serious skin condition is to blame. Scratching the scalp repeatedly or picking scabs can lead to more severe wounds and sometimes infections can result. In this case, an antibiotic ointment may be prescribed to kill bacteria and promote healing.

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Discussion Comments

By anon998009 — On Mar 31, 2017

Exercise, diet, sunshine, saltwater and no alcohol are the top five healing agents, or maybe that's four, because the booze causes the most damage and stress.

By anon349383 — On Sep 25, 2013

There might be other problems, like when you brush your teeth, do they bleed and if they do, the dentist gives you something to use for this.

I recently noticed that I had a problem and after I started using this for my mouth, I didn't have as much itching or scabs on my head because when the doctor gave me medicated shampoo, it did not work, so I saw my dentist. When cleaning my teeth, she noticed the blood and gave me something for it and the upper infection is gone. Now I'm just working on the lower infection in my mouth,

By anon348673 — On Sep 19, 2013

I have scabs too. I feel the urge to remove it by scratching. But I wonder if it'll eventually go away if I stop scratching.

By anon334564 — On May 13, 2013

I had a stubborn scab that would not go away. I tried everything. In the end, I went to hospital and they used liquid nitrogen to freeze it off.

By anon326998 — On Mar 25, 2013

Well, I have had scabs on my scalp off and on for quite a while. I think it's stress-related! I got them a lot when I was in school. My scalp has been itchy in one particular area recently and I now have scabs. Currently, I am unemployed and very stressed!

I also get acne on my scalp and I pop the pimples but it doesn't always lead to scabs.

All my life I have been a picker; it is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. And I hate it and like it at the same time.

I feel like I want to remove the scab against people's wise advice, but want to do it due to my compulsions due to stress, boredom or simply because I want to. But I know it's gross and not good for me. I have tried therapy for this, but it doesn't help.

Maybe scalpicin or some special shampoo will help. T/gel sometimes has somewhat helped, but it has tar and it stinks.

I am trying to meditate more and do healthy things to reduce stress.

By wavy58 — On Dec 16, 2012

Tick bites can cause scalp scabs, too. I spend a lot of time in the woods during the summer, and I've had ticks attached to my scalp before.

I usually find them while I'm washing my hair. I apply alcohol to the skin to make them loosen their grip, and I use the tweezers to pluck them out. Then, I apply more alcohol to my flesh.

A scab always forms, and I'm careful not to scratch it. I must say that tick bite scabs are some of the itchiest, though!

By Kristee — On Dec 15, 2012

I have a very dry scalp that flakes often. The main spot where I struggle with dandruff is right in the middle of my hairline, close to where it meets my forehead.

I believe that because this area of hair is thinner and is exposed more to the sun, it is more prone to dryness and flaking. I can't stand to see the flakes there, so I scrape at them with my fingernails. However, this makes the area turn red and sometimes bleed.

I've tried using dandruff shampoo, but unless I use it every other day, it won't help. Sometimes, I apply sunscreen right through my hair to my scalp on this area if I know I'm going to be outdoors for long, and this seems to help.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 15, 2012

@seag47 – The urge to pick at scabs is overwhelming for many people. I suppose it is just the presence of something that doesn't belong that makes people want to remove it.

I frequently run my hands through my hair, and if I feel a scab, I have to remove it. Even though it doesn't itch, just the fact that its texture doesn't fit in with the smoothness of the area is enough to make me pluck it off.

So, though I may not know the psychology behind why people pick their scalp scabs, I do understand how they feel. It is so hard to resist.

By seag47 — On Dec 14, 2012

One of my coworkers picks at his scalp scabs all day. How can he not realize that they will never heal if he keeps ripping them off? It bothers me greatly to watch him do this.

By Penzance356 — On May 18, 2011

@angelBraids - My sister has scalp psoriasis and the two things that have really helped her are sunshine and less stress. These days she has very few scabs because she no longer scratches like crazy.

Other people in her online support group swear by food intolerance tests, so that's a third thing you could try.

Good luck with it, I know how tough it can be to deal with.

By angelBraids — On May 16, 2011

I have found this article useful and interesting, and am hoping someone reading will have some further advice for me.

Basically I'm looking for natural scalp psoriasis treatment ideas. My doctor has prescribed anti-fungals and recommended using coal tar shampoo. Both are helping but I'd like to tackle my itchy, dry scalp issues with all guns blazing.

By Windchime — On May 14, 2011

My dad has excema and once had really bad scabs on his scalp. He really struggled to not scratch at them, especially at night when he was asleep and we couldn't nag him.

My mother came up with the bright idea of having him wear mittens in bed. We were all sworn to secrecy as he felt quite daft, but it worked well and he recovered much more quickly than he would have otherwise.

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