Scratching your scalp too much can lead to patches of hair loss. The easiest way to remedy this is to stop scratching, which is easier said than done. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.
If your scalp is itchy, you won’t be able to resist giving it a good scratch.
If you’re scratching as an unconscious habit then it will take some effort to break the habit.
And if you’re scratching at your scalp as a self-soothing measure when you’re stressed, then you’ve got a habit to break AND the stress issue to deal with.
The good news is that hair loss that’s due to scratching is a temporary problem. Once you stop scratching, your hair will grow back.
First, we’ll look at why scratching can cause hair loss and then we’ll see what you do to stop damaging your hair.
How Does Over Scratching Lead To Hair Loss?
There are a couple of ways that the scratching itself can lead to hair loss. The first way is due to the tug on your hair as you pull back with each scratching motion. This results in a form of traction alopecia. Alopecia means hair loss.
The second way that over scratching leads to hair loss, is that as you scratch, you create micro tears in your scalp that provide a home for bacteria, the proliferation of which can inhibit hair growth. And as your hair naturally falls out, there is less, or slower, new growth to replenish the lost hairs.
Another cause of hair loss in this situation which isn’t directly due to the scratching, is the underlying stress that I mentioned earlier. Stress has many deleterious effects on your body and hair loss is one of them.
It’s something that I experienced myself to an alarming degree when I was waiting for a drawn out property purchase to complete. My hair was coming out in handfuls!
You may be attributing your hair loss to scratching but it could very well be stress causing the majority of it.
Treating Physical Causes Of Scalp Inflammation To Eliminate The Itch
If the root of your scratching has a physical cause, then you’ll be pleased to know that this is fairly easy to fix. There are many over the counter and natural products that you can use to treat infestation, infection, and inflammation.
You could have bugs living on your scalp.
All three are supremely irritating. I’ve had head lice courtesy of my kids when they were younger. It was excruciatingly itchy!
To get rid of hair lice you have a couple of options. You can use over-the-counter products that contain Permethrin or Pyrethrin. Permethrin kills both the adult lice and their eggs (nits). Pyrethrin only kills adult lice, you’ll need to apply a second time 9 days later to kill newly hatched lice. These chemicals do work, but they are becoming less effective. Just like bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, bugs are becoming resistant to the chemicals that were previously 100% effective. Head lice can’t develop resistance against breathing though, and this is where olive oil comes in.
Lice breathe through their skin and when the lice are coated in oil, they can’t breathe and eventually (within 12 hours) die. Olive oil by itself won’t kill the eggs, but by adding tea tree oil you can kill most of the eggs. Follow up with an apple cider vinegar rinse and you will dislodge any remaining eggs that can easily be removed with a nit comb.
If you have head lice, you must launder all of the bed linens and towels you’ve used and the clothes that you have worn while the infestation was ongoing. They need to be washed on a hot wash and the addition of some tea tree oil to the final rinse will help to ensure complete eradication.
The most common form of mites that infest the human scalp are called Demodex Mites. These mites live in hair follicles and sebaceous glands on the skin. Although there are around 65 species of Demodex Mite, only two types, regularly live on us.
Demodex folliculorum mites live in the hair follicles and you can see fully grown adults with the naked eye.
Demodex brevis live in the sebaceous glands connected to hair follicles. You need to examine a strand of hair under a microscope to identify these much smaller mites.
The eggs of both types of mite are laid deep in hair follicles or sebaceous glands and cannot be washed out. Mite infestation causes a condition known as demodicosis or mite bite which is characterized by intense itching and inflammation of the scalp and skin.
Adult mites can be eradicated with conventional treatment but the eggs and nymphs are covered in a membrane which is impervious to everything. Mite treatment takes much longer than head lice treatment, it needs to be continued for 12 weeks.
Tea tree oil and clove oil are both reported to be effective against adult mites, but they will not work against the eggs and nymphs. It is essential to keep retreating to catch these as soon as they emerge from the hair follicle. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
If you’ve got fleas, they are unlikely to be confined to your head. You’ll have intensely itchy little bites all over. If you don’t have pets in your home, then you are unlikely to have fleas. It’s not impossible, but it is rare.
If you do have pets and you suspect that fleas could be the cause of your itchy scalp, then the first thing to do is apply tea tree oil and olive oil to your hair. Don’t use tea tree oil on your pets, especially not your cats, it can be fatal.
To kill fleas on your pets fast, don’t mess around with ‘natural’ remedies like diatomaceous earth. It’s not effective enough and that fine dust will wind up in your lungs.
Use Capstar pills, which will kill all adult fleas on your pet within 24 hours. The fleas start dropping much faster than that though. At the same time apply a spot on treatment. Frontline is next to useless these days, fleas have developed immunity to it. The advantage is still effective.
The next thing you must do is treat your pets bedding and your rugs, carpets, couch etc. Frontex spray will take care of that for you. At this point you will be flea free and your pets and home will be flea free too. The inflammation from the bites will subside, the itch will go and the scratching will stop.
The most common form of scalp infection is a yeast/fungal infection, more commonly known as dandruff. Dandruff is characterized by an oily scalp with greasy clumps of dead skin cells clinging to your scalp and hair shafts.
To treat dandruff ensure that you have an adequate intake of all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. If you can’t be certain that your diet is providing everything that you need, then take good quality supplements. I’ve never come across a multivitamin/mineral supplement that covers all of the bases. Popular brand name supplements that you can find in places like Walmart won’t do you any good. Taking the time to search out some good single vitamin and mineral supplements is a worthwhile endeavor.
While good levels of nutrition, especially of B complex is essential for a healthy scalp, you can also combat dandruff with topical treatments.
Coconut oil is a natural dandruff fighter. It’s anti-fungal that tackles the yeast, it also helps to dislodge greasy scales and restore the scalp’s natural sebum balance. Adding antifungal tea tree oil to the coconut oil, destroys the yeast and brings improvement much faster than coconut oil alone.
Another scalp condition that is often mistaken for dandruff is dry scalp. While dandruff is caused by too much sebum providing a rich environment for years to feed on, dry scalp is caused by too little sebum.
Dry scalp is very itchy and results in lots of very fine, powdery skin flakes. Dry scalp has numerous causes:
- Cold weather
- Harsh detergents found in lots of shampoo brands
- chemical hair treatments
- styling product build up
- hot styling tools
- dry (air conditioned/heated) environments
- skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
- diet – caffeine is a common cause.
Again coconut oil is a perfect oil to use here because it can add moisture to a dry scalp just as well as it can regulate overproduction on an oily scalp.
Adding an omega-3 supplement to your diet will help, as will the addition of vitamin D.
The most common cause of dry scalp however, is the shampoo that you use. Shampoos use detergents to strip the oils from your hair. They strip the oils from your scalp too. Your scalp reacts badly to losing sebum, which is its natural moisturizer and protection from bacteria and fungus.
In some cases, the scalp’s sebaceous glands will go into overdrive to compensate for this loss, in other cases the scalp can’t produce enough oil to make up for what’s been lost. The result is terribly greasy hair, dandruff or dry scalp.
An alternative to using regular brands of shampoo, is to use an all natural, richly moisturizing shampoo bar, which you can purchase online. Chagrin Valley make great ones.
Or you could try going ‘no poo’. ‘No poo’ means keeping your hair clean without shampoo of any kind. You can be a purist and use water and finger massage to dislodge dirt. Or you can add vinegar or lemon juice to the water.
Your hair will take a little while to adjust to this regimen, but once your scalp’s normal sebum level has been restored, you’ll have great scalp condition and gloriously healthy hair with pretty much zero effort. And you’re unlikely to encounter further scalp problems in the future.
Breaking Bad Habits
Ooh habits are a tough row to hoe! While establishing good habits is difficult enough, eliminating bad habits is worse. When you’re studying or reading or even watching TV, it’s very easy to drop your head onto one hand and absentmindedly scratch. It’s not very easy to stop though. When an action is unconscious, you can’t catch yourself doing it and make yourself stop.
The thing to do here, is to prepare before you get into a situation that leads to head scratching.
If you’re sitting down to the TV organize something that will occupy your hands.
- Give yourself a manicure, with base coat, color and a couple of top coats. You won’t scratch with wet nails.
- Work on a cross stitch embroidery. You can’t scratch when you’re holding a needle and thread, and you’ll have a lovely piece of craft work to hang on your wall to boot.
- Use a rich oil-based moisturizers to condition the skin on your hands. This kind of moisturizer will take ages to fully soak in and you’ll be conscious of your oily hands the whole time. A moisturizer like this is easy to make from olive oil/coconut oil, beeswax and essential oils.
If you’re studying or reading, wear light cotton gloves. Unlike watching TV where you can half focus on the movie/show while you do something else, your full attention needs to be on your books.
By wearing gloves you won’t be able to scratch deeply and cause micro-tears and inflammation.
It’s a similar idea to putting scratch mitts on babies. The gloves that you can buy for use after moisturizing are perfect for this.
If all else fails, sit on your hands – kidding.
Combatting Stress And Coping With Uncomfortable Situations
When you’re stressed (chronically) or situationally, it’s hard to keep your hands still, and you’ll also be seeking comfort. This combination makes scratching or rubbing at some place on your body inevitable. And the head is a prime target. We touch our body’s all day long, over and over, and usually we’re don’t realize that we’re doing it. In stressful situations we’ll rub our faces (especially our mouths), our heads, our arms – we’ll hug arms across our chest (ineffective giving ourselves a hug) – wring our hands, rub the tops of our thighs if we’re sitting down, all in an effort to soothe ourselves in response to the emotions (usually fear based) that we’re trying to deal with.
To deal with the stress that is causing you to scratch at one spot on your head, the first thing that you need to figure out is which situations are triggering that behavior. They will generally be situations where you have no control (or think you don’t), over the outcome.
Someone else or something else is calling the shots in a situation where you have something to lose. A boss, coworker, partner, friend or official. Your adversary could even be your own body if you have a health condition that is frustrating you.
Hard as it may be to overcome the feeling of powerlessness in these situations, you do have power. You have the power to choose how to respond to what is happening to you. If you don’t have the power to affect the outcome of a situation, then you can choose to let go of that outcome.
Get used to the idea that
- “It does not matter, it need not be,”
- Use it as your mantra when you feel powerless. There’s no point paddling upstream against a current that is more powerful than you.
- Think back on all of the times in your life that you’ve been strung out, unhappy and desperate. All those times when the adrenaline pumped through your veins and sent your heartbeat into overdrive, and your mind turned into anxiety central.
- You’re still here aren’t you? And you’re okay. And you’ll always be okay. Even when it feels unbearable today, it will feel better soon, if you’ll let it.
- Don’t let someone else affect your balance.
- Try to learn to trust that things will work out, because in one way or another they usually do. There will be uncomfortable bumps along the way, but they won’t last forever.
- You can take to your spiritual roots.
- You can take a course in positive self talk.
- You can mediate.
A wonderful resource on the web is Tiny Buddha. I’d recommend that you spend some time there and begin with this page. Whatever the reason behind your need to scratch, you can take steps to fix the underlying cause, calm the itch and restore your hair to its former glory.
Updated: October 7, 2018 by Dr. Kimberly Langdon M.D. All medical facts and points stated on this page are correct as of this date. Please be aware that new content and additional references were added in this last update. All the content and media has been uploaded by Lily Greene our webmaster, who is also in charge of page design.